Research shows that if you're going to spend money, then doing so on things that will allow you to be with others is more likely to make you happy.
By giving experiences, not only will you have less clutter to manage, you'll be creating more opportunities for growth, character-building, and togetherness.
Here are 50 brilliant ideas for shifting the focus from stuff to substance this gift-giving season. (We also included local recommendations from our Facebook Growth Mindset Community.)
Before you continue, download the FREE Personal & Family Values (PDF). This printable provides a great opportunity for your family to explore and identify values that can help guide you and your children in making the right choices.
Experience Gifts for Families
1. Helicopter rides. Besides being a fun adrenaline rush, taking a helicopter ride can teach your child about aviation, perspective, and history. Check for group deals on sites like Groupon, and consider splitting with another family.
2. Wilderness/nature living skills programs. Connect with your children by learning together how to make a fire - without matches - and warm natural shelters. Community members recommended: Wilderness Living Skills at Earthwork Wilderness Survival Training School (US).
3. Cooking classes or cooking club memberships. Share time in a kitchen together so that children appreciate what it takes to put dinner on the table.
4. Museum memberships or day passes. Nature, art, aquariums, science - investigate all your city has to offer. Community members recommended: Science North museum (Ontario, Canada).
5. Tickets to an unusual museum. Many cities have specialty museums like the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. or the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago. What's unique in your town?
6. Zoo & botanical garden memberships. With great year-round programming for children, zoo and botanical garden trips don't have to be limited to the warmer months. Also, check for classes and workshops.
8. Amusement & attraction tickets. Investigate indoor facilities near you to help warm up cold winter days. Community members recommended Crayola Experience (US)
9. Movie passes. Movie passes are great for those rainy days when everyone really needs to get out of the house.
10. Air BnB gift card or hotel stays. Gift an overnight in a hotel or Air BnB in a new town. Have your child help pick the location.
12. Virtual reality game centers. A trip to a virtual reality center could lead to a stimulating discussion aboutthis exciting technology.
13. Symphony subscriptions. Check to see if your city's symphony has special programming or series for families.
14. Concert venue subscriptions. Family-friendly concert venues may offer gift certificates or memberships; bonus if they also host childrens' concert series.
15. Children's or community theatre subscriptions. Bond as a family, be entertained, and support working artists in your city!
16. Tickets to a sporting event. Treat the family with tickets to see their favorite sports team, including college and minor league teams.
18. Movie Night Kit. Put together a box filled with popcorn, bags of candy, fun reusable cups with a straw, fun PJs or a cozy blanket, and gift cards for pizza and movie rentals (Netflix, iTunes, etc.)
Experience Gifts for Children
19. Creative writing classes. Is there a young poet or short story writer in your midst? Look for writing centers in your area or groups like Writopia Lab with locations across the country.
20. Cooking classes. Check out local culinary stores and schools for classes to build kitchen confidence.
21. Group music lessons. Group music lessons can be a great introduction to an instrument, and a whole new group of friends. Finite sessions offer less commitment than private lessons, or if you prefer private lessons, ask if teachers offer packages.
22. School of Rock. Music lessons through SOR are geared toward quick learning and performance, with different options for programs and seasonal camps.
23. Theatre classes. A great way for children to develop self-confidence, creative thinking, and collaboration. Check theatres for child classes and camps.
24. Visual art classes in cartooning, photography, or digital artmaking may be offered through museums, art centers or park districts.
25. Pottery or sculpture classes let children see their imaginations at work in 3-D. Community members recommended: Color Me Mine (US).
26. Archery classes can be a great way to develop patience, balance, hand/eye coordination, etc
27. Dance lessons. Consider classes in different genres like ballet, hip-hop, tap, or ethnic dance.
Sports & Recreation:
28. Outdoor wilderness/nature survival courses. Gift a full day of immersion in nature, learning wilderness skills, and nature awareness.
29. Climbing gyms. Children are natural climbers, and many of today's indoor climbing facilities offer classes and camps for children.
