Alternative gifts for children with more than enough toys

Thinking of gift-giving season that is very fast approaching us, I dread the idea of more “stuff” entering my house. Although it is an ongoing battle with the memories I’ve attached to the simplest of things, I’ve been working hard to declutter our home (read more on that here).

We do a pretty good job of clearing things out on a semi-regular basis: seasonally, after birthdays or holidays, or when I’ve tripped over a toy and stubbed my toe.

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There’s something to be said about wanting to surround our children with #allthethings. We want the best for them, to put a smile on their face and to hear that little screech of excitement knowing they have fallen head over heels for the latest and greatest “thing”.

Non-toy gifts that are still educational and meaningful

As an educator, I’m not denying the value of toys. I use learning through play as a connection and approach to education that can be enriched with the proper toys. Meaningful and impactful toys have a place on the shelf in our home and I love that excitement on my daughter’s face when that toy she loved at a friend’s house shows up in her own. But I really want to refocus our holidays (birthdays, Christmas, celebrations, reunions… the list goes on!) and make it about being together, and enriching the home for the long term, not just the momentary delight of a character on TV in plastic form.

Gift Idea List for Grandparents

Even though this is MY focus, family and friends love to purchase things for our kiddos. I get it. I love to celebrate the children in my care, family friends and the members who make up my family tree. I’m guilty of it too. But with this new focus (that I talk about here in this decluttering post), I’ve come up with our new list of non-toy favorites to share with loved ones in our lives when it comes to traditional gift giving times.

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20+ of the best non-toy gifts to give to your children this holiday season

1. ABC Mouse – I love books. I’ll always be a book lover and supporter first and foremost in my home but there have been moments when I completely understand the draw to expanding your child’s experience through an app. That being said, I’m SUPER picky about how my child spends her time on a tablet or computer and it took me a LONG time to find the perfect one. ABC Mouse is it! This adorable app is JAM-PACKED with awesomeness, educational activities galore, reading books aloud, painting activities that you can then print, math, science, technology, literacy, songs with actions…. the list goes on. Read more here to see what I love about ABC Mouse and why it makes the list for my favorite back to school books for kids. 

2. Highlights – I talk about Highlights in this post, and how it has been such a wonderful experience for my daughter. She loves getting these in the mail and I love going through them with her. There are magazines that are perfectly challenged for her age (Hello – 2.5) as well as those that we know and love from our own childhood (Highlights). These are truly educational, well thought out and meaningful.

Is Your Child Heading to Kindergarten soon?!

Looking over at that amazing child of yours, thinking of slipping the straps of a backpack far too big for their still tiny shoulders as you send them off to kindergarten for the first time, armed with the perfectly packed lunch and all the love in your heart; what a milestone!

Well, Mama. I can help you prepare for this amazing adventure.

In a FREE email course, I walk you through

the 5 MOST IMPORTANT steps to preparing your child for kindergarten.

Non-Toy Gifts for Boys and Girls

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Gifts for 2-5 year olds (and beyond!)

3. Craft Supplies – I recently wrote about my favorite craft supplies from Crayola and why they are so great! Crayola has really moved past the simple box of crayons and they have put so much thought into what they create. Thinking of what kids would enjoy, while not taking away the creativity, but also thinking about parents who are already busy and would love support in making art a meaningful activity at home (without a giant mess). I wrote recently about preparing for school and setting up a space where children can work and create – showing the value of this in your home.

4. Qeepsake – Back in March, I signed up for a free trial of Qeepsake; a busy mom’s dream come true for keeping track and journalling memories of my amazing daughter with support. The early years go so quickly and there are so many moments in the day where I wish I could document who Little Bee is right now, and share it with her in the future. But by the end of the day, a million other things have happened and I never get around to writing it down. What Qeepsake does, is prompt you with a thoughtful question at the end of the day, where you can share via text or messenger, an amazing story about your child. All of what you write is kept in an app you can access and edit any time. – super simple, right? I recently upgraded to the Premium version where I can also upload photos, and add even more questions – I’m loving it! I find it’s such a great way to end the day on a positive note – thinking of the best parts of my child. It’s like a gratitude journal just for her; a collection of memories to share with my daughter, which I can print in a book at any time. Love love love.

5. Love of Learning Binder – Supporting your child in their early years’ educational journey doesn’t need to be complicated to be meaningful at home. Set up like a course for moms, you are walked through and supported in the areas of development that are important to prepare your child for school, and support them in those first few years of elementary school. Everything from activities you can easily do at home, to printables, to planning and organization, to meal planning… the list goes on – all in one place! Easy Peasy.

