Top Experience Gift Ideas for Kids
There’s no denying that kids love receiving gifts for the holidays. Some even start making their holiday wish lists in July! But at its heart, the holiday season shouldn’t be about material things. It’s the one time of year we get to take a step back, reflect, and come together with our families and communities.
So this year, why not try giving the kids in your life some new experiences and activities to remind them of the real meaning of the holidays? You’d be surprised how excited a child can get when given the promise of an amazing experience. Especially during the chaos of the holiday season, slowing down to focus on teachable moments and memorable experiences can help encourage a child’s development into a stronger, kinder, more engaged, and more compassionate human being who cares about more than just things.
Check out some of our favorite experience gift ideas below. You’ll see that the best experience gifts for kids are affordable, exciting, and memorable—and they can mean more than material gifts in the long-run.
The Benefits of Giving Experiences vs. Presents
Why give experiences over toys? Experience gifts improve children’s lives more than material gifts. A study published by the Psychological Science journal found that experiences provide longer-lasting happiness and greater anticipation than possessions. While material gifts may momentarily fill us with elation, those feelings quickly fade. After all, how many times have you seen a child abandon playing with a toy they desperately wanted only weeks earlier?
Children are constantly learning and growing as individuals. By providing experiences that educationally, creatively or emotionally expand their horizons, you’re helping to shape them into awesome young people with bright futures. Through experiences, you can foster a child’s development by providing enjoyable opportunities to learn, travel, play, get creative, and become more empathetic toward the world around them.
Here are some of our favorite experience gifts, educational gifts, and gifts for kids to make!
Best Experience Gifts for Kids
Tailor these experience gift ideas for your kid’s unique personality and interests so the experiences are still perceived as gifts that they’ll genuinely feel excited to accept. The trick to experiential gift-giving is paying attention to what your kid will appreciate doing, seeing, or learning, and then opening the door to those possibilities.
Get inspired with these awesome experience gift ideas for kids:
Go on an Adventure
Celebrate all season long by enjoying some family-friendly activities, like playing holiday games, walking around a well decorated neighborhood to enjoy the holiday lights, ice skating at a local rink, or sledding if your climate is cold enough. These types of experiences are often free or come with only a small fee. Pack some hot chocolate in a thermos for a sweet treat when things get chilly.
Sign Up for a Library Card
The internet brings information to our fingertips, but there’s something special about going to the library and discovering a new book, author or exhibit that sparks your passion or curiosity. So if you haven’t already, take your kid to sign up for their first library card. Younger kids love having a card just for them! Then, give them a tour of the library and, especially, the kids’ section. Many libraries have free special events for members around the holidays, like storytelling, caroling, and author events that can make the library one of your child’s favorite places to go. The best part about this gift is that you can use it all year long to check out new books, movies, and more, all while spending quality time with your kid.
Explore Your Local Community
You don’t have to travel far to explore and experience new things. What interesting sight have you been meaning to see? What play is going up at the community theater? Is there a new exhibit at the local museum? It can be hard to consistently make time for cultural experiences year-round, but the holidays are the perfect time to explore more of your community and the culture around you. Many cultural institutions even have discounted or free days and events! Find out what’s going on in your community and get out there to experience it with your child. Tip: If you can’t find anything online, see if your local library has a bulletin board or newspaper with a list of local events!
Fuel their Passions
Does the kid in your life want to try a new activity? Are they passionate about art, dance, coding, science, or sports? Can they not stop talking about that weird bug they saw the other day? Help them experience more of it! While costs can range from free online coding courses to relatively pricey sports and performing arts classes, there are tons of ways to help kids explore their passions. Watch YouTube to figure out that trippy dance move or double-handed dribble together, try a free or discounted introductory art class, or hit the zoo to learn more about that weird bug. Whatever their passions are, find a way to celebrate them!
Bonus points if your kid wants to learn something that you can teach them—like those old family recipes you keep in your head—so you can give them the gift of both your time and your knowledge.
Mail It or Make It
Remember how much you loved receiving things in the mail as a kid? Awaken that joy in your child by subscribing them to monthly children’s magazines like National Geographic: Kids, Lego Club, American Girl, Chickadee or Owl, depending on their age. There are also subscription companies that offer art supplies, cooking adventures, STEM fun, age-appropriate books, and DIY projects, which can fuel their creativity and learning year-round.
If you’re on a tight budget, a homemade coupon book can be an incredibly valuable gift that only costs time. Especially for kids with busy parents, coupons that grant quality time with loved ones are priceless. The coupons could offer to cook a special dinner together, have an at-home spa day, play ball or a fun video game together, or go out for their favorite treat with you. Focus your coupons on experiences you can enjoy together—your time and attention are what truly matter.
How to Wrap an Experience Gift
You know that old saying, “It’s the thought that counts”? Well, it does! Give your experience gifts the same treatment as a regular gift by wrapping them up. Buy a card and use the space inside to describe what the child will get out of the experience you’re giving them. How will they feel, or what will they learn? Help them get excited for the experience to come. To build even more anticipation, layer boxes inside of each other, revealing one clue about the experience with each box your kid opens!
Meaningful Holiday Gifts for Kids
If you still want to pick up a few traditional gifts this year, give presents that provide educational, artistic, or imaginative value. Here are some of our favorites:
Books. Choose picture books for young kids, novels for older kids and teens, and educational non-fiction books for kids of all ages.
Science kits. With chemistry kits, slime making kits, ant farms, terrariums and mini-laboratory kits, you’ve got plenty of choices to inspire your young scientist.
Learning Tools. Globes, telescopes, magnifying glasses, magnets, binoculars and even magic trick supplies all make great gifts that challenge and expand the mind.
Arts and crafts supplies. Stock up on sketchbooks, markers, crayons, oil pastels, paints, easels, canvas or whatever your young artist needs to complete their latest masterpiece.
A journal. Encourage your child to draw, write poetry, pen short stories, or just journal their feelings in a special notebook.
Sports equipment. Help kids get active with a bicycle, skates, trampoline, basketball hoop, skateboard or essentials for the outdoor activity they like best.
Cooking equipment. Have a young culinary artist? Give them a chef’s apron, cookbooks for kids or cookie cutters in fun shapes.
Holiday Gifts for Kids to Make
To help reinforce the idea that the best gifts aren’t store-bought, encourage your kid to create homemade gifts for everyone this holiday. Children of all ages can make adorable DIY gifts, like seasonal ornaments, sweet treats, or mason jars of ready-to-bake cookie mix, just to name a few.
Helping your kid create handmade treats and trinkets for their teachers, the kids in their class, seniors in a nursing home, or even your neighbors is a good way to promote the spirit and value of giving, as well. Help your child learn to be generous and give back to the community, rather than focusing solely on receiving gifts from others this time of year.
Our kids are our future. During the hectic holiday season, take some time to treat the children in your life to experiences that will help shape them into compassionate, intelligent, and vibrant adults—all while giving them memories they’ll treasure forever.