Do you ever feel as if your kids are on a hamster wheel of new toys? They get something new only to discard it when the next shiny thing comes along. It can feel expensive and wasteful to pour so much time and money into gifts that will be forgotten in days. In contrast, experience gifts for kids focus on giving your kids less stuff and more things to do. These types of experience gifts kids encourage time with others, character building, and growth that will create lasting memories.
I’d much rather my kids create lasting memories than have a bunch of broken and forgotten toys. Which is why our family has started to focus more on experience gifts for our kids. The experiences you give to your kids will have a much longer impression on them than the latest doll or RC car.
Benefits of experience gifts for kids
Not only will gifting your kids experiences give you the most bang for your buck, but experience gifts can also make your life better! Here’s how experience gifts, rather than material items like toys, can benefit you and your kids.
- Experiences give us time together. Time together makes us happy. Every parent I know wants to find ways to spend more time together with their kids. We need social connection because social connection helps us to feel happy.
- We’re less likely to compare experience gifts than material gifts. Here’s to less pouting when your kids open their gifts together.
- Less “stuff” to manage. Less toys and stuff means less to clean and store. Which also means it’ll be easier for your and your child to keep things clean at home.
- Confidence in trying new things. Doing new things now will help your kids feel confident in trying something new later. The more you do something, the more confident you become. So if your kids are trying new things frequently, they’ll get better at trying new things.
- Growth. Learning to surf, read, or do hard things will encourage your child’s personal development and growth. Building character happens with new and/or stretching experiences.
- Building excitement for gifts twice. More bang for your buck! Your kids will be excited once when you give the gift, and again when it’s time to experience the gift.
- Longevity. We get tired of material gifts quickly but will value an experience for a long time. My son still talks about the basketball game his dad took him to see last year. But I doubt he could remember what toys he got for his last birthday.
80 of the best experience gifts for kids
If you want to get off from the hamster wheel of forgotten and discarded plastic, experience gifts are key. Your kids want your time! They want to experience new and fun things. They want to make memories with you. Here are some of our favorite ideas!
Sports experience Gifts
- Tickets to a sports game. Wear the team t-shirts. Eat hot dogs and drink way too much soda. Show off the foam fingers. Bonus: you get to relive the glory days if you take them to a game at your alma mater.
- Climbing gym pass. Help your kids conquer their fears and try new skills. One of my sons is a monkey and has always loved climbing. Even at a young age he was scaling trees. A climbing gym is a safe way to encourage that climbing drive.
- Trampoline park pass. Help your kids get their energy out by spending time at a trampoline park together. Jump, run, and laugh together.
- Indoor skydiving. Older kids with an adventurous spirit will love to try indoor skydiving. Call ahead before purchasing as they may have age limits or requirements.
- Indoor surfing. Our kids tried indoor surfing with cousins last year. Even my little kids were able to get on a board (on their knees) and have fun with it.
- Dance lessons. From ballet to tap, there are so many fun types of dance you kids can learn through dance lessons. Ask your local dance studio if they’ll let you try out a class or two before your child chooses their favorite.
- Rope course adventure pass. Encourage the climbers in your family with an adventure that will push them past their comfort zone. They can climb, swing, and move in ways they wouldn’t normally get to experience.
- Ski pass. When you live in an area that is extra cold during the winter, getting outside is the key to enjoying winter. Teach your kids to ski with a ski pass. Most ski resorts have classes for beginners to learn how to ski.
- Swim lesson. Not every kid will love swim lessons, but I’d argue that every kid should learn to swim. Depending on your budget and your local pool, private or semi-private swim lessons can be a good way for your child to get the attention they need to learn to swim.
- Fishing gift experience. Have you taken your kids fishing? Most states do free fishing days and/or allow kids to fish for free. Catch and release or do a fish fry with your catch.
- Gym or YMCA pass. Your local gym or YMCA is likely packed full of kid’s classes and activities that your child would love. Call beforehand to find out what is offered before purchasing.
- Bowling pass. Bowling is fun for kids of all ages. Hit up bowling alley during their glow in the dark night for an extra measure of fun!
- Ice skating pass. Tighten up those laces, ice skating with your kids is a great way to sneak in some exercise and do something different this winter.