30. Trampoline play zone. If your children love jumping on the bed, let them jump to their heart’s content at one of these indoor play zones.
31. Horseback riding lessons. Besides building confidence around large animals, the care and cleaning of the horses foster respect and appreciation of animals.
32. Tree and rope climbing adventures. These adventures are fun for all ages as they have different courses based on age and ability.
33. Sports camps for soccer, baseball, volleyball - a camp for any sport is a great way to introduce something new.
34. Skiing seasonal passes. It's a great way for Mom and Dad to ski together while the little ones enjoy morning lessons on the slopes.
35. Ninja Warrior gyms. Obstacle courses are fun, athletic, and confidence-boosting! Check out the Ninja Guide for child-friendly gyms across the US.
36. Indoor skydiving. Facilities like iFly have several locations nationwide and welcome flyers aged "3 to 103" (though they stipulate a minimum age of 4). Outside of having fun, children can learn about wind tunnels and "body flight"—a whole new type of sport.
37. Yoga classes. Yoga is great for physical and mental health, and classes for children and teens are common in today's studios. Check studios in your area for discounted class packages.
38. Mini-golf. Indoor and outdoor options make mini-golf a versatile activity.
39. Ice-skating, roller skating, or skateboarding lessons mean hours of fun for children who love to move.
40. Magazine subscriptions. There are plenty of child magazines to pick from, popular ones include:
Cricket Media publishes 11 magazines for child aged toddler-teen.
Anorak, a quarterly, mom-conceived magazine for 6+, to encourage reading.
Aquila (UK-based) magazine covers science, history, and general knowledge for 8-12-year-olds.
41. Mail Order Mystery is a story for children that unfolds through a series of installments that come in the mail. The service is based in Toronto, Canada but they ship worldwide.
42. Park district offerings. Along with YMCAs, park districts offer classes or workshops in a wide variety of subject areas or activities.
43. Voucher booklet. Make a booklet for your child with vouchers they can redeem at any time. Remember to include a voucher for extra dessert :).
44. Treasure hunt. Instead of wrapping up your children's gifts, wrap up a clue and let the child go on a treasure hunt to find them!
45. Gardening kits. Search for child-friendly gardening kits to inspire hands-on learning and an appreciation for nature. Although this requires a purchase, this gift would create a wonderful experience of connecting with the Earth.
46. Game night kit. Purchase some new or gently used card and board games that the whole family can play (check your local thrift stores for great deals too!). Add the games to a basket or container with your family’s favorite snacks and drinks and enjoy a game night.
47. Swim lessons. Swimming is such an important skill. Swim lessons make a great gift for children to do with a caregiver (babies and toddlers) or on their own.
48. Aquarium passes. Does your child have a fascination with aquatic life? Check out seasonal passes to your local aquarium where your family can explore.
49. Concert tickets. Tickets to a concert are a great idea--especially for older children and teens. Surprise your child with tickets to see a concert at a local venue.
50. Camping supplies/camping trip. If you’re an outdoor-loving family, some new camping supplies and a surprise camping trip is a great gift experience. Have your child research local camping sites and enjoy a weekend in nature.
BONUS: Things You can do Together During Holidays
Journal together with the Big Life Journal. Use the journal to have inspiring conversations about your child’s big dreams and goals for the new year!
Throw a New Year planning party with the Growth Mindset .Use these colorful and fun printables to practice a growth mindset as a family.
Create 12 months' worth of dates. This requires some planning but what a pay-off! Make one envelope per month and fill it with a ticket or a brochure for an activity you will do together that month.
Make a leaf or flower book. Collect leaves and flowers from outside, press them between heavy books (or other heavy items), and glue them into a blank notebook. Encourage your child to research the specimen and write their findings inside.
Explore family history. Pull out your old photo boxes to create a family tree, or consider using online tools like Ancestry.com.
Go waterfall hunting. With proper clothing, this can be done year round (iced over waterfalls).
Volunteer. With your child’s input, pick a location to volunteer and plan a lunch or dinner afterward at their favorite restaurant.