Thinking Outside the Toy Box: Non-Toy Gift Ideas for Kids

“Oh, yay! A dozen more toys which will be played with for maybe 15 minutes then be scattered, in pieces, all over my house for the rest of eternity, never to be touched again except by me! Joy of joys!” said no mom ever. If you’re drowning in a sea of long-forgotten and neglected toys, you probably have a mild panic attack at the thought of a tidal wave of more mishmash coming in on birthdays and holidays. And it’s also likely you’re harboring some guilt over your contribution to the heaps of toys at the homes of your friends and family. The solution: think outside of the toy box and give gifts that encourage learning and imagination! 

Next time your kids are invited to a birthday party… or for the next gift-receiving occasion for your kiddos… here’s a list of great gift ideas that will have all of the moms thinking, “Wow! What a unique gift! I wish I’d thought of that!”

1. Start a Hobby


As an adult, how many times have you thought to yourself, “I wish I knew how to (fill in the blank)”? Kids have an amazing capacity for learning through hands-on creativity. Encourage those brains to make new connections by giving a gift that encourages a life-long, productive hobby. The best news is, anything goes! If it’s a fun activity that the child can do on their own in their free time, it’s a win. And bonus points if you find something that creates an opportunity for quality time with a parent or sibling, even better. Plus: a new hobby gives a kid the chance to create gifts for others while also providing an outlet for creativity. Can we all say together “The Gift That Keeps On Giving!”

Knitting and/or Crocheting

The 4M Knitting Art Kit is great for kids ages 8-15, and comes with the tools, materials, and instructions needed to complete a few projects. For younger children, round looms are very easy to learn to use, and can be used to make simpler projects like hats and scarves. This hobby isn’t just for girls, either. Check out this awesome book that teaches you to use The Force to crochet Star Wars characters! 

Presentation Idea: Place looms, hooks, and a few colorful skeins of yarn in a fun basket, along with the instructions for a special project, such as this easy infinity scarfNeed to bump up the dollar value of your gift? Add a gift card for a local hobby or yarn store.

Wood Whittling

A long-forgotten hobby, wood whittling encourages patience and strengthens manual dexterity, not to mention that it teaches careful thought and planning. This is a great rite of passage hobby for young boys. Check out all of these wood whittling tools for getting any child on their way to whittlin’ some wood! 

Presentation Idea: Place wooden carving blocks, carving knives, protective gloves, a knife sharpening tool, and an instruction manual in a tool box that the child can use to store his projects and tools.

Bird or Bug Watching

What kid doesn’t love exploring nature? Boost that love by giving the tools needed to explore and learn about birds and bugs. Child-sized binoculars and a bird watcher’s guide book will thrill any little aspiring Audubon Society member. And for the budding entomologist, bug catching gear abounds on Amazon and in the toy departments of box stores, or you can build your own. Great items to include: magnifying glass, child-sized tweezers, a clear container with a lid, a mesh net, a reference book about bugs, and an explorer’s vest with lots of pockets. Want to take the level of learning a little farther? Include an educational game, such as Bird-Bingo or Bug-Bingo

Presentation Idea: For the bird-lover, present the bird-watching binoculars and book along with a bird house and bird feeders that the child can use to lure birds into his or her own backyard. And for the kid who loves the creepy-crawlies, place all of the tools in an explorer’s vest or inside of a small terrarium

Fishing  

Another ubiquitously loved kid activity is fishing! And this is one of those hobbies that promises fun for the whole family. Provide a beginner’s fisherman’s kit: a child-sized pole, a colorful tackle box, bobbers and hooks, and simple lures. 

Presentation Idea: Fill a colorful tackle box with a variety of lures, bait, and bobbers, alongside a new fishing pole and life-jacket. Sun screen, bug spray, and a brimmed hat are also fun items to include. Bonus points for checking on local laws for fishing licenses and scouting out a good fishing hole!  

Painting or Sketching

As Pablo Picasso so eloquently put it, every child is an artist. Draw on that innate ability by providing a veritable artist’s kit! For the painter, a starter kit that includes brushes, paints, a palette, and instructions is a must. Depending upon the age of the child, you can focus your gift around washable, watercolor, acrylic, or oil painting kits (from youngest to oldest, respectively). For the kids who love to draw, give them the tools: colored pencil sets, a sketch journal that matches their personality, How-to-Draw books on a topic they love, and specialized sketching graphite pencils and erasers. 

Presentation Idea: Give the painter all of his brand new paints and tools in a fun new painter’s toolbox, along with an easel and several blank canvases. Give the sketch artist all of her new drawing utensils and sketch books bundled with a few great How-to-Draw books.

Other Hobby Gift Ideas: 

  • Star gazing tools (telescope, books on constellations)
  • Photography (how-to books or lessons, point-and-shoot camera)
  • Sewing (cross stitch kits, sewing machine and small collection of fabrics, sewing kits, how-to books)
  • Mosaic building (mosaic materials: glass, glue, grout, how-to books)
  • Glass-blowing lessons (check local artists)
  • Gardening (veggie seed starter kits, gardening tools, flower pots and seeds, books about gardening)
  • Jewelry making (beads, jewelry-making tools and components, how-to books, project kits)
  • Origami (package a how-to book with some fancy printed origami paper)

2. Give an Adventure


Geocaching  

Geocaching is quickly becoming a favorite activity for families all over the world! The awesome thing about geocaching is that millions of caches are hidden ALL OVER THE WORLD, so you can take this hobby with you wherever you go, even on vacation. It’s like a treasure hunt. 