- Aquatic adventures (local mermaid experience, movie in the pool, etc). Does your local pool host aquatic adventures or experiences? Experiences like a “mermaid” class, or movie in the pool are fun and help support local business.
- Yoga classes. Help your child learn flexibility, centering, and how to connect with themselves. Most gyms and yoga studios should have classes for kids.
Music experience gifts
- Concert tickets. Whether you go to see your child’s favorite band, or one of your favorites, concert tickets are always a win.
- Music lessons. Not only can music lessons help your child learn a new skill, learning an instrument has been shown to help kids in other academic areas as well. So, music lessons are a win-win for everyone.
- Symphony or ballet tickets. Support your local artists with a trip to the symphony or ballet. Your kids will experience something new and learn more about dance and/or music.
Just for fun
- Princess day. Let your daughter be a princess for a day. This was my daughter’s favorite gift from Christmas when she was four. We did a mother/daughter date where we both dressed up as princesses, got a manicure, watched princess movies, and went to dinner together to practice our etiquette.
- Manicure/pedicure. Go get a manicure or pedicure together and pick out matching polish.
- Tea party social. Let them invite over friends for a tea party. Dress up. Use fancy teacups and serve desserts.
- Movie pass. Watching a movie in the theater is always fun. Add in popcorn and you have the recipe for shared laughs and memories together.
- Subscription box. Does your child love getting mail? Your child will love the experience of a subscription box. It’s exciting to wait for your box to come every month. There are so many options to choose from. My family loves Kiwi Crate (get 50% off your first month with our link)
- Restaurant gift card. A restaurant gift card can give your child the opportunity to eat a favorite restaurant. Let them take friends (or you) out for a special dinner date.
- Video streaming service. There are so many great video streaming services available out there! We love Disney(+) for our kids.
- Hot air balloon/helicopter/boat ride. With the right Groupon or coupon, a ride on a hot air balloon, helicopter, or boat could be affordable. Not only that, but it’s an experience your kids will never forget.
- Amusement park pass. If you are lucky enough to live near an amusement park, then a season pass can save you money and give your kids a lot of opportunities to experience the park through the season.
- Hotel stay. Kids love to stay in hotels. Especially if that hotel has a pool. You don’t even need to travel far for it to be a memorial experience.
- Home movie night. It’s so easy for our family videos to get lost on our phones or the cloud. Hold a home movie night where your kids can see videos of themselves (and you) in years past.
- Photo book. Kids love to see what they looked like as babies and younger kids. Make a photo book together, or have one printed and review it together while you reminisce about the past.
- Family heirloom. Family heirlooms help to connect us to our past. If there is something especially unique or special that you’ve been saving for your child, consider gifting it to them for a holiday or birthday. It’ll be a unique gift that they treasure for many years to come.
- Kids Coupon book. We all made coupon books as kids. We promised things like “Clean my room” or “Do the dishes”. But how much fun would it have been to get a coupon book from your parents? Grab our free printable coupon book below!
- Gift to charity. Let your child choose a charity they would like to support. Charities close to home may leave a big impression on your kids if you take them to visit or help as well.
- Treasure hunt. Send your child on a treasure hunt. This can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. For younger kids, a treasure hunt around the house is probably enough, but older teens would love a multi-location treasure hunt that is more involved.
- Museum membership or pass. Do you have a local museum that your kids love? Get a museum membership or pass. Or try something new by getting a regular pass for an art, history, or science museum.
- Science/space camp. Has your child been wanting to head to science or space camp? Pay the camp fees and surprise them with the experience.
- Baking day. Search for a recipe together, go shopping for ingredients, and then bake together. Not only is it fun (and delicious), but a baking day is a great opportunity to teach your kids to bake.
- Cooking classes. Have a budding cook in the family? Gift them cooking classes that will teach them basic cooking skills. Bonus: one more cook in the house means less cooking for you!
- Book club. With input from your child, pick a book that you both would enjoy reading. Read a chapter a night or a certain number of pages a week. Make it fun with “book club” snacks that only come out when you are reading. Snuggle. Talk about the book together.
- Tour a factory. Many factories give tours that explain their process. For example, touring a candy factory may explain how they make their chocolates. Bonus: you might get to sample foods or products made in the factory.
- Language learning class or software. Knowing another language can open your child’s world. Help them learn with an in person class or language learning software.
