Ask Amy – Meaningful Gift Ideas for Children & Large Families

This week, we have a topic that will probably strike a few chords with several of you.

Question:  “I have no clue where to begin with my kids’ gifts (mostly ideas for the grandparents), but I do know what I don’t want them to get (think: useless toys and other “junk”). Do you have any ideas or great general resources that you would suggest (books, music, educational toys, school resources, etc)?”

Great question!  And one I love because it fits so well with our family philosophy of doing and buying things that have “lasting value.”

Let me start by suggesting you think outside the box of one gift per person.  This is hard for grandparents to do because they are afraid the children will feel deprived, but I’ve actually seen the opposite when there has been a family gift given.  They are all thrilled and get to share the joy of it together.  If they are really bothered by the notion, suggest they get a few stocking stuffers to “compensate.” ;)

So, what sorts of things might a large family (or even a small family) be interested in?

  • Zoo passes
  • Museum passes
  • Year-long memberships to local attractions
  • Memberships to DVD rental sites like ChristianCinema
  • A night at a hotel (with a swimming pool and breakfast! ;) )
  • Gift certificates to eating establishments that are family friendly
  • Family games (like Apples to Apples – they also have a Junior version!)
  • Jonathan Park or Brinkman Adventure CDs (these have provided hours of entertainment!)
  • Furniture or electronics the entire family can use (example: new TV for the whole family to be able to watch their movies from ChristianCinema on!)
  • Something needed or wanted that tends to get pushed to the backburner by the family (that speaker system in the van so the family can listen to their Jonathan Park CDs on trips – *cough cough*)
  • Huge box of food (one of the best Christmas presents we ever received from a family member!)

The list literally could be endless if you thought long and hard about what your family could really USE this Christmas.  And with a large family, the cost spent individually adds up quickly!  Even $20 a person for my family is $160 total – think what that could buy beyond trinkets and toys!

However, most of us still need some Christmas gift ideas that are individualized.  So, how do you determine what kind of individual gifts have lasting value?

  • What are the child’s interests, talents, or needs?
  • How can I invest in their interests and talents?
  • If those interests disappeared tomorrow, would this gift still have relevance?
  • How can this gift be used to bring glory to God?
  • How is this gift leading my child in the direction I want them to go?
  • Is this gift likely to break or cause strife in the near future?

Those questions might seem kind of vague, so let me walk you through it with a specific gift…

Child A is musically inclined.  You think a guitar might be a good present.  You are investing in their giftings by giving them something that reflects that and tells them you know how much music means to them.  If the child decided he or she didn’t want to play the guitar after all, it could be passed down to another child.   The guitar can potentially be used to play praises to God for personal worship or corporate worship time.  You are wanting your child to contribute to the family with their musical talent, and this is a good way to get started, plus you are investing in what could potentially be a source of income in the future.  Oh, and it’s not likely to break soon, but it might cause strife if there is another potential guitar-player in the house.  Not everything can be prevented.

Taking this gift a step further, what about asking a grandparent to help pay for music lessons or accessories/music/etc?  Again, think outside the typical gift-giving box!

Some examples from our own family of individualized gifts that had meaning include:

  • Luggage – they needed it and were thrilled to have it!
  • A book of WWII battles with a map and pins to mark the battles
  • Set of hair clippers and hair cutting lessons (I’ve saved a mint over the years!)
  • A digital camera
  • Bedding
  • Money put into savings account for the children
  • Lifetime hunting and fishing license (this is a big investment, but well worth it)
  • Nature Friend magazine subscription
  • A serger that had been sitting collecting dust in a grandparent’s house

We are also big fans of gifts that make children think and be creative such as:

  • dress-up clothes
  • art supplies (like those from See the Light)
  • stationery
  • a tea set
  • cookbooks
  • camping gear
  • fabric and patterns
  • historical/educational books and toys
  • games
  • puzzles
  • outdoor toys

and the list goes on!

So, as you make out your list or begin suggesting gift ideas to grandparents, I’d encourage you to think forward, think lasting, think value.  Just as the Magi brought gifts to Jesus that might have seemed oddly out of place for a child, those same gifts had meaning and purpose that would reach far beyond those early years of Christ’s life.  Be thoughtful in your gift-giving this year and do not be afraid to ask the same of others.

Have some great gift ideas?  Please share!

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19 thoughts on “Ask Amy – Meaningful Gift Ideas for Children & Large Families

  1. Awesome suggestions! One I would add for a grandparent to give would be a swing set as a family gift (or a play house/fort or even better help making a tree house!). Any of those things are great for encouraging kids to be outside. One year I asked my dad who does woodworking to make small book racks for the kids to have by their beds to hold the current books they are reading. He was able to make them out of scraps so it cost him next to nothing but they have really been enjoyed by my kids.