Non-toy gifts for Children Who Have Everything

6. Learning Subscription Boxes – We’ve been loving our Little Passports subscription here at my house. My daughter had always been intrigued by maps, likes to play adventurer and explore just about everywhere so it was a perfect fit for us (I’ll share more about this in a post of its own soon!). I think I will soon sign up for Green Kid Crafts as well as it aligns so nicely with what we value here at home. Just like Little Passports, they have specially designed boxes for younger and older kids which is perfect for as your child ages, the content is perfectly curated just for them. Awesome! Plus, who doesn’t love getting cool activities in the mail that are easy to follow. Win for mom and the kids.

7. Mabel’s Labels – I know, I know… I talk about Mabel’s Labels ALL THE TIME. They are so sweet, so durable, customizable and are needed. Everywhere. It’s a dream come true for a mom having to organize her kiddos for school, playdates, sports, and even around the house. I put these little stickers on everything.

8. Membership to a Play Center or Activity Center – Fellow moms need a minute. We need a second to not be climbed on, tugged at, or hear our names on repeat. Most communities have a space where you can pay as you go, use a punch card or purchase a membership and we are lucky enough to have the best one around – the Enchanted Woods Play Café offers coffee and conversation for parents, space for kids to run and play (and leave the mess behind… the best part perhaps?!), as well as organized play activities, crafts, and introductions to the people in your community. We LOVE it there. Other great memberships would be the zoo, or science museum if you have one in your area!

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Presents Parents Will Love for Their Kids

9. Classes – Getting littles up and moving is a wonderful way to ensure a win for the long run with moms and kiddos. Giving a gift of dance classes, swimming lessons, gymnastics or our favorite local physical literacy movement program, Moving Munchkins makes for an amazing gift that celebrates little ones, gives mom and dad a break for coming up with another activity and promotes movement which is so very important.

10. Something to make life a little easier for everyone in the house – My daughter has always been a tricky sleeper; waking up long before the sun and never breaking for a nap. If it wasn’t for all the coffee I drank, I’m not sure if I could make it through the day… Enter, the Gro Clock. Giving something like this as a gift is a support for mom and dad while giving children a sense of independence (more on that here) and encouraging the all-important routines that are critical in the early years (more here). Pretty great, right?!

11. Upcoming Events – When my daughter was really small, I would often meet up with fellow moms and head to the movies. As she grew, I stopped going but I don’t really know why other than I assumed she wouldn’t sit in the seat for very long. But I really want to introduce her to her community, to the arts and the amazing cultural opportunities all around. Tickets to upcoming events, like (child-friendly) plays and events would allow us to take this all in while making some pretty incredible memories.

12. Family Activities – In the hustle and bustle of just about every season, there are a million and one reasons to fill the weekends with something, rush through the evening routine and all of a sudden years have passed. Getting an opportunity to slow down and spend time as a family through bowling, skating, sledding, or splashing in a local water park are photo-worthy moments that are filled with genuine laughter and excitement. If the activities don’t require tickets, they might require a few extras: mittens, towels, sleds, or matching family t-shirts to make the moment extra special.

13. Puzzles and Games – Another one that includes the whole family and encourages family time and conversation is giving traditional or silly games that children would LOVE! Twister, Jenga, Hungry Hippos, Operation – there are so many good games that would offer evening upon evening of laughs.

14. Messy Play Bins – I don’t think children ever grow out of the love of getting messy. There are so many learning benefits (which I share here as well as a lot of ideas for how to do it!) and open-ended activities like this offer endless fun. Giving tubs and tools to dive into sensory bin learning is an amazing gift idea! I love these Jelly Balls but keep in mind the age of the child if buying these as they are pretty small. They have always been a hit here at my house as well as the daycare!


The Best Non-Toy Gifts for Preschoolers, Kindergartens, and Toddlers

15. Box of Beautiful Things – This one falls into both sensory play as well as craft play, where children are learning so much through the play itself. We keep a basket of “beautiful things” near to where my daughter’s art table stays, where she can grab ribbon, paper, beads, stickers, or other wonderful things where she can feel inspired to create, play, or build a story around her amazing find. It’s magical. I walk you through our current beautiful things box in this video – check it out here!

16. Books –  (shocker right?) I am so often recommending meaningful books that encourage conversation and learning while allowing for a cuddle with a loved one. Having a loved book becomes a central part of a routine, of a comfort and acts like a home base for emotions. Here are a few posts where I share books that I love: 

17. Library card –  Since I just mentioned books, how fun would it be if you took your little loved one to the library to get their VERY OWN library card?! Read this post for more library awesomeness and why libraries make not only a great gift but should be a regular part of your outings with your kids! 

18. Contribute to a Savings Account or Education Fund – This is one that family has been doing for Little Bee since she was born and I have to say it really takes a weight off of my shoulders when I think about her future. We, of course, contribute to it as well when we can but as a WAHM, there are always other places money needs to go. During a time when family and friends are looking to spend on our little ones, contributions to each child’s own long-term goals when they come of an age when they can handle the responsibility, sets them up for such lifelong success, rather than the momentary excitement of a stuffed animal or new race car. Every little bit helps and contributes to a bigger dream!

