40 Non-Toy Gift Ideas and Experiences for Kids


non-toy gift ideasIt’s usually around this time of year that people start sharing articles about gift ideas for kids–specifically toys. Bloggers start writing about minimalism, excess, accumulating stuff, spending, etc.

So, do kids really like receiving experiences instead of toys? I asked my boys their thoughts about this. After all, they are the experts who have been gifted both toys and experiences for the past 6 years. 

Ben, 5th Grade

I love getting to do things at different times in the year. My favorite experience gifts are Advertureland passes, birthday trips, and the Build a Bear and Movie date with Grandma Marlene. It’s just as fun to open experience gifts as toys. 

Will, 2nd Grade

I like opening toys, and I like getting to go places. I like Adventureland. I like going to movies and eating popcorn for a present. I hope somebody gives me money so I can do a camp next year. That would so much fun. 

A Little Family Background

I was nervous about how the kids would respond when their gift contained a gift card instead of a toy the first year we asked for family to consider giving non-toy or “experience” gifts.

Would my kids be grateful? Would they understand this type of gift was just as awesome as a toy? Would the gift-givers be ok with this? 

Our first experience was six years ago when my aunt and uncle gave my family season passes to Adventureland for a Christmas gift.

We had to do some explaining to the kids. We told them this meant we could go to Adventureland whenever we wanted to! That got them SUPER EXCITED. We marked the calendar to countdown to opening day. Every time we visited the park that year, I talked about what a fun gift it was to receive. I think talking about the fact that it was because of a gift we were there really made a difference. The next year when we received the same gift, they were really excited!

Experience Gift Ideas

  • Movie passes
  • Zoo passes
  • Science Center passes
  • Living History Farms pass
  • Ice skating passes
  • Adventureland passes
  • Restaurant gift card (think kid-friendly like Chuck E Cheese)
  • Pump It Up
  • Sky Zone
  • Climb Iowa
  • Playground for Kids
  • Mom/Dad/Grandparents/etc and Kid “Date” Cards (This one is always a big hit!)
  • Glazed Expressions or other craft places
  • Sports passes to hockey, football, basketball games (pro or college)
  • Pool passes
  • Summer camps

Non-Toy Gift Ideas

Sometimes it’s good to give a gift to open instead of a card/gift card. This is where it helps to get creative! Start shopping in different parts of your favorite stores. Here are some non-toy gift ideas we’ve done that were a big hit:

  • Clothing sections: slippers, bathrobes, fun socks, pajamas
  • Home section: blankets, reading pillows
  • Art area: paints, craft kits, water painting books, wacky markers, coloring pads
  • Electronics: new headphones, CDs
  • Travel: travel pillows, backpacks
  • Jewelry: necklaces, bracelets, watches, sunglasses
  • Books: books, book lights, bookmarks
  • Other ideas: Redbox Coupons

Going Beyond Winter Holidays

One of my kids also has a December birthday. We started asking him a few years ago if he’d rather have a party and presents, or if he would rather take a short weekend trip for his birthday instead. He has always picked the trip instead of more toys! We’ve done weekends in Kansas City and Minneapolis instead of loading him up with more toys. He loved that idea!

Hopefully, these ideas give you some things to think about when shopping for kids.

I definitely recommend talking about the possibility of receiving experiences instead of toys ahead of time. I don’t think very little kids would understand. I would have been totally mortified if my kids opened a gift card and seemed ungrateful/surprised even when I knew they would really enjoy the experience. My kids are even beginning to suggest experience ideas for their cousins this year! 

Do you give gifts other than toys? What are your best non-toy gift ideas?

non toy gift ideas


  1. I love this. We’re starting to lean more this way. I got Build A Bear gift cards for part of their gifts this year and I want to do Adventureland in the future!

  2. I LOVE this! We started doing experiences and it has been so much fun. My girls still talk about our trip to the Omaha Zoo and my oldest said she wants that again for her birthday present. 🙂


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