Years from now, when your little ones are all grown up (I know, I know...) what will they remember most about holidays with family? Sure, they'll probably remember a favorite toy or two, but above all else, they're going to remember the time you spent together and the experiences you shared.

We love giving (and receiving!) experience gifts, so we've curated 10 of our favorite, most memorable ideas to spark your creative gift-giving genius this holiday season.

1.  Membership to a local zoo or aquarium

Kids love animals, and zoos and aquariums are the perfect places to see them all up close! We love the idea of a yearly family membership because you can spend as much—or as little—time as you like each visit and not feel guilty about wasting the price of a full-day admission ticket.

2. Adventure experience

Has your kiddo been dying to try ziplining? Rock climbing? Adventure experiences are the perfect idea for the more daring members of the family. They're also a great way to test out an activity to see if it's something your kiddo is really into that you may want to pursue further.

3. Museum membership

Did you know there are over 35,000 museums across the United States? (You can find a directory of them, by state and type, here.) That's a lot of culture to take in, so you best get busy. Whether it's a major institution or a local children's museum, it's easy to find something the whole family will love. And be sure to ask specifically about children's programs, too.

4. Volunteer opportunity

Volunteering together as a family offers an invaluable opportunity to teach children about the world around them and begin to develop their sense of social consciousness. Even the littlest of kiddos can gain something from volunteering. To discover volunteer opportunities around you, try Volunteer Match, Network for Good, or America's Promise Alliance.

5. Farm stay

This one's a splurge, but we love it as an alternative to the standard family beach or amusement park vacation. There are tons of small working farms across the country that allow families to visit, stay, and work their farm. (Emphasis on the work part—you can't be afraid of pitching in or getting dirty while doing it!) Check out Farm Stay U.S. for some options near you.

6. Subscription box

Is your kiddo into cooking? Do you have a mini global citizen on your hands, or an arts and craft addict? Subscription activity boxes are an awesome way to foster a specific interest and encourage screen-free time together as a family. There are tons of boxes available, but Foodstirs (cooking), Little Passports (global adventure), and Kiwi Crates (science and art) are three of our faves.

7. Kidpass

This one's only a win if you live in New York, Boston, Chicago, LA, San Fran, or Washington DC, but we hope it will continue to expand to other locations in time. For a monthly fee, you can get credits that can be used for all types of activities—think events, sports, arts and crafts, museums, dance, and so many more. It's easy to search and book via the app, and, unlike most kids' activities, there's no commitment, so it's totally cool when your 5-year-old tells you she absolutely cannot attend ballet class ever again. Use this link to enjoy a free month trial!

8. Tickets to a play

Whether it's a big show or a local theater, going to see a play or a musical as a family is an experience your little ones will always remember. (We also love this for a special outing with the grandparents, too.) Lots of local theaters do dedicated children's programming. too, so be sure to check those out.

9. Train ride

Yup, you read that right. A ride on a train is cheap, works for almost any age, and pretty much every kid we've ever met is fascinated by them. (Especially among the toddler/preschool set.) Whether it's a day trip through a scenic area, or something as simple as hopping on your local commuter line and going two stops over to a neighboring town for an ice cream, we love this idea for a fun and affordable experience gift.

10. Staycation

What's more fun that a night at a hotel when you're a kid? Booking a night at a hotel—with a pool, of course!—is a fun, easy way to shake up your regular routine and get in some unconventional family time. Order some room service, watch a movie, and make a night of it! Gift from a larger chain, like Hilton, Marriott or Wyndham so they can use it for a variety of locations.

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When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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My husband and I always talked about starting a family a few years after we were married so we could truly enjoy the “newlywed” phase. But that was over before it started. I was pregnant on our wedding day. Surprise!

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