An ‘Experiences Not Things’ Holiday Guide for Kids – Pandemic Edition

For the past three years, I’ve shared a gift guide for parents and families looking for a holiday season with less STUFF. We adopted this perspective on gifting years ago and it has truly served our family well. I get asked about it all year long — and finally decided to capture ideas to get people started.

But this year is different. (I feel like I hear that phrase — and find myself saying it — almost every day.) Many of our go-to experiences are travel, tickets to special live events, and memberships to favorite museums and parks. None of that is as accessible this year as in years past, and anyone committed to ‘experiences not things’ for the holidays will need to be more creative to pull it off.

The good news is — it’s worth it. It’s worth the planning and creativity and unconventional thinking to give your family the gift of TIME this year. Collectively, our gift shopping lists get longer every year, and our closets and toy boxes are busting at the seams. We feel obligated to spend a certain amount of money on certain people, and with kids – forget it. Kids are conditioned to make lists of toys and collect all the things and everybody from Santa to the Easter Bunny to the Tooth Fairy are delivering STUFF.

Whether you believe experiences are more meaningful than things, or you’re just over it with the clutter in your storage closets — a holiday season with more experiences and fewer things may be for you.

Experiences Not Things

Ready to try gifting experiences?

5 Things to Consider:

  1. Lead by example. Let your kids see you and your spouse enjoy experiences together and they will learn this is a bonding experience for a family. I hear couples say “this trip is our anniversary present to each other”. Make sure your kids hear that!
  2. Talk about it the right way with your kids. Especially if this is a big change from your usual gift-giving style. Don’t say “we’re not getting any toys this year”. I can promise you that won’t go well… Rather help them make a Christmas list, if that’s a tradition you have, and put some of these types of ideas on the list. Refocus them from toys and gadgets to their interests and hobbies.
  3. Offer gift ideas to relatives who ask. And better yet, encourage those relatives to be part of the experience itself. If aunts and uncles and grandparents can’t be there in person, be sure to remind kids who lovingly purchased those virtual cooking lessons for them, and kids will appreciate the thoughtful gift.
  4. Find your people! Social media makes it easy to find inspirational families who are taking this approach to heart. They will give you ideas and provide a source of encouragement. Follow hashtags and social media feeds that celebrate and encourage this lifestyle. #ExperiencesNotThings or REI’s #OptOutside campaign are two of my favorites. And of course, join forces with your IRL friends and family to embrace your new outlook on the joy of giving.
  5. Tackle the existing clutter. As you prep for a holiday of less stuff, start now! Sort through old toys and donate them, and have your kids help you. Yes, this means the process may move more slowly, but it lets kids see the number of things they already have and start to think about which of their toys are really important to them and why. It will lay the groundwork for changes you want to make.

The secret to ‘more experiences and fewer things’ is… there is no secret. If you wanna try it, you just have to try it. And it doesn’t have to be a big lifestyle overhaul – start small.

10 ‘Experiences Not Things’ Gift Ideas | Pandemic Edition:

1. Virtual Camp Tuition
Around here, we fill our summer with camps – local and otherwise. This past summer, we discovered a whole new world of VIRTUAL camps – from our local favorites to the world-renowned museums and colleges across the country. We were blown away by the options, and what was initially a substitute for “the real thing” became an incredible new way to think about opportunities. Try a tech or robotics camp with instructors from all over the country, a dose of history and hands-on making with diorama camp through the Smithsonian, or photography, creative writing or watercolors with art museums across the country. Some are offering year-round classes, but you’ll have more options in the summer. A terrific gift idea for a curious kiddo.

2. Cookbook and/or a Meal Kit Subscription
Do you have a kid who loves to help in the kitchen? Or a kiddo who’s old enough to handle meal prep on his own? Indulge this hobby with a quirky cookbook geared for kid chefs – or trial a meal kit subscription service. There are tons of them now – Hello Fresh, Home Chef, Blue Apron, and so many more. They’re designed for convenience, but they’re a perfect way to let kids have some independence in the kitchen, too.

