Posted by on Dec 1, 2014 in Uncategorized | 10 comments

Holiday gift guide

With Ryan’s birthday barely behind us and Christmas looming ahead, it has occurred to me in recent months: We have enough freakin’ toys.

Dinosaurs, in particular, have invaded our small twin home in droves. With them, they have brought their dinosaur caves, dinosaur trucks, dinosaur jeeps and dinosaur trains. Occasionally, they’ve even brought an identical twin dinosaur.

It has gotten so excessive that even Ryan has recognized that perhaps we have a few too many dinosaurs, as he recently determined we should give away all those whose heads tilt slightly to the left.

I’ve been working with him on the concept of donating things he no longer plays with to a little boy or girl who doesn’t have as many toys as he does. Last week, he happily gave away more than half of his stuffed animals and small cars/trucks to “the yittle boy,” along with all those head-tilting dinos.

All this to say: This holiday season, I have become a strong supporter of gifting either “experiences,” like tickets or season passes, or other non-toy items.

Anyone who is not currently the parent of a young child tends to stare at me sort of blankly, though, when I suggest this because it clearly means I’ve lost my mind and have entered the realm of No Fun Anymore. (On the other hand, parents of young children nod emphatically along with me.)

I think Ryan actually enjoys non-toys more. At the very least, he gets more longterm use out of them. Yes, it is initially a little more exciting to tear through some wrapping paper to find a – gasp! – dinosaur. But after the initial excitement wears off, he tends to gravitate toward the same few toys over and over and quickly loses interest in the vast majority of the rest.

You know what he hasn’t lost interest in yet? The Crayola Factory.

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For his birthday, an aunt and uncle gifted Ryan and I season passes to the Crayola Experience in Easton, PA, and he can’t get enough of it. We’ve gone once a month since then, which means we’ve already gotten more value out of the passes than their cost. And we’ll continue to go at least once a month until he’s out of school for the summer, at which point we’ll probably go once a week.

Other season passes/experience ideas: Your local zoo, science museum, natural history museum, amusement park or aquarium. Tumbling, ballet, karate, or swimming classes. One-time passes to see a movie, a concert, a sporting event or Disney on Ice. (I got tickets for my nieces to see Disney’s Frozen on Ice for Christmas, so I practice what I preach.)

I still want Ryan to be able to open things on Christmas. I still want him to wake up and run downstairs and find some brightly wrapped packages waiting for him under the tree. So I worked hard this year to find things that I think would be fun for him, that he’d get a lot of use out of and that would help to channel/tame all his boy energy without resulting to buying a bunch of toys that will ultimately take up precious real estate in my living room to collect dust.

So he’s getting….

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A ball hopper. Last Christmas, we bought Ryan a slide for the backyard. Since it wasn’t exactly “slide weather” at the time, we kept it in our living room for a few months. It was a total godsend. Every time he walked past it, he climbed and slid. It was one more way for our lively boy to get out some energy in a safe, nondestructive manner. Now that the slide is a permanent outdoor fixture, I knew I needed something indoors that would keep him moving during the winter. I like that it can also be used outdoors in case we tire of stepping over the thing by spring.


Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.30.03 PMA Bilibo chair. Ryan loves himself some TV. And since I work from home, I love him some TV, too. But he’s not one to sit in front of the box and stare. Even while he’s watching a show, his body requires him to dance, jump and fall all over the place. Mike and I envision many hours of TV viewing while teetering around in this chair.


Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.29.17 PMPunching Bag. I’ve wanted Ryan to have one of these for a long time. The kid loves a good fake fall, he loves to run into/tackle people, he loves to wrestle. The reviews say this thing holds up pretty well. Time will tell.


Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.33.00 PMA science experiment kit. This is the first Christmas gift we bought for Ryan this year. We’ve had it for months. We chose it because he loves sensory activities and he loves baking with me; this seemed like the perfect marriage of the two.


Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.29.37 PMKid-sized snow shovel. My boy loves to help. This is a great concept in theory but in practice, it can slow a process down if you don’t have the right tools. During his first real winter last year, Ryan constantly wanted to help us shovel snow, but our shovels were too bulky for him to manage. Not knowing how many years of shovel-willingness we have left, we figure we ought to encourage him now with his very own shovel. If this winter is anything like last year, he’ll get a lot of use out of it.


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Books! We always buy Ryan at least a few books because in my opinion, books are always money well spent. Have you heard of If not, check it out. Free shipping, extra discounts for buying multiple books, and low prices. (No, they’re not compensating me in any way – my brother introduced me to the site a couple months ago and I am simply in love.) The books are used, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s even better because I love it when old books find a new home.


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Flashcards. Ryan has a pack of dinosaur flashcards that he adores. He’d be happy to sit for hours with me, flipping through them, guessing the name of each dinosaur, discussing their size and what they eat. So I was excited to discover these desert animal flash cards, beautifully designed by Arizona artist Julie Rustad. Ryan will love learning about new animals — and I can use it as an opportunity to talk to him about his home state. Bonus: It’s a great non-toy stocking stuffer.

Other non-toy gifts that have served us well:

  • Mini-trampoline
  • Soccer goal
  • Scooter
  • Wagon
  • Games
  • Puzzles

Still need more ideas? Heather at Raising Memories has a solid list of 100 Non-Toy Gift Ideas. Share your best non-toy gift ideas below.

(Pssssst! Don’t forget to enter the Jac & Elsie giveaway to win a set of her adorable adult friendship jewelry.)