Ski lessons or lift tickets are one experience-based gift option.

If you’ve got “too many toys syndrome”, you’re not alone. Somehow they just seem to pile up. There’s good evidence that this isn’t a healthy thing—not only for the tidiness of our homes but for our children’s development.

Studies have shown that having fewer toys to play with can actually have huge benefits in terms of focus and creativity. Also, people who spend money on experiences rather than things tend to be happier, so getting kids into that mindset early on by gifting them with an experience can have multiple long-term benefits.

Yet, the holidays and birthdays come around, family members and friends still want gift lists for the kids. So, what are your alternatives to toys and “stuff” for kids?

Here are some smart suggestions for giving the gift of togetherness this year!

Event or Show Tickets

Take it from one who knows, kids will remember seeing The Phantom of the Opera for their entire lives! Whether it’s a splashy musical, Disney on Ice, a live kids’ band, a family-friendly classical music concert, Cirque du Soleil, Medieval Times, or a monster-truck rally, a special afternoon or evening out is a memorable gift and a great way to spend quality time together.

Movie Passes

Nearly every movie theatre and movie theatre chain offers gift cards in various amounts. The great thing about giving a gift card to, say, Cineplex, is that you know there are multiple locations and it’ll be easy for families to use the passes. If you know of a particular indie movie theatre parents love or a destination theatre (like Toronto’s Cinesphere) you might consider that as well.

Programs and Classes

Enrolling a child in a class or program to explore something they love or have never tried is something they’ll treasure for much longer than a toy! You can opt for multiweek programs if it’s something you know the child is crazy about—or gift them with a one-time workshop or single-day program for something a child is trying for the first time.

Ideas include:

  • art classes
  • music classes
  • dance lessons
  • cooking workshop
  • sports programs
  • swimming lessons
  • bike riding or skateboarding lessons
  • skiing or snowboarding classes
  • indoor rock-climbing lesson
  • computer programming workshop
  • kids’ yoga classes
  • go-karting
  • flight-simulation centres

There are so many options out there. Browse our local online directories for options near you.

Music, Book, and Magazine Subscriptions

The gift that keeps on giving! Kids love getting mail, and—selfishly perhaps—we love giving magazine subscriptions because every month or two when a new issue arrives, they’ll (hopefully) think of us. See 10 Awesome Educational Magazines for Canadian Kids.

You could also do a subscription service if kids have electronic devices. For kids who love music, consider a Spotify or Apple Music subscription. Readers might like an Audible.com subscription or money in their Kobo Kids’ Store allowance.

Attraction Memberships or Passes

Many museums, zoos, indoor playgrounds and other fun places for kids have gift membership options. Or you could buy a pack of five or ten admission tickets or a gift card that can be used toward admission.

Some ideas include:

  • zoos
  • aquariums (We think the Stingray Experience at Ripley’s Aquarium would be a pretty cool gift!)
  • museums
  • science centre
  • trampoline gyms
  • climbing gyms
  • laser tag centres
  • indoor playgrounds
  • YMCAs
  • ski resort lift tickets
  • skateboard parks
  • Legoland
  • novelty train rides

Restaurant or Treat Gift Cards

Eating out isn’t just about eating: it’s about breaking away from routine and doing something fun together. You could give a gift certificate for a family restaurant, pizza or burger joint, specialty grilled-cheese place, ice-cream shop, cupcakery, bakery, or one of those frozen yogurt places with all the toppings.

Escape Rooms

These fun brain teaser experiences are all the rage, and a super fun way for families to spend quality time together. Tweens and teens will probably be more keen on inviting friends, but any way you slice it, it’s time spent away from screens and in the company of other people, using your brain, while having fun. Make sure the escape room has games that are appropriate for the child’s age level. See our round-up of family-friendly escape rooms in Toronto.

Books

These are things, but not in the same way that toys are—and most parents welcome more books as opposed to more toys. With little kids you’re still reading to, it’s great to have new stories to switch it up, as much for mom and dad’s sake as for the kids!

And while kids may not immediately swoon over a new book in the same way as the newest plastic gizmo they saw unboxed on YouTube, when a rainy Saturday comes along or they’re being tucked into bed at night, it’ll be your gift that they reach for.

Sticking hard and fast to the “no stuff” rule? Opt for an audiobook, which takes up no shelf space. Some kids enjoy listening to a book before bed, or on road trips.

Subscription Boxes

Have you heard of wine-of-the-month clubs? Same idea, but for kids! With a membership, a child gets a monthly package, usually with imaginative-play supplies around a theme. The boxes are different each month, so it’s always exciting. And of course, kids love getting packages! There are many options out there. Here are a handful that ship to Canada:

  • Curiosity Box, based in Ontario, delivers age-appropriate craft and activity boxes (ages 2–12)
  • Kiwi Crate delivers hands-on art and science projects (ages 1–16)
  • Little Passports World Edition introduces kids to a new country every month with souvenirs and hands-on activities (ages 6–10; other options available for younger and older children)
  • Lillypost sends three books per month and for each box shipped donates a book to a child in need (ages 0–7)
  • Kidstir Happy Cooking Kits include recipes, a shopping list, cooking tools, food education pages, and activities for little chefs (ages 5–12)

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