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11 creative gift ideas for children—that aren’t toys

After much thought and deliberation, I had to find a polite way to put a stop to all the toys and—believe it or not—our family and friends thought it was the best idea ever.

11 creative gift ideas for children—that aren’t toys

Toys... Every year I feel like I am sorting, organizing and donating masses of them to our local church's thrift store. I often thought to myself about the lump sums of money spent on these toys—toys that are often played with once, tossed to the side and eventually donated.

There was so much waste happening in our household and I didn't want that. I wanted my children to appreciate their belongings, be non-consumers and most importantly associate holidays, get-togethers and birthdays with love and not with what gifts they were going to receive.

After much thought and deliberation, I had to find a polite way to put a stop to all the toys and—believe it or not—our family and friends thought it was the best idea ever.

So, here are 11 ideas to give to kids that don't revolve around toys...

1. Magazine subscriptions

Ever since I put a stop to the toys, my little one's great-grandmother sends magazine subscriptions in the mail and he loves it! I mean, what child doesn't love getting mail that's for them? Some of the most recent magazines he has received and adored include: Highlights, Click, Ranger Rick, National Geographic Kids and Zoobooks.

2. Subscription boxes

Aside from just magazines, monthly or quarterly subscription boxes are also great non-toy gifts for kids. A few favorites are Kiwi Crate (arts + crafts), Amazon STEM toy club (science and STEM based), Little Passports (travel based) and Bookroo (monthly book box).

3. Experiences

Gifting experiences is one of the best gifts I think you can give a child. Whether it's tickets to a museum, waterpark, play, a week at a summer camp or a membership to a children's museum or zoo, experience gifts bring memories that last a lifetime. This past fall my 4-year-old was gifted tickets to the Polar Express Train Ride and it was the perfect gift for the holiday season—for all of us!

4. Lessons

Swim lessons, music lessons, a painting class or even karate lessons make for such wonderful gifts. Not only are you giving them something that they can learn, but a skill that they will always have. And, let's be honest, these lessons add up—so parents appreciate a little help in the budget department!

5. Books

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Books are always good alternatives to toys. Some of my most favorite books as a child are the ones that my grandparents left little notes in and gifted to me—and they continue to bring me joy when I read them with my own kids and come across the long-forgotten inscriptions.

6. College contributions

College contributions are something that I think both parents and (eventually) children will appreciate. And even a $10 bill donated on 18 birthdays can add up! (Tip: Be sure to put it in a tax-protected college savings account.)

7. Coupon booklets

An idea that a friend suggested to me was a coupon booklet full of coupons that her parents give to her little ones. The coupons included things that they were able to do with their grandmother—such as a sleepover, trip to the ice cream shop, trip to the park and a trip to the movies.

8. New supplies

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The past two years I've asked my mom to gift new school supplies or a backpack before the start of school. Not only does this help me out, but my little one loves that he's toting a new folder or backpack to school that's from Mimi!

9. Gift cards

Gift cards are always fun for kids! Whether they are to Chick-fil-a, a bookstore or a craft store, kids always appreciate when they can choose something just for themselves.

10. Piggy bank donations

When my oldest was still little, my mother-in-law bought him a special piggy bank—which she helps fill up with occasional $5 bills in the mail. The piggy bank not only serves a purpose for holding his money, but it has also taught him about the value of it. He's actually one frugal little guy, who now looks at money as something he likes to collect rather than spend!

11. Gifts for others

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One of the best gifts a kid can receive is the gift of giving, which helps them learn the value of paying their good fortune forward. As kids get older, it may be nice to give them a certain amount to donate and then guide them as their pick a charity of their choice—perhaps your pet-lover will go with the Humane Society or a little one who knew a friend with an illness will have it in her heart to donate to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.

Of course, all of these gifts also benefit parents who get to see their children's eyes light up or as they learn more about savings or compassion—and all the while you get to keep your house free of more toys. That's what I call a win-win!











I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.


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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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Errands and showers are not self-care for moms

Thinking they are is what's burning moms out.

A friend and I bump into each other at Target nearly every time we go. We don't pre-plan this; we must just be on the same paper towel use cycle or something. Really, I think there was a stretch where I saw her at Target five times in a row.

We've turned it into a bit of a running joke. "Yeah," I say sarcastically, "We needed paper towels so you know, I had to come to Target… for two hours of alone time."

She'll laugh and reply, "Oh yes, we were out of… um… paper clips. So here I am, shopping without the kids. Heaven!"

Now don't get me wrong. I adore my trips to Target (and based on the fullness of my cart when I leave, I am pretty sure Target adores my trips there, too).

But my little running joke with my friend is actually a big problem. Because why is the absence of paper towels the thing that prompts me to get a break? And why on earth is buying paper towels considered a break for moms?

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