19. Piggy Bank – In keeping with the last point, I had purchased a piggy bank for my daughter when she was very young and make a point to make a big deal out of each time I put in the small change I find around the house or in the bottom of my purse. I let her put the money in, give it a jiggle and we talk about how little amounts of money add up. I’m planning a post where I share a few activities I do with my daughter in letting her play with small change I keep on my desk – and the lessons that come from that. I’ll link to it here when it’s ready!

20. Outdoor tools – For the beach or the garden, children love to dig and get messy – which is why I love the idea of a garden set, or buckets and shovels. Even if given in a season when you can’t quite get outside, buckets make amazing indoor play tools and become creative parts of loose parts play (read more about that here).

21. Amazon Prime – This gift is technically for the whole family, but giving the gift of Amazon Prime is giving audiobooks, movies, television shows, early access to amazing deals, shipping benefits, photo storage, and more – available on any device that the family has. Awesomeness! We have been loving listening to the audiobooks for kids that I use under my Prime Membership.

22. Music – I know the power of song when it comes to reconnecting me with emotion; either to lift me up with an exciting song that gets me moving, or through a song that best expresses the feelings I just want to let out. Children work the same way and the beautiful message that come through meaningful song can be so impactful to the little loves in our lives. I have had the amazing opportunity to be in contact with Lindsay Muller, a singer-songwriter who understands the power of song and she has created this beautiful collection of music that is just perfection. You are going to love it, your littles will love it and it will be that amazing reminder of the magic of music

23. Clothes with meaning behind them – After my daughter was born I fell in love with Peekaboo Beans – a clothing line created with children in mind. Their products are curated with the needs of all children, from sensory stimulus to thoughtful seams. They are made using materials without harmful substances, are ultra comfortable, durable and made to last – no joke – they look amazing no matter what we put them through. Seriously – I wish they had it all in my size. Someday, perhaps! And – the best part?! They have partnered with Playground Builders, a registered Canadian non-profit charity that builds playgrounds in war-torn countries, bringing life, laughter and PLAY to over 250,000 children across the globe. Tell me that isn’t amazing. 


What have been your favorite non-toy gifts that you received as a child?

Think back to those memories and how amazing it would be to share that with your own family.

Speaking for myself, every year for Christmas my sister and I would get a pair of matching pajamas and it was THE BEST! We would wear them on Christmas Eve, and wake up in them Christmas morning, eat breakfast in them and be cozy for the better part of the day in them. Then, each time we wore these special pj’s during the rest of the year, they carried the memories of our magical family day together. Stories were relived and it was a Christmas hug all year long.

I’d love to hear what toys you loved as a child, what non-toy gifts your children have loved and what you would add to this list! Leave a comment below or reach out to me here (click here to go to contact page!).

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  1. Erin McCarthy

    This list is very helpful. I look forward to sending it to some family members. Thanks!

    • jessicacmckenna

      Thanks so much, Erin!! So glad it helped and I hope it encourages everyone to try out a few non traditional options this year!

  2. With Love From P

    What a brilliant post! I’m guilty of over doing it with toys for my son and then wanting To thrown them
    All out after a month haha! My sons birthday is coming up so I’m so glad I’ve come across this list as we are trying to steer away from toys as much as possible! I love the idea of books, crafts and most definitely the classes will be great as he is now at an age to appreciate them! Thanks for this you’ve really given me some great ideas to think about.

    • jessicacmckenna

      I’m so glad to hear this! Thanks so much for your feedback! Happy Birthday wishes being sent to your son and I hope the gift you choose is one you can enjoy together for a long time! 🙂

  3. Natalie

    This is a great list of ideas! I’m not a fan of toys either. My oldest does request craft supplies quite often lol. I’m totally writing down a few of these ideas. Thanks 😊

    • jessicacmckenna

      I love it! I’m all for meaningful toys that have more than one “playful purpose” but we can’t possibly fit another stuffed animal in this house! haha. I love craft supplies because it can be so much fun, independent or together activity, and is open-ended. Such a great gift!

  4. talliek

    Great list. I wrote a similar post and they overlap. Being believer in savings account because how much stuff can a little kid accumulate!

    • jessicacmckenna

      Same here! And, it can be so special to know that so many people who loved the child contributed to something really big when they are ready for the account – be it school, or a new adventure!

  5. The Cinnamon Mom

    We’ve actually asked our friends and family to stop giving my girls gifts because we have way too many toys! This list is a great alternative for the grandparents who just can’t resist spending money on them.

    • jessicacmckenna

      Thanks so much! I really love the idea of making memories through “experiences” rather than “stuff”. Plus my house is just too small to handle all the love in toy form.

  6. Swapna

    That’s really helpful… I loved the idea of gifting a membership for activity centre…

    • jessicacmckenna

      Thanks so much! I’m so glad it was useful!


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