Gifts for Kids That Last a Lifetime

by Meghan Fitzgerald

Each November, we hope to make this year a mindful gifting year. And, come December, we inevitably end up hitting the toy store at the last minute, wondering what to grab in order to feel like there are “enough” gifts for each of our kids.

Thanks to a chat with dear friends and a first-grade homework assignment, we actually think this might be our year.

First, the homework assignment. Our first grader was tasked with interviewing the family about our holiday traditions. To our delight, our kids’ lists were full of experiences, from our town’s tree lighting to decorating gingerbread houses to candle making on Winter Solstice. Not a single “thing” made their lists.

Two days later, friends shared that they had just purged their playroom, donating underused toys and tucking away a bunch simply to make more space—something we’ve vowed to do, but for which we somehow haven’t found the time. Our friends noticed immediately that their kids were playing more, and with greater harmony, in the room.

This reminded us of a study released last year that showed kids play for longer periods—and more creatively—when there are fewer toys around. Yes, less is more!

Plus, no matter your age, acquiring things does not lead to lasting happiness. Much of the happiness we experience with new things is derived from their novelty. Soon enough, this wears off. Worse yet, getting lots of new things may even lead to the never-ending need for more possessions.

After a 20-year study on the difference between acquiring things and acquiring experiences, Cornell Professor, Dr. Gilovich concluded that,

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless, they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

Totally inspired, we are fired up about what would be the best gift to give our kids this year. We’re starting with one of our favorite quotes, “There are only two lasting gifts we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other is wings.”

For roots, we’ll double down on our family traditions. For wings, we’ll keep finding experiences and objects that help them stretch and grow. We’ve crowdsourced ideas from friends about how best to do that. To follow are some of our favorites, and we hope they help you this season too!

Give experiences:

  • Plan an outing together. Research places to walk, drive or travel to by train for the day.

  • Plan a trip. If you are able to take a family vacation, involve kids in the planning of it. Even wee ones can look at images of the places you’ll go together and get in on the excitement and anticipation.

Give regular time together—Not sure how to wrap time? You can wrap up a certificate, making a promise for a way to spend regular time together. Here are some of our favorite potential promises:

  • Weekly wake up in the woods—commit to an early wake-up and morning walk together each week.

  • Weekend time unplugged. Set aside a chunk of a weekend day to unplug and celebrate adventures together.

  • 52 weekly hikes—Inspired by our friend and Leader, Megan Fisher and her amazing, hiking family.

  • Find a group to play with or search for DIY activities to give your play time a place to start.

Put experiences on others’ lists. Welcome grandparents, aunts, and uncles to support your commitment to experiences. They can give you and your kids financial support and, in many cases, like Tinkergarten, they can purchase gift cards for experiences that help you and your children connect, play and learn together.

Open-ended toys. Toys may be things, but toys can be powerful tools for fun and learning, especially the ones that support open-ended play. There are some great lists of open-ended toys out there, and we are partial to WIRED Magazine’s list of the five best toys of all time (sticks and dirt are on there!). Lists aside, we’ve found the following questions super helpful as we reviewed the lists to identify the most open-ended toys:

  • How many ways could our kids use this toy?

  • How many different things could they build or make with this toy?

  • Can this toy also be a tool?

  • How many different ways could they pretend with this toy?

Give an adventure kit—Here are some of our favorite kit ideas to support exploration and pretend play:

  • Explorer: Fill a bucket (we LOVE buckets at Tinkergarten) with tools that support adventure like magnifying glass, binoculars, shovel and net.

  • Nature Chef: Fill an old picnic basket with bowls, spoons, cookie cutters and water carrier—everything you need to whip up a mobile nature feast.

  • Maker: Turn a standard pillowcase into a bindle. Then, fill it with forest putty, twine and double-sided tape—head outdoors, and who knows what you can gather and create!

  • Loose Parts: Grab a bin or box and fill it with random, recycled things. We call ours “bricolage” boxes. Cardboard tubes, buttons, pipe cleaners, empty containers, bits of colorful fabric, etc. Include some glue and/or tape, and kids can create as they connect loose parts.

No matter how you gift this season, we wish you and your family a 2020 full of joyful and memorable experiences together!

Sign Up For Our
Weekly Newsletter

DIY activities, tips, and weekly resources right in your inbox.

Learn Outside in Your Community

Strong leaders
Classes are led by well-trained, certified, passionate leaders from your community.
Learn how to support your child’s development in mixed age groups along with other like-minded parents.
An expert-designed curriculum helps kids develop critical cognitive, social and emotional, and physical skills.