Family Ties: Top 15 non-toy gift ideas for kids

So, fellow parents, be honest: Who has their Christmas shopping done?

Who hasn’t even started their Christmas shopping yet?

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Although every year I vow I’ll fall into the first group, the truth is I’m always in the second. But the up side is, my shopping procrastination always gives me extra time to think about how I’m going to give some Christmas gifts to a kid who’s got all the “stuff” in the world already.

Once again this year, I decided it was time to offer up a column of non-toy Christmas gift ideas, for those parents and others who, like me, already trip over too many toys as it is.

I turned to Twitter and Facebook to ask for other folks’ ideas, and I got a slew of amazing responses back. (Thanks to: Marilyn, Karen, Barb, Stefanie, Erin, Ann, Victor, Samantha, Lisa, Stacey, Laure, Shelley, Orietta, Danna, Christina, Sonali, Jennifer, Debbie and Cathy on Facebook, and @RoyalCityFamily, @laragerrits,@KIMDanceStudio, @Mona-Boucher and @JustifiedBagel on Twitter. Who needs a working brain when social media has so many bright minds available?)

Without further ado, I offer up the following 15 suggestions for making a merry Christmas – without investing in a new toy box.

1. Get a magazine subscription:

Got a young reader in the house? Then get them a magazine subscription in their very own name. (I don’t know about your small folks, but my three-year-old is SO excited when she gets mail with her name on it that I just know this one is going to go over well.) Some parental favourites amongst my friends include the Owl family (Chirp, Chickadee and Owl), Canadian Geographic and National Geographic Kids. There’s a variety of options out there, depending on your kid’s age and interests, so take a look.


2. Get crafty:

You can buy all kinds of prepackaged craft kits on any theme under the sun – from Frozen-inspired projects to jewelry or card making. For those looking for a ready-made theme kit, I have it on good authority that Shnoo and the Pachooch, New West’s own toy store at River Market, has some lip gloss and bath bomb making kits and wind-up dinosaur making kits. Or you can create your own do-it-yourself kit by investing in a big bin full and filling it with arts and crafts supplies (glue, pompoms, glitter, craft sticks, papers, felt, paints, markers, crayons, stamping supplies, etc. etc. etc.). Then be prepared to sit down with your kids and help them create – after all, the best part of the gift is doing it together.


3.  Get cooking:

Why not invest in some kid-friendly baking and cooking supplies so that your small folks can take ownership in the kitchen? Whether it’s cupcake pans and supplies for a fun treat, their own special measuring cups and mixing bowls, a waffle maker with gourmet waffle mix, or some other fun kitchen gadget, it’s another way to introduce a fun activity and spend some time together. Combine this with a cooking class through your local parks and recreation facility, a baking class from Pamola Bakery at River Market or a kids’ cooking session at Posh Pantry in North Burnaby, and you’re on your way to creating the next Master Chef Junior – or just a kid who loves to spend time in the kitchen.


4. Get reading:

Books. This one’s just a gimme. Whatever the age or interest of your child, investing in books is always a good idea. You can combine books with other interests – books about origami and paper crafts for the crafty kid; books about plants and flowers for the nature-hiking kid; books about fish and aquatic creatures for the aquarium-goer – to personalize the gift even more. And while you’re at it, buy yourself a new book too so you can sit down and have family reading time together. Or, if you’re often on the road or planning a trip, why not some recorded books to play on the go for entertainment?


5. Get exploring:

Investing in memberships or annual passes for your favourite destination or attraction is always a great way to ensure quality family time and learning experiences for your kids – not to mention fun. Close to home, why not a membership for Burnaby Village Museum? Or, a bit farther afield but always popular with kids, Vancouver Aquarium, Science World and Capilano Suspension Bridge are excellent options. Or, for skiing and snowboarding families, passes or lift tickets for the local mountains? The possibilities are endless.


6. Combine a gift and an outing:

Pair a gift with an outing or an experience: for instance, camping gear for the kids combined with a trip to their favourite campsite; hiking books combined with a trip to a new hiking trail; a new musical instrument combined with music lessons; new skates combined with skating lessons or passes for family skate sessions; new swimming gear combined with swimming lessons or passes for family swim sessions – whatever your child’s interests, there’s bound to be one idea that will work for you.