- Photography class. New photographers will love to take a photography class. Early in our marriage my husband gifted me with a digital photography course taught by a local camera shop. It was my favorite gift that year. Older kids or teens may enjoy something similar.
- College fund donation. Contributions into your child’s 529 fund might seem like a boring gift. But when it’s time for them to attend college they will be grateful you thought ahead.
- Volunteer experience. Not all experiences need to be just for fun. You can “gift” your child with a volunteer experience that could change their life. From volunteering at your local soup kitchen, to a volunteer trip in another country, choose an experience that will benefit your child as well as help those in need.
- Bookstore gift card. A bookstore gift card is a great way to encourage reading for your kids. Not only will they like going to the bookstore with you, they’ll love being able to pick out their own books.
- Media subscription (Audible, Spotify, Kindle gift card). Perfect for kids who are always bored. A media subscription is a great way to keep your kids listening to or reading their favorite books and music.
- Library card. Does your child have a library card? If not, there really is no excuse. Library cards are free! Not to mention there are valuable programs and opportunities that come when you have a library card. My kids do their best reading the first day or two after we go on a library trip. There is something exciting about having new books around that my kids love!
- Date with mom or dad. My kids are always asking when their next date with mom or dad can be. They love having one-on-one time with me and/or my husband. Don’t worry about making it elaborate. Some of our favorite dates have been a simple trip to get a hamburger together.
- Escape room tickets. This is a great family activity for older kids and those who love puzzles. Call ahead for the best family friendly rooms.
- Family vacation or road trip. When you have a little more cash to spend, a road trip is a great way to make memories with your kids. Road trips are full of family time, snacks, and new adventures for your kids.
- Drive-in movie tickets. Watch movies from the comfort of your car. Bring your favorite snacks, blankets, and wear pajamas.
- A year of pre-planned parent/child dates. Create a list of 12 parent/child dates that would be exciting for your child. You could even pre-pay for the dates as needed. Present the “year of dates” to your child in a fun way and then enjoy the experience of having time together every month. Your child will excitedly anticipate each new month and date.
- At home movie night. Plan a family movie night. Let your kids choose the movie, pop some popcorn, and cuddle up together on the couch to enjoy movie night.
- Laser tag tickets. Whether you go together as a family, or let your kids invite friends, laser tag is a great way to encourage a little competition in a friendly way.
- Arcade night. Kids love video games. Why night share with them your favorite old-school games at the arcade?
- Game night. Board games are a fun family activity because you can tailor the games to suit your family’s needs. Younger kids might enjoy cooperative games played as a whole family, while older kids can learn some of the classics.
- Photo scavenger hunt. Give your teens the experience gift of a photo scavenger hunt. Send them out with friends to find certain items locally. Once they take a picture of that item they can meet back together for snacks or a prize.
- Miniature golf. Fun for the whole family, miniature golf is a great way to introduce your kids to golf.
- Horseback riding lessons. Your animal lover will enjoy this experience gift. Horseback riding lessons are an opportunity to try something new, build confidence, and get outdoors.
- Whale watching tickets. Whale watching is perfect for kids who love marine life. Our family was gifted a trip when our oldest was just four, and he still talks about the experience and the whales that we saw.
- Petting zoo tickets. Who doesn’t need more face time with animals?! Most petting zoo’s will let you feed the animals, and make friends with the residents.
- Zoo membership. Kids love the zoo! It’s the perfect place to get outside and see animals you can’t see locally. Your kids will love learning about new friends.
- Aquarium membership. Surprise your kids with the chance to see fish, sharks, jellyfish, and more! Many zoo’s will even offer special experiences where kids can feed the marine life.
- A pet. Pets can be a great experience for kids. If your family is ready to take on the responsibility and care of a pet, it can be fairly inexpensive to adopt a pet from your local shelter.
Art experience gifts
- Painting class. Your little artist will love taking a painting class. They can learn new techniques. Even non-artists might learn something that can help them feed their creativity.
- Craft class. Most crafts stores offer craft classes in person for a small fee. You may even want to gift an online craft class that your child can attend from anyone.
- Paint your own ceramic outing. Great for most kids and adults, paint your own ceramic studios are a ton of fun. Typically, your child will be able to pick out their desired ceramic item (figurines, plates, cookie jars, etc). They’ll paint the ceramic and then leave it to be fired. Once fired you will be able to pick it up and bring it home.
