As we all know, the spirit of the holidays can all too easily get buried in stuff. Too many kids have unopened craft sets, well-intended science kits, unread books, neglected puzzles and partially built Lego sets literally everywhere. Giving more can seem wasteful or unappreciated.
So, what can you give your kids, your friends’ kids, your nieces, nephews and grandkids this holiday season that won’t end up tucked into the back of their closets? Give an experience! Older kids are usually mature enough to appreciate how special a longed-for experience can be; for younger kids, consider combining the activity with something tangible that they can unwrap and touch right away.
We’ve gathered 26 of the best ideas for gift experiences for Puget Sound–area families. Options range from nearly free to seriously extravagant to experiences in giving to others. Want to share your favorite stuff-free gifts? Comment below!
1. Adopt a child
Give hope and happiness with a personal connection to a child in need. Save the Children allows you to select a specific child around the globe or within the United States to support, starting at $30 a month. You are encouraged to develop a friendship through exchanges of letters and drawings. One-time gifts are also possible, such as a $45 Emergency Newborn Care Package, which you can give in a child’s name.
2. Book club bonanza
A terrific way to spend time with a child, especially one who is far away, is to create a long-distance book club. Choose a set of books that you want to read together over the next year and schedule a series of phone or video calls to discuss each one. Try books with a theme, such as “ancient Greece” or “kids’ lives in America: past, present and future.” To keep it completely free of stuff, choose books that are available at the library or as e-books.
3. Children’s theater
Live theater is always in style and a fun experience for even very young kids. You could give tickets to a show or a full subscription at the Seattle Children’s Theatre, which will be performing Stellaluna over the holidays. Other theaters to check out include The 5th Avenue Theatre featuring The Little Mermaid in December; Thistle Theatre, which specializes in engaging bunraku puppet shows perfect for young kids; StoryBook Theater, which stages funny 45-minute musical versions of fairy tales; and Tacoma Musical Playhouse, which is performing Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott this spring.
Give young chefs a chocolate-making class at Boehm’s Candies & Chocolates in Issaquah. Classes include a factory tour, a tour of the founder’s residence and the opportunity to create chocolate masterpieces, such as rocky road. Note: Kids have to be 8 or older for the class. For a fun tour that includes chocolate tasting, try Theo Chocolate in Fremont.
5. Enroll in a special summer camp
Summer camps can create memories and friendships that last a lifetime. Find a camp that taps into your kid’s passion, from rock ’n’ roll camps to basketball camps run by the Seattle Storm, sailing camps and traditional outdoor camps full of campfires and sing-alongs. See parentmap.com/camps for ideas.
6. Fly inside
Why not give a kid wings? A coupon for iFly Seattle, an all-glass vertical wind tunnel facility, will do just that. Kids as young as 3 can “fly” at iFly, experiencing free-fall conditions that are similar to skydiving — but accompanied at all times by highly trained instructors. Look for a variety of packages, starting at $69.95 for two short flights; or book a family package.
7. Glass skills
A glassblowing or stained-glass class can be the perfect experience for a child who loves art or fire. Many locations offer short trial classes in which participants create one particular item. Check out Seattle’s Pratt Fine Arts Center or Tacoma Glassblowing Studio for courses. Marcia Wiley, a local glass artist, offers kids’ classes and camps as well as custom family classes. For inspiration, throw in tickets to Chihuly Garden and Glass or the Museum of Glass in Tacoma.
8. History fun
Celebrate and learn about our region’s history with a museum membership or day passes that create a special outing. The Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) boasts many kid-friendly exhibits. Tacoma’s Washington State History Museum has a permanent “walk through time” exhibit packed with large dioramas, interactive exhibits and videos; special events such as the Model Train Festival are also a draw. Fort Nisqually Living History Museum brings 1855 to life at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park.
9. Ice cream insanity
A sweet gift even in the dead of winter is a gift certificate to your child’s favorite local ice cream shop such as Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream, Full Tilt where you can also play pinball and video games, or one of the serve-yourself frozen yogurt shops around town. A creative twist is to give a homemade coupon for an at-home sundae bar.
Rent a bouncy house for your favorite young friend from Seattle Bounce House, which rents themed bouncy houses and inflatable obstacle courses for your backyard. Or buy passes for spots such as Elevated Sportz in Bothell or Olympia’s huge new trampoline facility, Boom Shaka.
Spark fun and learning in your kids by giving them a membership to the new KidsQuest Children’s Museum, which opens in downtown Bellevue in early 2017. Aimed at kids 10 and younger, together with their families, the new KidsQuest will feature exhibits both adventurous and educational, from a 28-foot climbing sculpture in the opening gallery to an “on the go” exhibit starring a new Paccar truck. Similar gift ideas include memberships to other children’s museums or passes to local indoor play areas.
