Outside-the-box ideas for giving kids experiences for Christmas


By Brittany Carlson

Giving kids experiences rather than gifts for Christmas is a topic I hear parents talk about all the time. They’re looking to give their kids memorable experiences, without cluttering the playroom or paying for things that don’t last very long. It’s been on my mind too, as Christmas approaches and I find myself tempted to buy action figures whenever I’m in a store. Do my kids really need more stuff? Or are there other things we could give them that really show how special they are to us, and how much we care?

So, I asked some friends for ideas on experiences to get kids for Christmas, and I was surprised by how many amazing ideas came flowing in! Here are a few of my favorite “experience gift” ideas, as well as some that I have tried or will try this year:


One-time events

Tickets to live shows or amusement parks, and gift cards to places like jump parks or rock climbing gyms are great gift ideas. I love that these are all presents that  involve sharing unique experiences together as well.

One-time experiences are especially great when you have visitors coming in from out of town who want to do something special with your kids. I have both sets of grandparents visiting this year, so I bought everyone tickets to a Polar Express trolley ride in our town. I can’t wait to see my kids’ faces as they ride the trolley and meet Santa at the end – and I know their grandparents will love being part of it! (Polar Express-themed train rides are available all over the country – check online to find one closest to you).

You can even let your kids choose their favorite activity, within reason. One friend of mine, Michelle, lets her kids choose two special activities to do alone with Mom or Dad, such as going to a movie, having nails done or going ice skating. She puts pictures of different options on a Christmas tree, and allows each kid to pick two (one big ticket item and one small).


Classes and skill-building activities

Ongoing lessons, from horseback riding to cooking, are a great option to support a child’s special interests.

I re-enrolled my 2.5-year-old son and I in Tinkergarten classes in the spring. Tinkergarten is an outdoor exploration course focused on helping kids “learn through play” and work on important life skills such as empathy, teamwork and creativity, according to the Tinkergarten website. Classes are held in 48 states; check out tinkergarten.com/classes for more information. 

Another idea is to buy a child a hunting or fishing license, if that’s something they would enjoy doing with a parent or loved one. My friend Emily (who lives in Tennessee) found out that if she bought her son a hunting and fishing license before his third birthday, it would be good for his entire lifetime.

“He will have it for his whole life in Tennessee, even if he moves away! I’m not sure if other states offer that, but even a year license is a good idea for boys that like fishing,” she said.

 Licenses vary state to state; for more information on your state’s laws and requirements, visit https://www.fws.gov/hunting/state-license.html.


Memberships or subscriptions

Mail-order kits, or memberships to museums, zoos or science centers are another gift idea. Some children’s museum memberships are good for several museums in and out of state – check online to see if your local museum is in a reciprocal network.

Additionally, there are several companies that make subscription boxes for kids. My friend Lisa said she tried THiNK OUTSiDE BOXES’ Young Outdoor Adventurer Box with her son, and enjoyed getting outdoor gear and ideas for hands-on outdoor activities each month.

“The family bonding and learning are enriching, to say the least.” Lisa said.

For more information, visit thinkoutsideboxes.com.

Another company, KiwiCo, delivers a monthly science and art project box, which can be customized to a child’s age and interests, according to www.kiwico.com.


Make the ordinary extraordinary

Simply spending quality time with kids is a gift. Make something together: build a toy, sew a blanket, carve a rocking horse. Are you a good baker? You could gift a coupon for an afternoon of baking cookies together. Are you artistic? A special one-on-one art lesson is another idea. (This goes for grandparents and aunt/uncles too, if they’re looking to give your kids something special when you’re together for the holidays).

Even simple activities take on special meaning if you make it a celebration. Take a long walk to a convenience store together and let each child pick out a treat. Go for a drive to see the Christmas lights, and then head home for hot cocoa. Pick a local charity and give back together, whether that means volunteering at a soup kitchen or wrapping gifts for Toys for Tots.


What all these ideas have in common is that they focus on spending time together as a family, doing something everyone loves. Experiences don’t have to cost money, but gifts like these, which are tailored to a child’s personality and taste, go a long way to show that child how much they are known and loved. Giving talents, thoughtfulness, and above all, quality time, to a child is a present that will always be cherished.



Brittany Carlson is a lifelong lover of words and all things chocolate. She is an Army wife and has two sons, Adam (4) and James (2). She has written for several Army community newspapers, including the Stuttgart Citizen (Germany), Fort Leonard Wood Guidon (Missouri) and Fort Belvoir Eagle (Virginia). Brittany holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. 

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