As kids rip open their birthday or holiday gifts with cake-fuelled glee, parents brace themselves for the aftermath: A house cluttered with toys that no one will express interest in until 2.7 seconds after they make their way into the donation pile. The cycle is real.
Sure, they say the best gift you can give a child is some quality, connected time with them, but sometimes, that child is a random from your kid's class, and you need to throw something into a gift bag. Here are some ideas for non-toy gifts that kids will enjoy and parents will appreciate.
Tickets or Season Passes to Fun Places
You can go simple or Disney-level extravagant with this one. For young kids, a pass to a play cafe in the area would be an inexpensive option. Toddlers get to toddle in ball pits, while parents enjoy coffee and Wi-Fi. Win-win.
Also, always useful: Tickets or passes to the zoo, museums, aquariums, bowling alleys, theatre performances, ice skating rinks, sporting events, movies, mini golf, amusement parks and so on.
Subscriptions to Magazines and Themed Boxes
Give a kid a reason to anxiously check the mailbox each month and help keep print media alive by gifting a magazine subscription. Here's a good list to get started for kids and teens. My friend Brianna says her son's classmate gave him a subscription to the zoo magazine Ranger Rick Jr and he "looks forward to each new one".
A pricier option is to give a monthly subscription box. There's something for every age group and interest, including reading, learning and baking. Here are some lists of subscription services to get you started.
Songs That Sing Their Name
This personalised Elmo CD is a hit among toddlers. (When my kid was a baby, only Elmo's voice and "Oppa Gangnam Style" would calm her down.) In this particular album, Elmo sings the kid's name 63 times. I'll always remember it as the soundtrack of my 2014.
The Instructions and All the Materials for a Cool DIY Project
A lot of parents love the idea of kid DIY projects but hate the actual process of gathering materials and ingredients ("No, I do not have cream of tartar just lying around in my pantry!") It's some A+ gift-giving if you do the work for them. My friend Melissa's daughter was given instructions and all the materials needed to create a homemade volcano. "Not only was Adelaide fascinated and hands-on and creative, but it was 40 minutes of focused fun — on her own!" Melissa says. You can do the same with slime, a sewing project, or really, anything. If it's a project your own kid has tried and loved, that's even better.
My four-year-old daughter has a beautiful wooden dollhouse that she got for Christmas last year. She plays with the dolls and furniture inside, but what has been most fascinating are the home upgrades she's added using... trash. A junk-mail catalogue clipping has become the TV. Some old bottle caps are now a backyard obstacle course. A sponge is the jumping castle. A handful of shredded tissues is part of a car wash. She runs around, opening junk drawers (yes, we have plural) and exclaiming, 'Oh! This can be the swimming pool! This can be a seesaw! This can be the elevator!'
A Butterfly Kit
You'll probably want to ask the parent's permission first, as not everyone would express the same level of thrill in seeing a box of crawly critters in their home, but butterfly kits are just so cool. It's fun to watch caterpillars metamorphosise, and you always just feel smart saying "metamorphosise". My four-year-old daughter had a butterfly a couple years ago, and now, even still, whenever she sees one in the backyard, she says, "Look, Lala came back!"
Lifehacker commenter bri451 recently told an awesome story about one of her favourite gifts she received as a child.
One Christmas, when I was probably four or five, my aunt bought me and my three brothers each a hammer and a box of nails. She also threw a few old wood pallets into the mix. We nailed *so many* things to other things. Still one of the best Christmas presents ever
How fun is that? Letting kids get their hands on real tools is something that many parents shy away from, but there are benefits to letting them play with ratchets and wrenches and hammers (after they understand the safety rules, of course) — it heightens children's self-awareness, honours their abilities and gives them a sense of accomplishment.
Cash in Gold Coins
If the kid is old enough to understand the concept of real money, and if you're in a rush, 10 or 20 gold coins would be an exciting gift for kids of any age.