by Meghan Fitzgerald
Each November, my husband and I hope to make it 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.
We know we’re not alone—and we suspect the temptation to grab the quickest gift available may be extra strong this year when parenting stress seems to be at an all-time high.
So, we’re taking a moment to pause and reflect on the things that have guided our best gift-giving in years past.
First, there was a homework assignment. Our then first grader was tasked with interviewing the family about our favorite winter holiday traditions, which for our family is Christmas. To our delight, our kids responded with a long list of experiences, from our town’s tree lighting to decorating gingerbread houses to our candlelit church services to candle making on Winter Solstice. They didn’t mention a single “thing” they had been gifted.
Inspired by dear friends who consider themselves true minimalists, we’ve also taken breaks over the years to purge our playroom, donating underused toys and tucking away a bunch simply to make more space. Whenever we’ve done it, we’ve noticed immediately that our kids were playing more, for longer and with greater harmony, in the room.
It has also helped to remind ourselves that acquiring things doesn’t lead to lasting happiness, no matter your age. Much of the happiness we experience with new things is derived from their novelty. Soon enough, this wears off. Worse yet, getting in the habit of 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.”
Experiences may matter even more this year, now that pandemic life has left our kids so starved for them. And because go-to experience gifts, like special trips, may not be feasible right now, we’ll all have to get a bit more creative.
To guide our gift-giving this year, my husband and I are focusing on one of our favorite sayings:
“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 our kiddos 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. The research tells us that a big part of why receiving experiences brings us more happiness is the anticipation we feel between gift and the actual experience. So, giving kids the promise of experiences to come not only offers them quality time but all of the goodness they’ll feel when looking forward to it. Here are a few ideas:
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:
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 or purchase gift cards for experiences, like Tinkergarten, 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:
Give a DIY Outdoor Play kit!
Here are some of our favorite kits and items to support exploration and pretend play:
Give books. You really can’t go wrong with the gift of reading—a powerful experience in and of itself that helps kids focus, stretch their imaginations and explore new worlds and topics. If you’re not sure where to start, here are 36 children’s books vetted by our team of early learning experts with themes that are perfect for the holidays—or any time of year.
No matter how you gift this season, we wish you and your family a 2021 full of joyful and memorable experiences together!
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