Teach your kids the real spirit of the season by emphasizing activities over toys

Few parents ever say “my kids don’t have enough toys!” They seem to accumulate over the years, despite our best efforts to keep them contained in a toy box, and convincing children to part ways with their favorites is an exercise in futility. One great way to reduce the clutter, while teaching your kids to place less importance on material objects, is to give them experiences instead of gifts this holiday season.

Why Experiences Make Great Gifts

There are many reasons to go the experience route beyond simply teaching them good values. First of all, scientific studies have found that experiences bring people more happiness than possessions. According to psychologists, much of this has to do with anticipation. Looking forward to an experience elicits a prolonged period of excitement leading up to the occasion. Waiting for something is almost as pleasurable as the actual experience itself! Experiences truly are the gifts that keep on giving. Memories last a lifetime and continue to make us happy as we recall them even years later.

Some people believe that objects bring greater value because they last a long time while experiences are fleeting, but in reality once the initial joy over a material gift dissipates, our appreciation for it wanes. How often have you given your child a gift they begged and pleaded for, only to find it lying on their bedroom floor surrounded by other unplayed-with toys a week later?  

Experiences also eliminate competition; siblings won’t fight over who got the better gift, or compare their hauls to see who ended up with more presents. Because they’re often enjoyed as a family or in groups, experiences provide a better social connection (and are a great way to break out of the doldrums of too much time spent cooped up in the house together). 

Local father of three Ryan Hall has long been a proponent of experiences over physical gifts. “Usually we do a trip or something,” he says. Over the years, those excursions have included concerts, a visit to the Denver Aquarium, and a backpacking trip on the Centennial Trail. 

For Ryan, the benefits are simple. “My kids like it because it’s something they can have forever—they don’t just throw it away or outgrow it,” he explains. “And I get to spend quality time with all three at once or individually. You have a memory and irreplaceable quality time; you’re not throwing away whatever gift you spend money on.”

Ryan’s advice to other parents thinking about giving their kids experiences? Tailor them to each child’s unique interests. 

“Try to choose something that forces you to spend quality time together,” he continues. “Something you can do with them that makes it a bonding experience. In this disconnected world, those are few and far between.”

Experience Gifts for All Ages

The great thing about experience gifts is, there’s something for kids of all ages. You can perfectly pair experiences with each child’s interests. Here are some ideas to help you get started. 


If your kids are interested in taking up new activities but don’t yet have the skills, consider signing them up for lessons that will either teach them the basics or help expand their knowledge! Possibilities include:

  • Dance lessons
  • Yoga classes
  • Skating lessons
  • Cooking classes
  • Music lessons (an instrument of their choice)
  • Creative writing classes
  • Swimming lessons

Sports Fans

Whether your child enjoys watching sports or participating in the action, there are plenty of great experiences that will thrill them, such as:

  • Tickets to a professional sporting event
  • Seasonal pass to an ice or roller skating rink
  • Sports camps
  • Miniature golf passes
  • Indoor rock climbing membership
  • Bowling passes
  • Ski mountain lift tickets

Outdoor Adventures

We are fortunate to live in an area with year-round opportunities for outdoor recreation. Help stoke your child’s enthusiasm for the great outdoors with one (or more) of the following experiences:

  • Fishing trip
  • Wilderness/nature survival courses 
  • Horseback riding excursion 
  • State and national park passes
  • Summer camp
  • Whitewater rafting trip
  • Hot air balloon ride

Arts & Culture

Kids interested in arts & crafts, fossils, history, and more are sure to love any of the following experiences:

  • Museum membership
  • Pottery making classes
  • Children’s theater subscription
  • Storytelling event or book signing
  • Aquarium or zoo annual pass
  • Magazine subscriptions

Indoor Adventures

Let’s face it, we can’t always count on the weather to cooperate—and being stuck at home gets old fast. The following indoor experiences are guaranteed to help stave off boredom:

  • Movie/concert tickets
  • Escape room passes
  • Yoga classes
  • Computer camp
  • Trampoline play zone passes
  • STEM maker space membership

Family Fun

To really foster a sense of togetherness, plan an experience the whole family will enjoy! You might opt for the following:

  • Family movie or board game night
  • Parent/child painting class
  • Dining out (take turns choosing restaurants)
  • Camping trip
  • YMCA family pass
  • Weekend getaway in a cabin or hotel
  • Scavenger or treasure hunt

While the emphasis is on the experience, you could include a simple tangible gift tied to the experience (ballet shoes for dance lessons, team cap for a sporting event). These items are generally inexpensive and will help tide your child over until they can enjoy their experience.