7.  Have an experience:

Related to the above, don’t think about “stuff” so much as experiences. Why not buy them a set of classes in something that interests them, or a series of parks and recreation passes for classes or drop-in sessions at local sports and community centres? Folks who chimed in on social media suggested such local spots as Vancouver Circus School, The Stage New Westminster, Music Box New Westminster, Staccato Studios, Kids in Motion, 100 Braid Street Studios, The Bloom Bloom Room and Boorman Archery. There are also a host of dance schools, art studios, martial arts schools and more that could be the perfect fit for your child.


8.  Take them to the theatre:

Whether it’s theatre, music or dance, there’s bound to be a local performance to appeal to the young person in your life. Some ideas: The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra now offers its Tiny Tots concerts at the Anvil Centre (the next one is the Holiday Hooray on Dec. 5, and there are two more scheduled for the new year). Or why not the Royal City Youth Ballet’s Nutcracker (Dec. 21 at the Massey)? Or, for the new year, get tickets now for Charlotte Diamond at the Massey Theatre in February, Align Entertainment’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Michael J. Fox Theatre in February, or Royal City Musical Theatre’s Fiddler on the Roof in April.


9.  Give a gift that gives back:

Find a cause that appeals to your child, and make a charitable gift with them. For the young animal lover, for instance, the World Wildlife Fund makes it possible to “adopt” an animal, giving money to a good cause while getting a sweet stuffie as a reward. Or you can help kids in developing nations through Plan Canada or World Vision – you could even choose to sponsor a child and have your child correspond with his or her counterpart in another part of the world. Think of the cause that might stir the interest of your budding young philanthropist, and pair your gift to suit it.


10. Help welcome the refugees:

This is related to above, but being such a timely issue, I thought it deserved its own category. Parents can take their kids out shopping with the purpose of building up a backpack of basics for the refugee children who are coming – toiletries, paper, pencils, books, toys, pyjamas – and then take the kids along to donate them. With so many people wanting to help the refugees right now, it’s probably wise to check with organizations directly as to what their needs are: Try the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. ( as a place to start.


11.  Think about costumes and dress-up:

Create your own tickle trunk, a la Mr. Dressup, and fill it with costumes and accessories to delight your kids’ desire to play make-believe. It doesn’t have to be full of expensive pre-made brand-name costumes, either (not that there’s anything wrong with a sparkly singing Elsa dress from the Disney store); accessories and silly hats picked up at the dollar store, old bangles and beads from mom’s jewelry box, and fancy dress-up outfits from second-hand stores will go a long way to creating hours of fun.


12. Create some family albums:

Make the kids a photo album or photo book full of photos of themselves from babyhood onwards. Or perhaps create a special album from a particularly memorable family trip or occasion, or an album of birthdays through the years, or some other theme that suits your child. The possibilities are endless. Or if (like me) you are a bit of a social media addict, you can create albums via My Social Book of everything you share on Facebook and Instagram.


13. Plan a mini ‘staycation’:

Pick a destination that will appeal to your family and plan a mini-getaway – a night or a weekend – that involves a hotel stay, dinner out, a movie, or another adventure of choice. Involve the kids in the planning – or make it a surprise and have them have to follow “clues” to their destination.


14. Make them something:

Hand-knit sweaters or scarves, handmade dolls, their own personal crocheted afghan or their own personalized quilt – these are all the kind of gifts that will stand the test of time and live forever in the kids’ hearts. (This coming from the woman who still has a 35-plus-year-old handmade doll on her shelf.)


15. Give a gift card:

 If you’re not sure what to buy for a child or what they already own, then gift cards never go amiss. Bookstores, video game stores, movie theatres, favourite restaurants – they’re all popular choices, and they’ll all be welcome stocking stuffers.


And there you have it. For other shopping procrastinators like me, a few ideas to get you started – and not a toy in sight.

Happy non-shopping – and a Merry Christmas too.

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© New West Record


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