With the holiday season upon us, the challenge of finding the perfect gift is about to head towards the top of everyone’s to-do list. While toys and clothes are certainly atop many children’s wish lists, memorable experiences are also something that every parent and grandparent want to give their children. And, giving and sharing experiences is important for children’s wellbeing and development!
Here are eight ideas for gift-giving that focus on experiences rather than things:
- Plan a trip to a new destination. Exploring new places can open up a world of new possibilities and expand what children understand about the world. Whether you take a day trip to the beach or the mountains, a weekend trip to an amusement park or nearby city, or a vacation exploring any number of areas and things to do, trips are adventures in themselves filled with new things to see, do, explore and learn together!
Gift giving tip: Find things to do from Visitor Bureaus in the areas you’d like to visit. You can also find helpful information from sites where others share their experiences and favorite places to go around the DMV area and beyond! A few we sites we love: Capitol Mama, The Playful Parent, Mommy Nearest, Off the Potomac, Trekaroo, KidFriendlyDC, and A Parent in Silver Spring,
- Consider an annual membership to an area attraction that focuses on children. Many local attractions including Port Discovery, the Maryland Zoo, the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center and others offer affordable annual memberships. (Shameless plug: Don’t miss our $20 off offer on annual memberships, going on now!).
Gift giving tip: Look for experiences that offer programs, events and things to do for children and families, and that you feel you’ll be able to take advantage of at least a few times per year. You can learn about a variety of area attractions and their offerings via Visit Baltimore, (cool)Progeny, Go With Sunshine: Kid Friendly Maryland, the Baltimore Sun (check out their Weekend & With the Kids sections in particular), Baltimore Magazine, Baltimore’s Child, and HulaFrog others!
- Explore the outdoors! Find a nearby park, go on a hike, or consider a camping adventure. David Elkind, professor emeritus of Child Development at Tufts University has said, “Outdoor play is important at all age levels but particularly in early childhood and the elementary years. Children are not born knowing about the world in which they will live. It is only through playful contact with that world that they create the learning experiences that allow them to make this world their own.” Spending time outdoors with children introduces them to nature, helps them stay active, and provides endless opportunities for child/family exploration and hands-on learning.
Gift giving tip: Consider gifts like nature kits, a tent and camping supplies, or items they can enjoy only outside.
- Check out a local performance. Theater, plays and orchestra performances aren’t just for adults! Stories come to life right in front of children’s eyes when they see a performance of a kid-friendly performance. As a study from University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. finds, there are major benefits for students who attend live theater. According to this research, “Field trips to live theater enhance literary knowledge, tolerance, and empathy among students.”
Gift giving tip: Check out offers, classes and performances from the Baltimore Symphony Children and Family Programs, Chesapeake Arts Center, Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, Charm City Players, Everyman Theatre, Children’s Playhouse of Maryland, Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts, Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, and many more!
- Volunteer together. You can find a variety of ways to volunteer in the community around you, and it’s a wonderful way to learn about other people, about communities, and about the importance of giving back. Volunteering also provides an opportunity to think about social justice issues, what citizenship means, and to reflect on and discuss both. Organizing food and clothing drives, taking part in park cleanup efforts, and visiting residents in nursing homes are just a few ideas. Be sure to check with the organization you’d like to volunteer with regarding requirements.
- Give them classes or experiences that teach new skills! Have a child that loves art? Consider signing up for art lessons or workshops. Oftentimes you may be able to enjoy these experiences together. For instance, consider parent-child swimming classes, sewing and more! Doing activities together that challenge your child and that takes them time to learn and master can provide them with a greater growth mindset, which in turn can help them be more successful in life. People who believe that they are capable learning and mastering new things—especially things outside their “comfort zone”—by applying themselves and learning from their mistakes tend to be more successful in their endeavors.
- Create together! Research by psychologists Robert and Michele Root Bernstein indicates tinkerers are thinkers! Doing “maker” activities together – which include everything from sewing, jewelry making, quilting, and sculpting to woodworking, electronics, robotics, 3D printing and more – keeps us in the present. Making also improves our mood, fosters a sense of connection with others who are making, fosters independence, and has both physical and mental benefits, among other benefits (See this article on Seven Surprising Benefits of Maker Spaces).
Gift giving tip: Consider gifts that may include tools that your junior chef or artist can use, musical instruments or mini musical instrument kits, and supplies for putting together a book or a play.
- Make a family night date—day or night. Whether going out to dinner, watching a television show or movie together as a family, challenging one another to a game of bowling, or enjoying a picnic or great playground adventure in a park, finding ways to spend time together provides time to bond as a family – and to unwind! Schedule time, when it works for your family, that is just about being together, connecting and having fun. Building positive family relationships in this way is at least as important as involvement in extra-curricular activities
Gift giving tip: Consider wrapping a box containing a gift certificate or fun activity for each month. Pre-schedule your family dates, open your box and enjoy a little holiday magic throughout the year!