- Playmill or theater tickets. Has your child seen a play? Experiencing live theater is both exciting and new for many kids.
- Pottery classes. Level up your child’s normal mud pies to actual pottery with a pottery class. Local colleges or pottery studios may have a class your child would love.
- Craft supplies.Kids love crafts. From watercolors to glue, craft supplies are a fun and inexpensive gift. Load up a box full of all the crafty things and let your child’s imagination take over.
- Origami night. Hold an origami night. Beef up your origami skills ahead of time with library books or instructional videos online. Have paper and snacks ready and get folding!
- Decorating their room (DIY). Has your tween been asking to decorate their own room? Let them! Take them to the hardware store for paint. Hang up curtains. Help them create a bedroom they’ll love.
- Terrarium or fairy garden build. Kids will love building a terrarium or a fairy garden for the patio. It just takes a few plants and some creativity.
- Waterpark pass. Nothing says summer like a trip to the waterpark. If your kids are tired of the regular pool experience, a waterpark pass can change things up. From lazy rivers to water slides, a waterpark is a good for all ages.
- Camping trip. Camping is one of my favorite experiences to have with my kids. You can camp locally, or as part of a road trip. Not only is it generally a budget-conscious, but it will get your kids outside exploring nature.
- Backyard campout. When it is not possible to get out to the woods for a campout, a backyard campout can be just as good. If you have younger kids, a backyard campout can be a good transition to learning to camp outdoors (with the option to go inside at 3:00am if it’s not going well).
- Garden kit. Build your child a garden kit with seeds for their favorite flowers or plants. Plant the garden together and spend time watching it grow. It’s a gift that will last all summer long.
- National Parks Pass. Our country is full of beautiful national parks. A National Parks pass can save you money when you visit several national parks throughout the year. Get yours here.
- Go on a hike. Teach your kids that hard work can yield impressive rewards by tackling a local hike together. Not only is hiking a great way to get some face time with your kids, but you’ll also get to enjoy being outdoors together.
- Playground trip (to someplace new). Kids will make do with any playground available. But if you are willing to travel a little farther than your normal routes, they will love exploring someplace new. It doesn’t even take that much extra effort on your part. Just drive to a playground that is further than normal.
Saving money on experience gifts for kids
While it’s true that some experience gifts for kids can be more expensive than toys or clothes, they don’t need to be. Many of the items on the list above can be done with just a bit of creativity and time. Don’t let your budget stop you from gifting your kids experiences! Here’s a few tips for saving money on experience gifts.
- Do it at home. Rather than paying for movie tickets at the local theater, rent the movie and do it at home for cheaper. This applies to a lot of experience gifts. Obviously this won’t work for everything, but if you can do it at home, it’ll be cheaper.
- Keep it one-on-one. Maybe you can’t afford to bring the whole family to a special experience. Instead save money and make the time even more special by going one-on-one with your child.
- Search for coupons. If you know there is an experience that your child will love, begin searching for coupons that will allow you to give them that experience for cheaper. For example, Groupon often has deals that would let you get an experience for less than the regular price. Searching for coupons beforehand might also help you navigate any special deals and times of the year when admission or costs might be cheaper.
- Work with what you have. A lot of ski resorts near where I live give free lift tickets to 4th grade students. Ski tickets are expensive! If you have a 4th grader, take advantage of that offer. Many museums will also have free admission for kids under a certain age. Work with what you’ve got. Doing a little research might help you realize that the price of some experiences is a lot cheaper than you thought.
- Get creative. I’ve found that the most memorable experiences happen because someone has taken the time to plan it. In this case, it is your job to plan an experience for your kids. Make fun with your own creativity.
How to wrap an experience gift for kids
Wrapping an experience gift for kids is another concern you may have. Kids love to open gifts. They love immediate gratification. Unless you are planning on doing the experience that day, it can be hard to give that to a child. One great way to circumvent this worry is to find a small token item and wrap it. For example, if you were gifting swimming lessons to your child, you could wrap an inexpensive pair of swim goggles as well as a certificate that says what the gift is. Gifting experiences to your kids doesn’t have to take the fun out of opening gifts.