Holidays | Outings + Activities | Parenting Tools

Experience Gifts: Give Your Kids More Stuff ... to Do

Christmas and girlDoes this sound familiar? Our house is filled with stuff, and our children’s bedrooms are the most over-stuffed rooms in the house. They have unopened craft sets, unread books, treasures from foreign lands, and bits of this and that filling every nook and cranny of their rooms – including the floors on many days.

The weird thing is – we’re not even shoppers! I no longer remember where most of it has come from, and even the kids don’t want more science kits or puzzles.

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 closet? Give a gift experience! For extra points, combine the experience with something tangible that they can unwrap and touch right away.

Below are our best ideas for gift experiences, drawn from personal experience, family members who are certified master G.E.G.s (Gift Experience Givers) and others in our realm. We’ve mixed experiences that you can gift to kids anywhere with a host of ideas for kids in the Puget Sound.

Give a thrill

Many zoos and museums provide special experiences aimed at kids, families, or teens.

Shark dive

Sign your risk-taking teen up for the heart-pumping swim with sharks experience at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma. Kids ages 8 and up can join sharks via an underwater cage and a specially-designed dry suit. The tank hosts over a dozen massive sharks, including a 9-foot, 450-pound lemon shark.

Shark Dive at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium Fun Gifts for Kids Experiences

Add in a copy of the classic Jaws (technically a PG rating but it was never intended for young audiences) or the fantastically awful Sharknado. For younger kids, toss in some shark gummies and a non-fiction book full of shark facts and photos. (Note: You'll need to buy zoo gift cards and then use those to pay for the dive; call 253-591-5333. Or go to the dive page and book the dive.) And read our review of the experience here

Chocolate-making classes

On a sweeter note, give a gift certificate for a chocolate-making class at Boehms Candies and Chocolates in Issaquah. These two-hour classes are held on Sunday and Thursday afternoons.

Boehm's Chocolate Making Classes

The class includes a factory tour, a tour of the founder’s residence, and the opportunity to create chocolate masterpieces such as rocky road and a hand-decorated dessert bar. Warning: You’ll take home over a pound and a half of delicious chocolate! (Find other chocolate-making class ideas here.) (Photo by Natasha W. Portrait.)

Fly inside!

Give a kid a coupon for iFLY Seattle and give them wings. iFLY Seattle is the first all-glass vertical wind tunnel in the world and is currently the fastest. Kids as young as three years old can take flight and experience free-fall conditions, just like skydiving.

iFly Seattle Father Daughter Experience Gift ideas fun for kids

They have a wide range of beginner packages, including a family package so you can fly, too. Psst: Head to our Big Gift giveaway to win an iFly experience! (Photo credit: iFly Seattle)

Go rafting

Some of the best gifts involve anticipation. In the cold of December, your kids will love anticipating a trip down the mighty Wenatchee River next summer that you’ve booked with, a Leavenworth-based outfitter that supplies professional guides, rafts, paddles, wetsuits, river shuttle and an awesome BBQ lunch. Find more rafting ideas here.

Family Rafting Gift of Experience Fun trips for kids christmas gift ideas

Make it a special family outing or give your older child the chance to fill a raft with friends. Include some sunscreen and a bathing suit with the coupon. (Find other rafting ideas here.)

Give a new skill

Facilitate kids’ natural curiosity with the gift of lessons – music, languages, sports, and crafts. Learning some new skills requires a big commitment, sampling others may only take a few hours.

Cooking classes

PCC Natural Markets and many Seattle-area cooking schools offers kids’ cooking classes, from holiday snacks to crepes, cookies, pies and more. Along with the gift certificate, add in a few special ingredients, a fancy whisk, or a kid-sized apron to go with this new skill.

Kids cooking classes

Tip: Book classes early; kids’ cooking classes fill up fast!

Guitar lessons

A lot of kids want to learn to play guitar. Help them learn how. Give them a set of introductory guitar lessons as a holiday gift. Private teachers may be interested in providing an introductory package of lessons and many music schools offer special introductory prices. Add in a rented guitar or a book of easy pop songs along with a note explaining the gift.