3. Camping gear (and plans to take a trip!)
A sleeping bag or a headlamp is a fun gift for introducing kids to a new hobby of camping, and makes them feel part of the planning. The nearest campsite is merely a Google search away, and while a trip to a National Park may not be in the cards right now, it can be an incredible experience for a budding outdoor enthusiast to look forward to. In anticipation of an upcoming trip, order a National Park passport and encourage your kids to start collecting stamps of the parks they visit — a priceless scrapbook!

3b. Hiking shoes and a guidebook
If you’re not ready for overnight camping, but still want to get your kids into the fresh air – invest in some hiking gear this year. Wherever you live, there are sure to be places to hike nearby. And this is the ultimate pandemic-friendly, socially-distant hobby. My family has hiked together more in the past 8 months than in the past 8 years – it’s been an amazing time to enjoy the outdoors, physically and mentally. Snag a book of trails and start checking them off together in 2021.

4. Be a tourist in your own town
You could have lived in your town for years and be missing unique landmarks and experiences right under your nose. Visit your local tourism bureau (online if you can!) and get some fresh ideas. Wrap a guidebook as a gift, and make a local bucket list together.

5. MasterClass
A good option for middle schoolers and teens, MasterClass is an unbelievable deal. For less than $200, you are giving an unlimited pass with access to everything from Tony Hawk teaches Skateboarding to Steph Curry teaches Ball Handling and Aaron Sorkin teaches Screenwriting. The videos are bite-sized and engaging, and there are more added all the time. Photography, cooking, interior design, science, politics, philosophy, fashion – anything your kids (and you!) are into.

6. Membership to a museum, aquarium or zoo – and a list of virtual tours!
This is a go-to idea any year, but you’ll have to be a little more creative this year as many museums and zoos aren’t operating at 100% again yet. My favorite trick – the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) Travel Passport Program – is still in play. It means your membership to one museum on this list gets you benefits (like free admission!) to museums all over the country. We have a membership to our local children’s museum (an annual Christmas gift!) and we’ve used it to get free admission to museums in seven different states in the last three years! Virtual tours are a safe way to keep kids curious and stimulated – and a membership to your favorite place helps support it through a crazy year.  

7. Magazine subscription
A subscription to a magazine can mean your kiddo gets a monthly dose of his favorite topic. Highlights, Nat Geo Kids, Sports Illustrated for Kids, and Zoobooks are great options. We tried Muse Magazine for the first time this past year and loved it.

8. Lessons for something new
The options for this are endless: guitar, surfing, pottery, photography, golf, cooking, acting, cake decorating, sewing, carpentry, voice, karate, painting, computer coding, and anything else your little one shows interest in. And many of these are being offered virtually this year! This pairs well with a book or magazine subscription.

9. Adopt a project
Commit to training for a 5k as a family (wrap a pair of running shoes) or make plans to plant a garden together in the spring (wrap a child’s pair of gardening gloves and a packet of seeds).

10. Try a subscription box
Ok – so this one really blurs the line into “stuff” BUT! I added it to the list last year because we had an incredible experience with two different subscription boxes and I think they’re a terrific gift idea that is more about time and curiosity than just stuff. There are TONS of options out there — for interests ranging from cooking to travel to photography to art to engineering to computer coding. We can personally vouch for KiwiCo (we did a year of the Tinker Crate and he’s still talking about it) and BitsBox for coding. Both were amazing and quite literally the gift that keeps giving.

Add to this list! What are your ideas?

When you give the gift of experiences, what you’re really giving is the gift of time. Children will grow into their own styles as they get older, but a childhood of experiences will influence a lifetime of prioritizing memories over mementos. Best of all, you’ll be inspiring curiosity that will last forever.

Until we’re stamping passports again, I hope this list gets your wheels turning for a unique holiday season — focused on experiences and time together during an unusual year. Happy Holidays!

More ideas and resources:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *