Alternative Gifts for Kids

Nearly every parent has sighed at least once when trying to squeeze 20 toys into a 24-gallon storage container. While many kids love presents, celebrating every birthday and holiday by purchasing new toys for your child may lead to both clutter and a depleted checking account.

Instead of marking your child’s next milestone with things, think outside the gift box and center your celebration on making memories through meaningful activities. In addition to teaching children that love doesn’t come from a store, alternative gifting can give children a sense of kinship and community. Consider some ideas below on how to create personalized ways to let kids enjoy special milestones and events without “stuff.”

Celebrate Presence, Not Presents

Think for a moment about the celebrations that meant the most to you during childhood. Did gifts make the event special, or was it memories with family and friends? When sending invitations to guests, specify that their presence alone makes for the greatest gift of all. Focus less on gifts and more on the people who show up to the celebration.

Hit the Road

Instead of opting for material gifts, invite a small group of your child’s friends to an activity. Skip the stress and expense of party planning and have your child choose a free or affordable activity and three or four friends to bring along. A day at a science center, museum, or zoo allows for fun and memory making.

If your child wants to celebrate with a larger group or you want to include family members, keep in mind that some activities don’t come with a sticker price at all — a trip to a nearby nature preserve or a favorite camping spot allows families and other groups to have fun for free.

Teach Kids the Joy of Giving

Most kids possess an innate sense of charity, so harness this by having party-goers donate to a cause dear to your child’s heart in lieu of gifts.

Choosing a charity doesn’t always mean donating to a well-known national organization. Maybe a family with a child of a similar age recently experienced a tragedy like a fire or a flood, or maybe a classmate fell ill. Kids love to know their actions make an impact, and keeping requests for donations local may even inspire some to give a bit more.

Those uncomfortable with asking for monetary donations can instead ask guests to bring a donation of canned goods for a local food bank or other nonprofit. Animal shelters can always use donations of pet food and supplies as well. If you’re looking to take it a step further, you could plan an entire celebration around donating and volunteering with a local shelter. A guest or two may just go home with a new furry family member!

Make a Memory Book

Adults and children alike often enjoy scrapbooking, so why not plan a special celebration where guests share favorite memories or photographs of the guest of honor? Scrapbooks not only preserve treasured memories, but they can also provide a future boost during difficult times.

Have each guest write a list of their favorite memories of the birthday boy or girl. Ask them to be creative by incorporating photographs, drawings, and anecdotes about special milestones they’ve shared with your child.

Save for College

The rising costs of higher education can be an overwhelming thought for both parents and children. If family members ask what your child would like, share with them that you’re teaching your child to save by opening a college savings plan and suggest contributions to that in lieu of toys or other material items. While your child may not fully appreciate the importance of this gesture now, their future self will be thankful for the help.

Plant a Tree

Children often instinctively grasp the importance of protecting the earth. Harness the good intentions children harbor by having a tree- or garden-planting party instead of the traditional gift and cake fest. Request friends bring gifts of seed packets and gardening supplies instead of the latest fad toy. Even urban-dwelling parents can help kiddos create festive herb gardens to line a sunny kitchen windowsill.

Host a Mini Swap Event

“Freecycling” keeps gently used goods out of landfills while allowing parents to get rid of old toys and books. Instead of creating a gift registry, ask guests to bring gently used books and toys to exchange. Everyone benefits from removing unused items from their home and bringing home something new-to-them. This suggestion works particularly well for padding children’s wardrobes, since they grow out of clothes quickly.

Create a Tradition Around Alternative Gift Ideas

Every parent has the opportunity to create their own unique family traditions that reflect their values. Children often cherish memorable experiences more than material gifts, and birthdays and holidays serve as teachable moments to encourage the importance of giving as equal to that of receiving. By rethinking how to celebrate important milestones, we can work toward creating a kinder world for our kids to grow up in.

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