The best holiday gifts for kids are the ones that are planned for and purchased from the heart. But while the little ones in your life probably have wish lists a mile long, they might not have even thought to ask for the absolute most memorable thing you can give them: an experience.
Looking back at my own childhood, I can remember the Christmases when I received an American Girl doll or a bike, and I was thrilled. But the road trips with my family, or days spent at museums and zoos learning and engaging were much more valuable than the material items that were tossed aside after a few weeks.
This list of experience gifts is brimming with ideas for how you can treat your kids to something special that doesn’t come wrapped in a bow. Giving an experience is a great way to cut down on the material aspect of the gifting holidays, and to focus on the best part of childhood: spending time together.
Book A Cooking Class
Sur la Table isn’t just a fantastic place to buy everything you need for your kitchen: the national retailer offers children’s cooking classes at many locations, where your budding chef can learn everything from basic knife skills to how to roll their own sushi. Check the website for scheduling and class options in your area.
Photo: Sur La Table
Plan a Road Trip
It won’t cost more than gas and some cheap roadside meals. Grab a real map (no iPhones allowed!) and a pencil and map out a road trip you can take in a day or two. Discover something new on the outskirts of your town. Roll the windows down and let them dictate the music selection. Bonus points for making it super old school by getting them a disposable camera they can use to document everything!
Get Zoo Passes
Zoo fare can be pricy, so taking an entire family on a random day feels daunting. Gift the little ones in your life zoo passes so they can experience the magic their favorite animals. Include a “gift voucher” of cash they can use in the gift store or for snacks to make the day extra special.
Have a “Yes” Day
I haven’t done this with my kids yet, but I’m planning to. A “yes” day is exactly what it sounds like: a day when the child decides what you do all day from activities to meals, and you can’t say no. Of course, some rules are necessary (nothing over a set budget, nothing that could harm someone or get them in trouble). Within reason, hearing nothing but “yes” to things that are usually a no due to time and budget restraints, is pure magic for kids ages 3 and up.
Go Flea Marketing
Some of my absolute best memories from childhood (and the recent past, too!) involve shuffling around yard and church sales, or cheapskate antiquing with my dad. Sure, you’ll end up buying a trinket or two in your hunt. But the time spent together sorting through miscellaneous items for treasures, and the conversations you have in the process, are the biggest gifts.
Build a Game Night Box
Movies are great, but nothing beats a family fun night. Put together a box with microwavable popcorn, their favorite candy, a deck of cards, and an age-appropriate board game or two. Let the family fun begin!
Plan a Beach or Splash Pad Day
Looking forward to spring and summer? Chances are, the kids are, too. I love to gift my girls a new beach tote and personalized towel each Christmas, with flip flops, sunscreen, and some new beach toys inside. On the first perfect beach day of summer, we dig out their special gift tote and put the goodies to use.
Complete a Project Together
Whether it’s a piece or art or furniture for their bedroom, a challenging puzzle, or baking cookies for a friend… the bonding that comes from working together to figure out a challenge is priceless. And in most cases, pretty affordable, too. (Pro Tip: check Facebook Marketplace for junk furniture that could use a face lift and invest in chalk paint and brushes to go to town on it. Even my two-year-old loves doing this!)
Art, Dance, or Music Class
A great grandparent, aunt, or uncle gift is to pay ahead the child’s extracurricular for the semester ahead. My girls know their grandmother helps fund their ballet and tap lessons, and they always thank her for it when we’re together. It’s a special way to hand down a shared love of the arts while easing the parents’ burden at such an expensive time of year.
Enjoy a Spa Getaway Together
Got a teenager to gift? Consider a day of pampering you can enjoy together. I’ll never forget how grownup I felt when my mom took me for my first facial at fifteen. Bonus: let her pick out a few products after her service so she can take the experience home and continue to enjoy it in the months to come.
Mini golf is fun for kids of all ages, even if they’re too young to really get it or abide by the rules. Set a date and take the whole brood. This is classic childhood fun at its finest.
Purchase an Indoor Gym Membership
Toddler moms will tell you this about winter: nothing sucks more than being stuck inside with energetic little ones. But those indoor playgrounds can be pricy! A month-long membership or even a few day passes to a mini gym for littles in their area is a great gift for crawling babies, toddlers, and little kids.
Have a Staycation
You’ll enjoy it just as much as they do. Scope Airbnb or the Hotel Tonight app for a great rate on a spontaneous mini getaway. Lounge in the room watching movies, eat pizza and ice cream, and enjoy a day of sightseeing as if you didn’t live in the area.
Take them to a Concert
Whether it’s Baby Shark, JoJo Siwa, or a band you both like, live music is always a good idea.
… or Out to a Fancy Dinner
My kids love when we all dress up and take them to a nice restaurant, especially if they get to pick the place and order whatever they want. Shirley Temples, too!
Catch a Game
Tickets to their favorite sports team are the absolute best thing you can sneak into a Christmas stocking. Trust me, I’ve done it many times and it’s never been a fail.
Create a Scavenger Hunt
This idea takes some time and effort, but is so worth it. Whether you set it in your own backyard or apartment building, or have them looking around town or a local park, the options are limitless and so is the fun. Reward everyone with ice cream when they’re done.
Take a Hike
Get outdoors, enjoy the clean air and a natural workout with your little ones. Even babies can come along in a carrier — a family hike is the ultimate way to start off the new year. Give them some proper shoes or a water bottle on Christmas as their hint of what’s to come.
Sign Them Up for Yoga
We are a yoga family and my kids love doing it at home with me or with YouTube. Nothing is better for the budding yogi, though, than an actual class. Whether you do a one-off or enroll them for a semester, the mind-body awareness and relaxation they’ll glean from kids’ yoga will be a gift to everyone.
Learn Something New Together
If it seems open-ended, that’s because it is — and should be! What interests them that you’ve never done before? Is there a “weird” or unique museum you can check out together? An obscure skill that interests them? Get creative, have fun, and bond in the process.
Is there a better gift than that feeling? Happy holidays!
More Holiday DIY Ideas:
- DIY “Through the Years” Family Holiday Books
- Last Minute DIY Holiday Gifts for Teachers
- DIY Holiday: Candy Cane Wreath