A few years ago, I was talking to my sister about wanting to change the way I had been doing Christmas presents with my kids. The Christmas season was feeling like a frenzy of shopping and accumulating and was becoming more and more stressful. Too much time was being devoted to finding presents that would wow them and I was drained trying to not only find the most amazing gifts, but figuring out how to pay for them too. Meanwhile I was noticing the ever growing piles of stuff that filled their drawers and closets and I started to wonder what the heck was I doing?! I had lost my way and Christmas had become a consumer event. I knew things had to change and to start, I wanted to reset our traditions to a more simple way of Christmas gift giving. And as usual, my sister came through with fantastic advice. She told me about a little rhyme she uses to plan the Christmas gifts she gives her children, and for us, Christmas gift giving has thankfully, never been the same: “Something you want, Something you need, An experience to share, and Something to read.” With this simple rhyme, our Christmas morning present traditions changed from being about more stuff into more thoughtful experience gifts for kids.
Experience Gifts for Kids: Simplified Christmas
Something You Want: This is pretty self explanatory, but shaping our gift giving plans with the rhyme leads us to limit the number of “want” gifts we purchase for each child. Not only does it lessen the extent of the accumulation that we want to limit, it leads us to be much more thoughtful about the gifts we choose. For each child, we generally choose something that they have wanted for a while. For example, last year Naomi was given a record player, Garrett a new baseball mitt, Maya a bottle of her favorite perfume and Sophie a pair of boots.
Something You Need: Practical gifts are still a lot of fun to give and receive. The kids usually receive things like running clothes, hiking boots, a new winter coat, basic camping gear that they may have outgrown or other gifts along those lines. “Needed” gifts might not be glamorous, but they are useful and practical and are the items the kids will generally utilize the most.
An Experience to Share: This is by far my favorite component of our Christmas present planning. Here’s how we do our experience gifts. First of all, each planned experience lasts at least a few days which allows for tons of options. Because we have four kids, time and our budget limits the number of trips we can feasibly plan. If every child took a trip every year with each parent, we would have 8 trips to plan which for us, wasn’t reasonable. So each year, I plan an experience with two of our kids and Dave plans an experience for the other two. And then the next year, we switch. This allows us to have precious alone time with each kiddo for an extended period every two years and each child gets to have a memorable experience with one of us every single year. I adore having the extended alone time with one of the kids doing an activity tailored to their interest and the experience gifts are so much fun to plan. Here’s the trips we have taken for the last two years. Sophie went skiing with Dave in Snowshoe, West Virginia and trained for and ran the Louisiana Half Marathon with me in Baton Rouge. Naomi travelled to Philadelphia to watch the Penn Relays with Dave and went backpacking in Canada’s Bruce Peninsula National Park with me. (Which was AMAZING! You can read about that trip here.) Garrett attended a baseball training camp with Dave in Louisville and took a 4 day Appalachian Trail section hike from Springer Mountain Georgia to Neels Gap with me. And Maya traveled to Columbus to see the ballet production of Alice in Wonderland with Dave while attending the 3 Rivers Arts Festival and seeing Taylor Swift in concert in Pittsburgh with me. Since this is their main gift, I like to present it in a fun way. I usually have a few small gifts associated with the experience, such as a hiking stick or themed calendar, to wrap together with a certificate stating what we will be doing together in a gift box. Not only is this my favorite gift to plan and give, it is our kiddos’ favorite gifts to open. Experience gifts for kids are the Christmas gifts they remember for the rest of their lives. I absolutely love this tradition.
Something to Read: I love the lasting impact that books have and our kids receive several books each year based on their interests. Sometimes the books each child receives has something to do with the experience gift for that year such as a guide book for the location of their upcoming trip or a training plan for an upcoming race. It is really fun to find books that I know will be appreciated and since books are relatively inexpensive, this gift is a very budget friendly purchase. Last year I found useful metal storage baskets that I placed their gift books in along with a warm soft blanket perfect for cuddling up to read.
Concentrating our Christmas gifts on that great little rhyme “Something you want, Something you need, An experience to share and Something you read” has made our gift giving traditions so much more fun and has removed the unwelcome stress I had been feeling. Simplifying our gifts to where the focus is less on getting more stuff and more on experience gifts for kids has allowed us to minimize the gift frenzy and instead we’ve created lasting meaningful memories that we will never forget.
Have you simplified your Christmas traditions? And what’s your favorite experience gifts for kids?
As always, Happy Travels!
Because Christmas is a special holiday in the world, I am wondering what I should buy to present my newborn baby. The gift I think of is the best record player so that my child can listen to the best quality of orchestra songs to build up an intelligent brain as adult.
I love the rhyme, and the experience part. That’s really special. Several years ago we too simplified Christmas. We were finding that by the end of the day the kids had so many new items that a lot of it was set aside. Now our kids get one present from us and one from Santa. We keep it very reasonable and have found that it helps us and the kids keep what Christmas is really about in perspective.
It definitely makes it less stressful and even more fun to simplify everything! Have a wonderful Christmas!
Love this! We just had our 3rd kid a month ago and I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I definitely want to amp up the experience gifts. I like your idea of rotating parents every other year. For the experiences, do the kids know ahead of time what you are getting them? Do they help in the planning or is it a surprise? Or sometimes both? My kids are 6, 3, and 0 so I’m thinking now is the perfect time to start doing this especially with the oldest one.
Congrats on your new baby! The experiences are a surprise, although the kids do give us ideas of what they are hoping to do. We definitely try to tailor the trips to what they are interested in. Once they know where they are going, they do give input for activities they hope to do there or restaurants they want to eat at. Have a wonderful Christmas! I loved your post about a non-toy Christmas. So many great ideas!
I love this idea, both in its thoughtfulness and its practicality. Thanks for the idea and for explaining how this looks for your family.
Thanks Shannon! XO Hope you guys have a wonderful Christmas!