We recently did a deep clean of the kids’ playroom before hosting Thanksgiving dinner and some overnight guests. It was during that mind-numbing experience I came to the very clear realization that we had way too much stuff.

And while feverishly trying to sort, stow or scrap my way through our own basement version of the Island of Misfit Toys, it dawned on me that in just a few short weeks, a fresh new shipment of playthings would be amassing itself under the Christmas tree.

But instead of going full-on Grinch before we’d even carved the Thanksgiving turkey, I decided maybe this year we can think outside the box when it comes to the kiddie gift giving. If you're anything like me, here are some ideas to give your kids instead of toys. 

1. A magazine subscription. There are two things that make my kids really happy — new things to read and getting the mail. What can I say? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. So last year I gave my son a subscription to Highlights Magazine. Now, he not only gets included in the mail call on a month, but has a constant source of new reading material and goofy jokes. We all win. But there are loads of great kid magazines available besides the tried-and-true Highlights. Cricket Media has a whole catalog of titles for all age groups and interests. Plus, you can even add a digital subscription so they can read on the go. There’s Sports Illustrated Kids for the sports fan or National Geographic Little Kids for the nature and wildlife nut. They even still have good ol’ Ranger Rick.

2. Museum memberships. No matter what time of year it is, it feels like I’m always on the hunt for things to do with the kids that gets them out of the house but doesn’t required a second mortgage on the house. Memberships to local museums or the zoo can be a great way to treat the kids on your list all year long. It’s also a great way to shop local.

3. Music lessons. Maybe that niece of yours is the next Taylor Swift? Or your godson show signs of being a blossoming John Legend. Help them on their path to realizing their musical greatness by chipping in on some lessons. Think of it this way — it’s not just a holiday gift, but a way of guaranteeing a mention in their future Grammy acceptance speeches.

4. Experiences. Instead of giving the little one on your list something, give them something to do. Some examples: A date to the movies with a promise of ice cream afterwards; an afternoon at the kiddie casino — aka Chuck E. Cheese's or the Amazing Pizza Machine; a day at Fun Plex or a few hours rolling ball at the bowling alley. You can get as elaborate or as modest as your budget allows. The best part is you can do it together.

The saying, “It’s better to give than to receive,” is never more true than during the month of December. And giving the gift of experiences can help spread that holiday joy and generosity for the whole year.

And unlike LEGOS, I haven’t had to "whisper swear" in the middle of the night because I stepped on a zoo membership.

Molly Cavanaugh of Channel 94.1 FM’s “Big Party Show” in Omaha is a mom to two children living in Chicago. She writes weekly for Momaha.com.

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