Presentation Idea: You can purchase the official geocaching app for the child’s smart phone (or the parent’s), and include a geocaching kit: a container for creating his own cache to hidea log book for keeping track of her adventures in geocaching, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Geocaching, and Dr. B’s Cache Advance Beginner’s Kit.

Detective Gear

What kid wouldn’t love to learn to capture fingerprints or send messages in a secret code? Awesome spy gear can include anything from night vision goggles and super-powered listening devices, to laser trip wires and walkie-talkies. 

Presentation Idea: Pair up some fun gear with this Spy Science book that’s chock full of spy activities, and the detective on your list will be thrilled!

Other Adventure Gift Ideas:

  • Hunting gear (check license info for your area)
  • Camping gear (wrap this gift up with all of the makings for s’mores!)
  • Hiking gear (present this along with a map of local hiking trails, sunscreen, bug spray, and a scavenger hunt list!)

3. Increase Knowledge


Living Nature Kits

Most kids are fascinated by nature, so why not give them a little piece of it to call their own? An ant farm or butterfly house will let them watch first-hand how these critters live. Other ideas in this category include one of the dozens of novelty Chia Pets and any number of other little plant growing kits.

Science Kits

Whether your little discoverer likes dinosaurs, geography, the stars, or rocket science, Barnes & Noble’s website abounds with exciting kits for kids of all ages! The possibilities are endless, and the kits range from very general science to extremely specific, so there is something for every kid’s interest and ability level.

Building Toys

Ignore the word “toys” in the subheading… if the kids are learning while they’re building, then building kits are an awesome gift idea! Of course there are the ubiquitous Legos, K’nex, Tinker Toys, and Lincoln Logs, but the fun doesn’t end there. Connectagons are totally open-ended building toys that kids love, and these gear sets teach kids how to build with interconnecting gears to make their creations move. Robotics kits are also a favorite among the more engineering-inclined of kids.

4. Give Culture


Memberships

Our country is filled with amazing zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and museums. Children love exploring what the world has to offer. Consider buying the child and his family the entrance into a local art or children’s museum during an exciting traveling exhibit. 

Or better yet, buy a year’s membership for the family. This is a gift that will not only broaden the child’s horizons, giving him a better understanding of the world around him, but will also provide a year’s worth of opportunity to spend quality time with the ones he loves.

And the awesome thing about memberships: they often fund the betterment of the facilities, support the care of the animals in the zoo or aquarium, and/or provide outreach and awareness opportunities. Most memberships to non-profits count as a charitable donation, and are also tax-deductible. 

Performance Arts

Check with your local performing arts center and give tickets to an upcoming ballet performance or live play. 

5. Gift Certificates


Sometimes, you just need a really quick, reasonably priced giftWe’ve got you covered. Gift certificates, while seemingly thoughtless, can actually be a fantastic open-ended gift! The greatest thing about them: you control the dollar amount, and you know that whatever the kid buys with them will be something they truly love. Of course you can always buy a gift certificate for their favorite store, but if you want to foster an adventurous spirit, may we suggest: 

  • The local hardware store (think of all of the open-ended play and discovery that lies in wait!)
  • A flower nursery (kiddo can help landscape by integrating their selections into the flower bed)
  • The comic book or video game store
  • The office supply store (trust us, this is a major favorite, especially for artsy kids)
  • A local book store
  • A hobby shop – one for a specific hobby, or one that caters to a plethora of hobbies
  • The grocery store (food adventure anyone?)
  • The dollar store (because, let’s face it, that place is full of things kids love)
  • A teacher’s supply store (educational fun, anyone?)
  • A musical supply store (who knows, you might take part in discovering the next Beethoven!)
  • The auto parts store
  • A local antiques shop (how much fun would that be!)
  • A local bowling alley (include enough to play two full games, plus the shoe rental)
  • The movie theater (place tickets in a plastic popcorn bucket filled with jumbo-sized candies)
  • A bucket of tokens or a pre-loaded play card for a local arcade
  • A magazine subscription (okay, so this isn’t a gift certificate, but kids love getting mail. Dozens of great magazines are out there that are just for kids!)

Still need a few more ideas? Here are a few more of our favorite non-toy gift ideas: 

  • Puzzles
  • Board games and card games: fun for the whole family!
  • A box full of office supplies… scotch tape, post-it notes of various sizes and shapes, tracing paper, graphing paper, rolls of colorful washi tape, popsicle sticks, glue, etc. 
  • Perplexus maze ball: these come in dozens of varieties, some are even themed. They’ll keep everyone in the house mesmerized for hours!
  • An outdoor game, like Spike Ball, that kids can play together
  • Books! There are books out there for every reading level and interest.

If you allow your mind to wander just a little bit, you’ll find that there are non-toy gift opportunities everywhere. 

If for some reason we haven’t convinced you that a non-toy gifting experience is the way to go, be sure to check out the Daily Mom Christmas Guide.

Photo Credits: Cindy Haley

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Cindy Haley

Cindy is the mom to Wyatt, the wife of Jason, and a lover of Jesus. She teaches middle-school English in a tiny town in northeastern Oklahoma, and has a long list of hobbies, including photography, reading, cooking, and gardening.

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