Give your child the chance to fund a deserving small-business owner in a developing country through Kiva, which makes microloans to entrepreneurs across the globe. Kids can choose from hundreds of exciting loan requests, such as a rickshaw for a taxi driver in Pakistan or fabric for a community sewing cooperative in India. As the loan is repaid, choose new projects to fund. Note: The minimum loan is $25.
Children’s magazines and periodicals make a great, year-long gift for curious kids. For example, Ask (Art and Science for kids) spotlights stories about how science infiltrates everyday life; ChopChop is a seasonal cooking magazine full of glossy photos and healthy eating tips; and Wild is packed with photos, puzzles and stories about animals and their habitats. After reading the magazines, your child can pass them on or donate to the library.
14. New room
You’ve been meaning to give your kid’s room an upgrade, so create a gift certificate for the experience. Provide a budget and a few guidelines then work together to choose paint colors, design new curtains and refurbish existing furniture. In the process, help your child sort through old toys and clothes to donate to worthy organizations, such as Eastside Baby Corner or Treehouse.
15. Order up!
Go around the world with your child throughout the year by giving a once-a-month dinner “package” to 12 ethnic restaurants. Include a world map with each country highlighted, along with menus (which can be picked up at nearby restaurants or printed from the internet). Rent movies or borrow books about each country to enhance the dinner expedition.
Looking for something both active and creative? Give parkour, the up-and-coming sport that combines climbing, jumping and acrobatics, using everyday structures such as benches, walls and stairways. Parkour Visions offers classes and programs at its Sodo facility, while MoveFree Academy offers classes on the Eastside.
17. Quirky tours
A gift that will impress the teenager who has seen it all is an expedition to Seattle’s Nevertold Casket Company, which curates “the unique, the curious, the frightening and the overall most beautiful haunted goods and antiques collected in one place.” Pair it with passes for a horror movie or an Underground Paranormal Experience.
Some of the best gifts involve anticipation. In the cold of December, your kids will love dreaming about a trip down the mighty Wenatchee River that you’ve booked for next summer with River Rider, a Leavenworth-based outfitter that supplies professional guides, wetsuits and a barbecue lunch.
19. Swim with sharks
Sign up your risk-taking kid for a heart-pumping Eye to Eye Shark Dive at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma. Kids ages 8 and older can get up close to the sharks via an underwater cage and a specially designed dry suit. (Note: Dives start at $75 for nonmembers. Buy zoo gift cards to pay for the dive or book at the dive webpage.)
20. Terracotta warriors
Terracotta warriors, life-size statues that “guarded” the burial site of China’s first emperor, are coming to Seattle in the spring of 2017 in a highly anticipated exhibition at the Pacific Science Center. Make it a big event by choosing a Thursday afternoon exhibit time followed by a Guest Chef Night dinner at FareStart, which supports job-training programs for adults in need.
21. Underwater fun
Great Wolf Lodge, just south of Olympia, is wintertime swim-party central. It’s a hotel and it’s an epic waterpark (indoor!). Or consider an annual membership to the Lynnwood Pool with wading areas, spray jets, a lazy river and a family hot tub. Farther north, the Snohomish Aquatic Center boasts exciting water slides and the region’s only surfing wave simulator, a FlowRider.
22. Visitor in your hometown
Give a child the thrill of a travel day (discovering new places, tired feet and afternoon ice cream) without the hassle of travel. If you choose Seattle, a sample itinerary is the Gum Wall, the Great Wheel, the Space Needle, the hidden Waterfall Garden Park in Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market, which will unveil its biggest expansion in 40 years this summer. Include a map and a guidebook.
Time spent with a horse is a very special gift. Give a trail ride, a set of lessons or a week at a riding summer camp. Many stables offer onetime trail rides as well as lessons, in both English and Western styles of riding. See our horse camps article for tips on choosing.
24. X-country (cross-country) skiing
Slide through a winter wonderland as a holiday-gift adventure. Make a gift certificate for a few hours of exploring the trails at The Summit at Snoqualmie’s Nordic Center; or a lesson at Stevens Pass Nordic Center. Include a picnic with winter treats.
25. You-and-me time
Time together is the best gift. Create a custom coupon book for shared adventures. Include coupons for making a fancy dessert together, volunteering, going on a special hike, taking a bus downtown, practicing a sport or learning a craft. You can use web tools (try Canva) to design the coupon.
26. Zip out of town
A getaway gift can be as simple as a night in a genuine caboose car at the Iron Horse Inn in Cle Elum or as extravagant as a weekend in San Francisco with a CityPass. For an exciting in-between option, plan an overnight trip to Richmond, British Columbia, a paradise of Asian culture, where you can browse for hours at the Aberdeen Centre.