  2. These are great ideas. My grandfather usually just sends a check and we use it for family day trips like the aquarium. Along the lines of the gift certificates, another idea might be a gift card to a grocery store so the kids could buy some treats. For instance, I rarely ever buy cereal but they, of course, love it, so with a gift card they could buy some boxes of that strangely colored cereal! Another idea, along the lines of the art supplies, is that of my MIL. She not only gathered art supplies together but she printed off various directions for simple crafts and put them in a binder. She also made a sample of each craft to make sure it worked and so that we have an example of the end project. Very helpful and she gave it to me already so I can make some of the crafts in December in preparation for Christmas. Finally, my kids love photos of themselves but I have a hard time getting them organized and downloaded, etc. So…a great gift to me would be to have someone offer to make make one of those photo books you can get on Shutterfly type websites so the kids could have their own books.

  3. LOVE your suggestions :) My MIL for many years has given a BIG Rubbermaid storage container with food. Part of the fun in that is she gets some of the “Splurge” items I don’t buy due to cost to buy it for four kids. So the kids get a nice LITTLE treat. For some reason things always taste better to my kids when they are in a wrapper i.e. brownie, doughnut, etc. compared to when mom made it.
    I many times have tried to encourage the zoo pass gift or something to that effect but the grandparents always come back with the”well, that’s not as exciting to see the kids open” I”m still trying to convince them though.

    • For grandparents who want the fun fo seeing a kid open something, they could get a little gift to go with the theme of the membership. A small stuffed animal for the zoo membership, a book on sea creatures for aquarium, old fashion type doll for living history museum, etc.

  4. We asked our children today what they wanted for Christmas. They are almost 5 and 3 (and 1, but he doesn’t talk yet!). They don’t watch live TV so they have no exposure to ads as a source for their wants. My almost 5-year-old said “I want dresses and socks.” Okay, done — I can shop at local consignment stores and buy her some sundresses for next year, something she needs, and that she’ll be thrilled with. (Grandma’s buying her some cute new PJs, a couple fancier dresses for special occasions, and a few toys.)

    My 3-year-old said “A volleyball and a cars t-shirt.” Also easy enough — some type of ‘sports ball’ (he doesn’t really want a volleyball; a baseball and glove would be more his thing) and some sports-themed clothing. He’s really super into this. So these gifts would be practical and well-loved.

    We are also planning to make the kids some additional wooden blocks (they love to ‘build houses’ and take turns knocking them down; it’s good for their building skills AND their turn-taking and sharing skills), some additional play kitchen items, some additional Matchbox cars, some additional Legos (noticing a theme? More of their favorites), and I’m planning to make some small car blankets for each in their favorite colors. We will largely shop consignment or Craig’s List for these items, because they don’t have to be new to be loved. That will cut down on our spending a lot. We have set a budget of $50 per child and there’s no way we could buy all that new for that amount.

    For the grandparents, we are directing them towards memberships to a local children’s museum (which, awesomely, comes with “reciprocal membership” for free to other museums nationwide!) and to our local zoo. Clothes in bigger sizes are always appreciated by all, especially if they’re themed in a way children like (my oldest loves anything pink/purple and dressy; my son is into anything sports!).

    For stocking stuffers, individual packs of crackers, fruit snacks, dried fruit, nuts, jerky, and other small ‘edible’ stuff is good. Plus, it’s not going to clutter up your house later! My kids LOVE the Annie’s snacks but I rarely buy them (expensive) and they also like Larabars, organic animal crackers, things along these lines. They’re healthier treats that are still fun.

    Gift certificates for lessons or classes are great, or instrument rental, or tuition to a sports team. My son was given a soccer class for his birthday. You could even give kids the promise of a special outing — a ‘date’ between child and parent(s) or grandparent(s) to somewhere special. An outing could even be a whole-family gift! We are considering surprising our children with a day trip to an indoor water park — they love water play. It would be a bit of a splurge for us but not something we do more than once every year or two.

    Plus, don’t forget you can MAKE them items, if you have enough time. I’m considering making some nice cloth doll diapers for my daughter, plus the blankets. If I had more time I might make them a calendar for our home school room (well, I will, but maybe not in time for Christmas) and blankets for their beds and other items. There are so many possibilities if you are handy with some wood working tools or a sewing machine. Plus it’s so meaningful to have a unique, handmade gift!

    Lots of ideas…now I better get to shopping! Price comparison and budgeting and sneaking around so the kids don’t find out too soon is tricky!

