Thinking Outside of the Gift Box

By: Erin Gohl and Kristen Thorson

‘Twas the season of gift giving
And all through the land,
Families were shopping
For gifts that were grand.

Clutter was piled
From seasons before,
Of gifts that seemed great
But were not played with anymore.

So how could this season be different
—Maybe even more fun?
Give the gift of an experience
To a cherished loved one.

These gifts can be more special
Than a doll or a drum;
They are the gift of a memory
That lasts for years to come.

The gift of an opportunity or an experience for a child can extend the holiday magic well beyond when the last ornament is taken off of the tree or when the menorah candles are extinguished. From the anticipation of waiting for the date of a special day to arrive to the excitement knowing that you can visit a local zoo or museum time and time again, experience-based gifts provide many layers of enjoyment and connection. These adventures also invite shared laughter, imagination, and joy among family members that work together to build a rich family culture. Below are some ideas for those on your gift list that span a range of price points, ages, and interests.

Day Passes: To gift an experience, purchase a ticket beforehand, online or in person, or create a homemade ticket or pass that the child can redeem at a later date. Think of gifting tickets to places an entire family might enjoy visiting together or gift a one-on-one shared experience with your child. These experiential gifts can facilitate days filled with joy and laughter and memories for years to come. Consider gifting tickets or passes to a nearby:

  • Do-It-Yourself Pottery or Painting Studio
  • Botanical Garden
  • Historic Settlement
  • Tea Room
  • Open Gym
  • Pool

Tours: To give the gift of learning, consider taking a trip to visit a local business or factory. This is a great opportunity for children to learn about how things are made, make connections to local communities, and explore new career pathways and possibilities. Some cities and popular destinations offer architectural tours or nature excursions, either walking or by boat. You might also think about gifting a tour to visit a local:

  • Food Factory (cheese, ice cream, candy)
  • Toy Factory (Teddy Bear Factory, Crayola Factory)
  • Sports Establishment (Louisville Slugger Factory, stadium)
  • Farm, Ranch, or Garden Center
  • Space Center

Events: Gifting tickets to a special event is another great way to give the gift of a memory. To add to the gift, you might include a T-shirt, stuffed animal, or book that pairs with the theme. Area high schools and colleges, local theaters, performing arts centers, and parks and recreation departments often have concerts, shows, and games that are easily accessible for young kids. Look at upcoming activities or events such as:

  • Live Theater Shows
  • IMAX Movies
  • Music Concerts
  • Dance Shows
  • College or Professional Sports Games (This is a great gift for boys and girls to see older kids playing sports at a high level.)

Year-Long Gifts: Memberships are a wonderful way to give a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year. Memberships also allow a family to focus on favorite exhibits or sections over many visits, alleviating the pressure to see everything in one visit. Oftentimes, memberships offer reciprocity to other organizations within the same network. This is perfect for a family who vacations regularly or travels to visit distant family and friends. Consider gifting a membership to a local:

  • Children’s Museum
  • Science Museum
  • Zoo
  • Aquarium
  • Planetarium
  • State Park
  • Amusement Park

Magazine Subscriptions: A magazine subscription is another way to give a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year. Children of all ages love the anticipation of the mail truck delivering something special. These gifts are a great way to fuel learning and build on hobbies and interests. Some popular subscriptions you might consider include:

  • National Geographic Kids or National Geographic Little Kids
  • Highlights for Children, Highlights High Five, or Highlights Hello
  • Sports Illustrated Kids
  • Ranger Rick, Ranger Rick Jr., or Ranger Rick Cub
  • Zoobooks, Zoodinos, Zootles, or Zoobies

Making the Ordinary Extraordinary: One of the most special parts of gifting an experience is that you are giving the gift of time—time to learn, time to explore, time to laugh, or time to connect with family and friends. With that in mind, experience-based gifts can simply be a coupon book for quality time spent with loved ones or a day filled with a few smaller activities. These ordinary moments, sprinkled with laughter and quality time, turn into extraordinary memories. Consider including:

  • Ice cream
  • A trip to a local park with a picnic breakfast, lunch, or supper
  • Ice skating and hot chocolate
  • A movie and popcorn (in a fort)
  • A craft project
  • Library time

Happy Memories for All

So as you give these non-traditional gifts of adventure and shared experiences, appreciate the memories that replace the clutter, the joy of connection that does not expire with the passage of time, and the smiles in the pictures that will be treasured for years to come. And after the holiday has come and gone, may you be left with this new take on an old classic:

The gifts were opened up
The kids were elated,
The anticipation grew
As the children waited.

The concert with Gramps
The trip to the park,
The factory tour
Staying out after dark.

We heard them exclaim,
And they felt joy in new ways;
Happy memories for all
From a lot of fun days.

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Erin Gohl

Erin Gohl is a Getting Smart columnist, and an independent writer focusing on issues of equity, engagement, and technology in educational policy and practice

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