The author’s daughter, Sarah, age 5. (By Jamie Davis Smith)

Children everywhere have already begun to give serious thought to their holiday wish-list while parents everywhere have already begun to cringe with the realization that in just a few weeks more toys will be invading their home.

The good news is that not all gifts need to involve toys.

There are plenty of alternatives that children will enjoy just as much as new toy but won’t add to the clutter. Even better, many non-toy gifts lead to enriching experiences, learning, and valuable family time.

1.  Create a Space Just for Your Child.  Does your child love to read? Do art projects? Put puzzles together? Imagine their excitement on Christmas morning waking up to a special area created just for them to do what they love. The area you create doesn’t have to be large. A small tent with a cushion makes a great reading nook in the basement or the child’s bedroom. A child-sized table has a small footprint but makes a big impact when the child knows he is free to create there without fear of dripping glue. Companies like HABA make beautiful tents in just about any theme including pirates, jungle, princess, and even exotic Marrakesh. Better yet, make your own. There are a ton of easy ideas on Pinterest.

2. Magazine Subscriptions. There are magazines about just about everything from Thomas the Train and Princesses to junior versions of Sports Illustrated and National Geographic. Older children might also enjoy magazines for about their hobby, weather it is playing guitar, building with Legos, or gaming. You can wrap the first issue for the child to open during the holidays.

3. Photo Books. Most children love looking at pictures of themselves.  Photobooks are simple to make with templates from services like Shutterfly or Snapfish. Other printers, such as Blurb and Artifact Uprising offer even more options. If you have never made a photobook before consider making one with photos of your child from birth through the present. You only need a few photos from each year to make a big impact. You can add text to your photobook to tell the story of your child’s life so far. Some families make a book each year. Check out the affordable Creative Live course How to Create Photo Books for an overview of options available for photo book design ranging from completely custom, to automated Instagram books.

[The best photo books for all those pictures languishing on your phone and computer]

4. Gift Certificates. Does your child always ask to go to the ice cream shop or neighborhood store that sells candy by the pound? Maybe your child has a favorite restaurant they would like to go to every night of the week. Get your child a gift certificate good for a visit  to somewhere you know he loves to go and be prepared to say yes the next time your child makes a request for a special treat.

5. Art Supplies. Children probably won’t be excited about a set of crayons but the gift of materials that they don’t usually use will be greeted with enthusiasm. Faber-Castell has unique Creativity Cans filled with materials that require children to use their imaginations to put together foam balls, bits of fabric, and more to create unique works of art. Or, try an art kit with gel crayons and color-resist paper. You also can always assemble one of your own: Get a large container and go to town with things like googly eyes, pom poms, beads, glue, stickers, paints. Personalize it with your child’s name and watch the fun appear.

6. Museum Memberships. Many children love trips to their local children’s museum or zoo. Give the gift of multiple return visits throughout the year with a membership to whichever museum your child enjoys the most.

7. Decision-Making Power. Children don’t often get to make important decisions, such as what to eat for dinner or where to go for a daytrip.  Give your child coupons, good things like planning a meal, choosing where to go during the weekend, which weekend night to stay up late or which show to watch.

8. Mommy/Daddy Dates. Children value one on one time with their parents whether they have multiple siblings or are a one and only. Give children a small token gift representing what they do during future one-on-one time with Mom or Dad. It can be anything you and your child enjoy from a pair of goggles representing an outing to the pool to a bottle of nail polish representing a future mother/daughter spa day to a printout of a menu from a favorite restaurant where just the two of you will go.

9. Show Tickets.  Many children are very excited at the prospect of seeing a live performance, whether it is a play, band, or event such as the circus or Disney on Ice. Look at the schedules in your area to see what will be playing in the coming year. If you are able, buy tickets to wrap. If the performance you want to see is later in the year wrap small token related to the performance, such as a clown nose or mini-guitar, and wrap it with a note explaining its significance.

10. Books. A book about anything your child finds interesting makes a great gift, but a book signed by the author or the promise of a monthly book delivery is truly special. In Washington D.C., Politics & Prose bookstore offers a unique Signed First Edition Children’s Book Club with six and 12 month subscriptions available.  Or provide specific information about your child’s preferences and enroll in their Children and Teens Book A Month Club and let their very knowledgeable staff hand-pick selections for your young reader. The first book can be sent with a personal note.

11. Classes. Is your child a drama queen? Sports fanatic? Music aficionado? Sign them up for a class that will allow them to do what they love once a week. Get something your child needs for the class, such as a tutu or soccer ball, to wrap.

12. Unique Experience. There are many special events that take place around the holidays, several of which continue into the new year. In some areas, there are enormous displays carved out of ice, such as the ICE! Exhibits at Gaylord resorts in Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C.  Many areas also host magical light displays, holiday-themed teas, or holiday spectacular themed shows.

13. Activity Passes. Chances are there is somewhere your child loves to go to play. It might be somewhere you go regularly or somewhere she has only visited once for a birthday party. Whether your child loves giant moon bounces, a play area with tons of dress-up clothes, bowling, laser tag, an amusement park, or even a special playground that is not on your regular route, buy (or make) a few passes good for trips throughout the year.

14. Family Vacation. Research shows that people gain more pleasure from anticipating a trip than from actually going on a trip. Start building anticipation for a family vacation sooner rather than later by presenting the trip as a gift. If you’re not sure where you are going yet, part of the gift could be allowing your child input into the destination and planning process. Wrap something your child will need for the trip, like a suitcase, bathing suit or guidebook so she has something to open.

15. A New Skill. Has your child expressed interest in learning something new?  There are child versions of just about anything your son or daughter needs to learn a new skill. Some ideas include beginner sewing and knitting kits, child-proof cameras, kid-safe cooking kits and cookbooks with recipes children can make themselves, took kits appropriate for children, books about learning sign language and children’s gardening kits.

16. A Yummy Treat. It’s not just Santa that loves treats on Christmas. Is there a special treat your child loves but does not get very often? A kid who loves a special cookie recipe, pink cupcakes, potato chips, or cheesy corn puffs, for example, but doesn’t get them often, may be surprisingly delighted by finding a treat that is usually forbidden under the tree.

17. Room Decorations. Kids love it when their rooms reflect who they are. A new picture to hang related to their current interest is a good choice, weather it is Star Wars, Princesses, or soccer. Kids also love seeing their names displayed, so unique art that spells your child’s name makes a great gift. Options range from custom calligraphy to alphabet photography. RoomLookz has cute and affordable options for room updates for tweens.

18. Money. Most children love having some cash of their own. Younger kids may be thrilled with as little as $5 to save or spend. If your child complains that he did not get a hoped-for toy, he can use his cash gift towards its purchase.

19. Craft or Science Box. Even parents who know little about art or science can give their children the tools they need with boxes that contains everything a child needs to complete an impressive art of science project.  KiwiCrate offers options ranging from kite making to creating glow-in-the dark animals and more. Try one box or get a monthly subscription as a gift.

20. Their Own Artwork Display. Children create a lot of artwork throughout the year. Use the holidays as an opportunity to show them how much you value their creativity. Frame one or two of your child’s best pieces and hang them after your child opens their gift. As an alternative to the traditional frame, try photographing your child’s artwork and printing it on a canvas through an online site like Shutterfly.

Jamie Davis Smith is a Washington D.C.-based mother of four.  She can be reached at jdavissmith03@gmail.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @jamiedavissmith.

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