  5. Love all these ideas. I have one that fits the personalized and is also for the whole family. The MyColourCup is a personalized cup that changes names, making it a product that is used daily and keeps track of all those cups.

  6. As grandparents of 8 grandchildren, we too particpated in the overwhelming gift orgy until a few years ago. That Christmas morning, presents extended more than 3/4 across the living room, and tired, over-excited kids asked for “more, more, more!!!” We were disgusted with ourselves for encouraging this lesson in materialism. So we prayed & followed God’s leading. Now, on Thanksgiving each family member receives a letter from us asking them to give away their Christmas. We list the amount of $ we would have spent and supply gift catalogues for Samaritan’s Purse, Food for the Hungry, World Vision, etc. Adults & children often pool their gift money to buy bigger purchases: wells, donkeys, orchards, etc. The next week we order “the gifts” and by Christmas have gift cards from those organizations to give each family member along with a letter praising their obedience to God to care for those in need and encouraging them to continue this practice throughout the year. Our sons & their wives have begun doing similar “gifts” for us and others. Christmas morning is now about Jesus & His will rather than ME,ME,ME! Plus, this Christmas shopping is a true joy!

  7. One grandma get socks and undies plus an new pair of pajamas or slippers. She grew up poor so she is very practical, and the kids have found it is really appreciated after spending a few weeks this fall with miss matched socks at church. We always do toothbrushes and mouthwash, with a practical item. This year the oldest two are getting hard guitar cases, while the younger will get some books and a new audio set for the truck to listen on those long drives. The other grandparents get stuff like for outdoors play or hunting and fishing supplies.
    For the aunt she gets a smaller toy for each and some candy. The third set of grandparents live far away and normally get gift cards. The kids like Walmart cards, they find a small toy and then buy gifts for others with what they have left.
    All I want for Christmas is a new dish washer. Ours broke right after we bought the house 13 years ago, and I have been using it for storage, I would also like a new bath rug as the one we got for our wedding (16 year ago) finally fell apart the last time I washed it and I hate to step out of the shower to a cold floor. I know the dishwasher is a big wish, but I am just fine with a new bath mat:) The best gift I got last year was a 4 slot toaster. Trying to make toast for a family of 7 with a two slot was slow.
    My mother-in-law did a combined gift for our youngest birthdays this spring of a $50 check and I found a used swingset/fort for $50 on craigslist. They loved that gift all summer long.

  8. oh I would SO love if my parents would respect my wishes for gift giving. They just don’t… this is so hard, I’ve tried and tried to communicate to them that we’d like to get zoo passes or magazine subscriptions or things like that, or at least one big common gift for the kids to enjoy together….just impossible, they wont hear of it. Result? well, my kids are now used to expect lots of individual presents and already Christmas evolves around the “what am I getting this year” theme….I hate it. But what can you do when people just don’t respect your wishes?!

    • Maria,
      Here’s my $.02 for what it is worth. If you feel as though you have tried everything and still cannot reach their hearts, then teach the Truth to your children and be grateful for what they give. I’ve had to do this in some cases and it really does take the edge off the holidays if you just live thankful and pray the Lord pricks their hearts in His time. Keep a check on the kids’ hearts by doing your best to remind them WHY they are getting gifts too. Some grandparents have a harder time listening and there really is very little we can do about it. I keep reminding myself how grateful I am my children get to see and be around their grandparents, even if it seems they are trying to buy their love.

  9. Great post, Amy. We are so on board with not getting more trinkets. I mean, really, how many different toy collections do kids really need… or even use? And the bigger your family, the greater the effect of this continual accumulation of “useless” toys. Our kids are too young to go too “practical” with gifts, but what we are doing (and requesting) is attempting to streamline our toy collections… to build on the things they truly use and enjoy. So our Christmas gifts this year will be mostly comprised of Legos and American Girl. Both of these lines are quality made, have lasting value, promise extended years of use, and encourage imaginative play. In addition, we asked/encouraged the grandparents to help complete our Christmas lists for the kids rather than doing their own thing; and we are so blessed that they wanted to cooperate with us in that way. The kids will have meaningful gifts and I will not have to find places to store new toy collections. I look forward to continuing in a like manner for birthdays, too, although I do like the idea of asking grandparents to contribute to season pool passes or Science Center passes for the kids’ birthdays this year.

  10. These are wonderful ideas! I just thought I would share something we began doing last year that really changed our thinking and way of gift-giving at Christmas. We got the idea from listening to a book on tape about the Amish. We give each child three gifts plus a stocking. We give one gift they really want, one gift they can share (think games, etc), and one gift to promote spiritual growth (books/cd’s/journals/Jonathan Parks, etc). This helps us to really consider the gifts and how they will impact our children’s lives.

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