Best Gifts for Kids: Give Experiences, not "Stuff"

Take The Clutter Out Of Christmas And Hanukkah

Best Gifts for Kids: Give Experiences, not "Stuff"

Looking at my living room, I don't know where I could possibly put another toy. My daughters' stuff has taken over our house to the extent that I don't even want to buy any Hanukkah gifts this year. And I love Hanukkah and I love buying presents. Last year I was all about making a big deal out of Hanukkah, but this year? This year I feel like a bit of a Grinch. But we still love to celebrate and celebrations often mean giving. How can you give without the burden of clutter?

It's easy: The best presents don't take up any space in your house!

There's A Reason This Post Has Been Shared Almost A Million Times: The Gift Of Not Giving A Thing

This year I've decided to go the way of the experiential gift. Activities and events that my husband and I can do with our kids. These are the things memories are made of, and they last a lot longer than plastic princess dolls!

Here are some great options for experiential gifts that kids will love. Because many listed here are my personal favourites, they're mostly Toronto-centric. But I put the word out to the YMC crew and we've got some Canada-wide choices below. Please add in the comments and let's get an "experience database" started!

Many of these options also translate well to other areas of the country -with a little searching you'll find amazing family-friendly activities and experiences across Canada, in towns or cities of any size. Have fun this holiday season and use your creativity with tickets to shows, or maybe 10 lessons at something your child has an affinity or interest for, like photography or art, music, or horseback riding. These gifts are also great because they last all year - or at least as long as the classes do!

Take Em' To The Stage

Our family are big theatre fans. I took my daughter to a musical at the Stratford Festival this summer and she's still talking about it. If your kids can get a gift in December and wait to "do" it until spring, I totally recommend looking into the amazing lineup of shows for the 2015 Stratford Festival season, including my favourite, The Sound of Music!

For something a bit more immediate, consider tickets to Ross Petty's Cinderella which is so awesome, hilarious (for parents and kids!) and will have you dancing and singing in your seat! The show runs until January 4 at the Elgin Theatre. Read my interview with the cast here.

If you're looking for a cultural stage experience that's a bit different, something that is sure to broaden your kids' horizons while opening their minds and hearts musically, I recommend the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's Young People's Concerts. My daughter and I attended a show in October and we loved it. Seeing an orchestra live on stage is magical for a child, and each of these young people's shows feature actors, dancers, and special surprises that help keep the kids' attention. If the visit sparks an interest, consider music lessons and an instrument for their birthday gift!

A Blast From The Past: Music You'll Remember From Your Childhood Christmas

Finally, for Disney-loving kids, there's nothing more magical this side of Orlando than a live Disney show either on ice or on the stage. We've been to three Disney On Ice shows and they've all been tons of fun. With great skating (that even my husband, the hockey-lover, totally gets into), fabulous music and special effects, and all the Disney characters the kids love, these shows are a great way to get into the holiday (or winter) spirit as a family. This month, Disney On Ice Presents Treasure Trove skates into Toronto with Peter Pan, Alice and Wonderland, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and more! In January, kids can join Mickey and gang for Disney Live! Mickey’s Music Festival at the Sony Centre. Both shows will make stops across Canada over the next few months.

The Gift of a Membership Lasts All Year Long

Nearly every museum has some sort of membership option and this is a gift that will give your kids hours of entertainment during the cold wintry days ahead. Our favourite is the Ontario Science Centre because the Kids Spark area is perfect for little kids and toddlers, and provides hands-on entertainment that's educational and tons of fun. A family membership makes it much more affordable to visit the Science Centre and you don't have to feel pressured to stay the whole day to get value out of the admission cost. For one year, family membership ranges in price from $130 to $230. This year we've asked my mom to gift our kids a Science Centre membership instead of giving them more toys that they don't need. It means we'll always have something to do with the kids on cold weekends when no one feels like going outside!

My other top picks for memberships include the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), The Toronto Zoo (one of our faves!), and Ripley's Aquarium of Canada.

Pack Your Bags For a Mini Vacation

While gifting your kids a trip to Disney World is pretty awesome, it's obviously not always financially realistic. But that doesn't mean you have to stay home. Within a few hours from Toronto there are a bunch of kid-friendly getaways that will ensure fun for the whole family. My top picks are as follows:

Take your kids across the border to Rochester New York and spend the day at the Strong National Museum of Play, because it's the coolest kids museum ever and it's got tons of interactive exhibits for little kids and big kids (i.e. parents!). Rochester has some lovely hotels, great shopping, and many museums and attractions for kids. We've been twice and I'm a huge fan of the city and the museum! For more info on other family-friendly destinations in New York State visit Or you can read about my family's adventures in Rochester here.

Show your kids the beauty of Niagara Falls in the wintertime! Spend the day playing on Clifton Hill the kitchiest, kid-friendly amusement park of a street in the country, check out the Butterfly Conservatory, and let them stay up late enough to witness the magic of the fireworks over the falls. Accommodations tend to be more affordable in the winter, and the falls are just as beautiful this time of year. We're hoping to do all of this with our kids this winter, because it's fun, family-friendly, and close to home. The perfect mini-getaway.

Experiential Gifts That You Can Wrap Up And Put Under the Tree

If you still want something that can be wrapped up with a bow, I have a few gift recommendations that can still be classified as "experiential." These include:

Pet Fish

We bought our daughter an aquarium and a few pet fish for her graduation from preschool. We let her choose the decorations to make the tank pretty. We have found that fish are a good starter pet, they teach kids about responsibility, and the aquarium provides the soothing sound of a waterfall in her room. Just be prepared that fish don't always have the longest life-span. It took us a while to get three little fish with some stamina.

If you're not quite ready for a real pet, my daughters love their Little Live Pets bird! They both have so much fun pretending to feed it, programming it to speak, and listening to it chirp and sing!

A Fully-Equipped Craft Box

A large box filled with supplies from pompoms and foam shapes to wooden boxes, paints, and glue, can provide hours of entertainment for your kids. Most of these supplies can be found at the dollar store and don't have to cost a lot. Giving your child all the supplies with very few instructions allows their creativity to run wild. And, will likely give you some to yourself to catch up on things around the house.

Skates, a Sled, and Some Good Old Fashioned Winter Fun!

Give your kids the gift of fresh air this winter. Instead of complaining about how cold it is (like I usually do) get some snow pants, warm mittens, and a wooden sled, and get outside and play in the snow. Or, if your kids are steady on their feet, gift them with sakes, a helmet, and a hefty dose of patience as you teach them (or send daddy to teach them) how to skate!

Gift giving doesn't have to mean hours spent in a mall shopping for stuff your kids don't need. With a little creativity, you can gift your kids with experiences that they'll remember for the rest of their lives. Happy Holidays!

Cross-Canada Experiential Gifts Recommended by YMC Bloggers

Melissa Gaston: "Check out the Discovery Centre in Halifax. We love it when we visit."

Joe Boughner"You can get museum passes in Ottawa that are pretty rad. Or the canal boat tours are pretty cool."
Natalie Lelacheur-Romero: "Kitchener has a great Children's Museum. Passes make a great gift!"
Nicole MacPherson: "Calgary Zoo passes. Also, and this is a great one for Calgary people, if you buy Calaway Park passes prior to January 1, they are $35.95 for the season. A day pass is more than that."
What are your favourite experiential gifts? Add to the list in the comments below!