Ski lessons

Learn to slide through a winter wonderland at Snoqualmie Pass. The Nordic center at Hyak offers packages of weekly cross-country ski lessons for ages 7-18 through their Junior Nordic Program. For details, go to Summit at Snoqualmie Youth Lessons and select the Nordic location.


For downhill lessons, visit Summit at Snoqualmie Lessons and Rentals. The $199 “EZ 2 Learn” group downhill lesson package is a fantastic bargain including four lessons, four days of equipment rental, plus access to the magic carpet, the beginner lift, and a full lift ticket for the final day.

Cake-decorating classes

Give kids a cake decorating lesson through Michael's. The two-hour basic class can be followed with all sorts of more advanced classes. Check whether your child needs to bring their own cake. Wrap up a cake mix when you package the gift! Michael's also offers a variety of short craft classes from crocheting to painting to wire wrapping.

Circus arts

Seattle’s school of acrobatics and new circus arts (SANCA) offers a two-hour introductory classes for ages 6 and up. There’s juggling and trick roping plus, yup, flying trapeze classes!

SANCA circus classes for Kids Experience Gift Ideas fun family

And speaking of trapeze arts, you can also gift a class at Emerald City Trapeze Arts (ECTA) in the SODO neighborhood of Seattle. Find more cool sports classes here.

What else have your kids wanted to learn? Sign them up for capoeira, yoga, ballet, or karate! What about glass-blowing, photography, indoor rock-climbing, or Taiko drumming?  (Photo by Amy Benson and Scott Squire of NonFiction Media)

Give a party!

Why save all the parties for birthdays? A gift that kids can share with friends is extra awesome. Throw in a coupon for a photobook so they can relish in the fun all year.

Swim party

The Great Wolf Lodge just south of Olympia is wintertime swim party central. It’s a hotel, it’s a waterpark (indoor!) and it is home to a magical quest that can entertain kids for hours. There’s ice cream galore to top it all off.

Great Wolf Lodge Swim Party Experience Gift Ideas fun for Kids and Families Seattle

Check for Groupons and coupons before booking and then gift your child the pleasure of inviting their friends. (Photo credit: Courtesy Great Wolf Lodge.)

Tubing party

Head to the Summit Tubing Center for quintessential, outdoor winter fun for kids of all ages and abilities. Grab a tube, slide down, get towed back up, slide down again. Tickets are sold in two-hour sessions throughout the winter on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Follow with a snowball fight and hot chocolate.

Spa party

You can organize this at a real spa or at your home. At home, gift your child the chance to invite three friends over for pedicures and facials. Put on some dreamy music, offer scented hand lotion, and fruity smoothies. Whip out the cucumber slices for their eyes and some white fluffy towels. You can also simply gift a packet of pedicure coupons at a local nail salon and include a chauffeur (that’s you!) to pick up kids, bring them to the nail salon, deliver smoothies and drive them all home again.

Give togetherness!

There is never enough time with your kids, your grandkids, or your friends' kids. Give them a little extra time this holiday season with a coupon for an adventure together.

Book or movie club

If you’re far away from a beloved family member, send a set of books that you want to read together over the next year (perhaps with a theme) and schedule a series of phone calls or video calls to discuss each one. Label the books by month or maybe even create a special “Book of the month” sticker.

Book club

If you live in the same place, pick a few books that can be coupled with expeditions (such as Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet combined with a Wing Luke Museum tour through Seattle’s International District). You can do the same with movies: Schedule a night every two months to watch a movie on the same night and discuss it.

Be a tourist

Give a child the thrill of a travel day (discovering new places, tired feet, and afternoon ice cream) without leaving home. If you choose Seattle, you can discover the gum wall (blick), ride the Great Wheel, take a Duck Tour, travel to the top of the Space Needle, discover the Waterfall Garden tucked behind Pioneer Square, shop at Pike’s Place Market, and maybe even spend the night in a hotel. Give this gift with a map and a guidebook.

Whatever you decide to give, have a wonderful holiday season this year. Enjoy a little less “stuff” and a little more of life!!

The Steel - Richards FamilyAbout the authors: Ashley Steel and Bill Richards, Seattle-based parents and writers, recently published Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids. Their book aims to expand cultural horizons and cultivate a generation of global citizens through travel. They blog at Family on the Loose.

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