I’m 35 years old and I can honestly tell you that I don’t recall many of the gifts I unwrapped on Christmas mornings during the course of my childhood. Maybe the occasional doll that I begged my parents for and I definitely remember the roller skates I got when I was 8….but sadly the rest of to those Christmas morning gifts have been long since forgotten.

But there is one gift that I will always remember…and it probably is one of the best gifts I have ever received. The day my father took me to see the Nutcracker.

I come from a family of 3 kids, me being the middle child. My mom and dad both worked hard to provide for myself and my siblings and, like any busy working family, alone time with one of my parents was a pretty special treat. I honestly can’t remember how old I was, but I remember sitting next to my dad…just me and him. Watching the ballet dancers. I was entranced by the whole experience. After the show, my father bought me a small nutcracker ornament to take home….an ornament that still hangs on my tree each and every Christmas.

It was last Christmas that this memory and our desire to live more simply that inspired my husband and me to re-evaluate the gifts we were giving to our young daughter.  

After moving into a small apartment while my husband went to school full-time for his college degree, neither one of us was terribly enthusiastic about filling up the little space we had with toys that would soon be forgotten and go unplayed with. If we were going to give her something….we wanted it to be special and to make wonderful memories for her. Our space and budget didn’t allow for clutter and gifts-for-the-sake-of-giving-gifts.

So we gifted her something she had wanted for years….and took our daughter to see The Nutcracker for the very first time. And just like me, she was entranced and in love. After, we went out to dinner as a family and ended up running into many of the dancers. The experience as a whole dazzled my little girl and she still talks about how amazing that evening was…even a year later.

Were there still presents for her under the tree? Yes, but mostly from relatives and she didn’t really notice that the number of things to unwrap was smaller. She was still beaming from her memorable Nutcracker experience.

So it got me thinking. Thinking about what really matters to a child. What makes a childhood great. Toys are wonderful. Toys are important. And as a teacher, I totally see value in some. “Some” being the key word. Some toys are amazing and enriching to a child’s imagination, learning and creativity. And some toys are just something to wrap up in pretty paper so your child has something to rip into on Christmas morning.  

I, personally, would rather invest my dollars and time in giving a child the gift of a wonderful memory. The gift of an experience that they will remember all their life.

Are you feeling me? Do you want to give children the gift of memories? Here are some amazing (and simple) experiences to give a child this holiday season….or any time of year

Also read Being Happy With Less: My Family’s Journey Towards Living Simply

Give the gift of travel.

We are traveling for the holidays this year and have decided to be extra minimal on the gifts we bring with us. Alice will get a gift from Santa and a few from relatives to unwrap on Christmas morning, but we have decided to invest our money for this holiday in enjoying and exploring the amazing place we will be close by. It’ll make for a wonderful family memory that will mean more than anything we could possibly buy in the stores. 

Give the gift of YOU

Trust me when I say that there is nothing your child will treasure more than a little quality time with you. Make a coupon(s) for special “dates” to give your child this holiday season. Maybe its a coupon to go camping in the backyard or to go out to dinner just you and them! The gift of your time will be valued more than any toy under the tree. 

Give the gift of learning

A friend gave Alice a monthly subscription to a science kit for her birthday and it was, hands down, her favorite gift. She loves that each month, a box of simple child-focused science experiences comes to the door. I love that it’s an invitation for her to learn and explore!

Upon further research, there are many of these kid-focused subscription kits you can buy children to help foster learning and fun! This is my new go-to gift for nieces, nephews and friends’ kids!

Memberships are also a great learning-centered gift to give children! It can be to local children’s museum, amusement parks or even a local science or art museum!

Give the gift of thinking of others

Is your child passionate about dolphins? Make a donation to an organization that helps with the protection of dolphins in your child’s name. Or help him/her fill up a stocking for a child in need and explain that they are helping another child have a special holiday. Children are insightful and perceptive and this experience will help foster their sense of compassion and empathy. They will likely recall the fulfillment and pride they felt in giving to another for years to come!

Give them the gift of discovering their passion

Maybe your horse-crazed child would go wild over those horseback riding lessons he has been begging for! Or your daughter has always admired the students in the karate studio as you passed it by. Gifting your child the opportunity to explore their passions will go far beyond the holiday season…it can help mold their entire lives and help them find positive outlets for their creativity, energy and/or emotions. 

Give the gift of plays, musicals, ballets and sporting events

Movies are great, but there is something magical about seeing a story brought to life before your eyes. Going to see a play or musical at a theater (and it can be as fancy as Broadway or as simple as a community theater) will create a since of amazement and magic. The same goes for ballets and sporting events. These are fun to watch on TV, but when a child gets to witness the action with their own two eyes….it brings the fun and wonder to a whole new level.

When buying gifts for the little people in your life this holiday season, please please please consider giving the gift of an experience over a toy or something that will one day find its way into a landfill. Experiences, on the other hand, create memories that can have a deep impact on a child’s life….and will never be thrown away