Shifting My Gifting Practices: Focusing on Experience-Based Gifts


Some of my favorite gifts to both give and receive are experience-based gifts, but I have to admit that this is a relatively new mindset around gift-giving for me.

I used to be the mom who spent hundreds of dollars on things, and I’m not here to judge or invoke guilt on any of you whose primary gift-giving style falls in this wheelhouse. There were years where I found quite a bit of joy in producing a Christmas Carnival, of sorts. However, one year, I realized how tired it made me; tired of the buying, tired of the lack of thought that I was putting into it, tired of picking up after all of the physical gifts’ play aftermath, and tired of the fleeting love affair with and overestimated shelf-life of material items.

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I started to shift my gift-giving practice. I found that encouraging a, “Want, Read, Wear, Need” approach in my daughters’ letter-to-Santa writing curbed unwieldy Christmas lists, helped organize my gift-giving strategies and worked as a resource when relatives asked what would be suitable gifts for my daughters. I use this strategy, and then incorporate experience-based gifts each year that aren’t found anywhere on their lists.

Spoiler alert: the experience-based gifts usually end up as the long-term winners.

I enjoy the art of thoughtful giving; I have found that experience-based gifts allow me to be a bit more creative, even if they are acquired in the eleventh hour, and bring more joy to myself and the recipient than a standard, store-bought item. The benefits for children in experience-based gifts go even further; shared experiences can strengthen bonds, create lasting memories, and specifically tailored experience-based gifts can create a stronger sense of self and accomplishment, while simultaneously helping to develop existing skills or explore new areas of interest. And, as an added benefit, experience-based gifts go a long way in bolstering awareness and support around local businesses. Plus: less plastic, less clutter, and more joy. 

Activities and Memberships

One of the best gifts I received last Christmas was a gift certificate from my mom to take a multi-week art class at a local art studio. Two of my favorite gifts to give were gift packages that included gift certificates for my two oldest daughters to take a private mother and daughter art class with me at that same art studio, in their preferred medium; one chose charcoal and the other acrylic. The finished pieces that we created hang in our art space at home, and in our memories, as each time I see them I’m reminded of how great that time was spent one-on-one with each of them. Experience-based gifts can truly keep on giving.

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There are a variety of these sorts of experiences that you can gift. Art classes, crafting programs, cooking classes, dance or gymnastics lessons, tumble times, sailing lessons, or ski/snowboard lessons; there are many offerings that you can select and tailor to your child’s (or any recipient’s) naturally abilities or interests. Travel, while a bigger ticket item, can be a great alternative for older children.

One year, my mother and I traded spa certificates and created an entire day together pampering ourselves. That was better than anything she or I could have boxed up for one another.

Activities such as a block of tickets to a local cineplex or bowling alley, a local museum or science-center membership, tickets to the theater, a zoo, or a sporting event, climbing gym or any local attraction admissions, State Park passes, summer camp registration; these gifts won’t sit on a shelf after they’ve become well-used nor do they run the risk of being quickly outgrown. Each year we do one big Family gift, and one of our favorites was season passes for LaRonde, a Six Flags amusement park in Montreal; this was great because they were more affordable than a single day’s admission, and we were able to use our passes at various local-ish Six Flags locations such as Lake George, NY.

I consider board games and puzzles experience-based gifts too.

As a family, these types of activities bring us together and force us out of our respective bubbles. Old school favorites like Clue, Life, and Sorry have produced hours of laughter around our dinner table, and even though our youngest daughter can’t really participate yet at age four, she enjoys rolling the dice, counting out the spaces and moving the game pieces for us. This year, my boss shared the Vertellis conversation card games with me, and I’ve picked up the Family pack (there is a Couple’s version too that would make a really thoughtful Valentine’s Day gift, hint hint).

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An activity and experience-based gift that I have found to be extremely beneficial in connecting with my daughters, since writing is my outlet and how I best express myself, is a shared parent and child journal. We own two of the Just Between Us, Mother & Daughter Journals; the ability to open up a conversation within this alternate avenue of communicating, without the fear of confrontation and for us both to take the time to craft what we want to say, has allowed for deeper connection. Of course, some of the prompts are less serious, silly and fun. There is also a Between Mom and Me Journal for Mothers and Sons (no personal experience or review here, but wanted to include an option for those of you with sons). I have The Big Life Journal, which focuses on positive messaging and growth mindset, on my own 2018 Christmas List for my daughters. It comes in two edition formats, one for 7-10 years of age and another for tweens and teenagers.


My four-year-old gets extremely excited about mail. Packages send her into a complete tailspin, and she has a collection of the Scholastic Books circulars in her room, her “newspapers.”

I still remember receiving Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr. each month as a child; I think that magazines, however antiquated the medium is viewed in popular opinion, can provide great educational benefit in expanding a child’s world through reading and pictures. Certain adult favorites offer editions tailored to specific age ranges such as National Geographic, Time, and Sports Illustrated, as well as kid-specific publications such as Highlights, High Five, American Girl, Lego Club and more.

Subscriptions, however, extend far outside the magazine scope. There are a variety of subscription services available that are an experience in every delivery.

For instance, I have a friend whose young son loves to help her make cards; she receives a monthly package from Paper Pumpkin, which is a monthly subscription crafting kit that provides supplies in a new theme each month. It’s a subscription that I am considering for my own daughters, as well as Raddish Kids, a culinary subscription for kids age 4-14+ that incorporates, “A unique theme that embeds math, science, geography, culture, and history into a fun culinary lesson.” Subscriptions are available in 1-month, 6-month, and 12-month increments (heads up, unlike meal-delivery subscriptions, the food is not included, but this kit does offer a great way to incorporate math and encourage personal responsibility at the grocery store).

Among other highly rated subscriptions according to the mothers I polled were overwhelming responses about two favorites:

KiwiCo is a subscription-based company that offers project “crates” for every age and stage (literally 0 months to 104 years of age). Subscriptions range from 1-month, 3-month, 6-month, and 12-month options, with a variety of interests such as Science, Art, Geography, and Culture. Each delivery comes with two or three activities or projects, a parent guide for enhanced exploration, and all supplies needed.

Little Passports is a subscription-based product that introduces children ages 3-12 in categories of Early Explorers (for ages 3-5), a USA edition, a World Edition, and a Science Edition, through activity-based learning that sparks discovery and imagination. Subscriptions are available in 1-month, 6-month and 12-month plans

For those hard-to-please teens, there are subscription services for beauty supplies, which can start at as little as $10 a month, that add some fun and variety to their collection. Music subscriptions are also a great gift in and of themselves, or as an accompaniment to a quality speaker, headphones, or another music-related experience gift.

Not to be dismissed, for those folks on your list that you’re just not sure about, a donation to a local or national organization or non-profit that they support in their name might be just what they didn’t know they always wanted.

Bundles and Baskets

One way that I like to present experience-based gifts and subscriptions is in themed packages. It can be a fun way to tie in smaller, physical gifts. A craft bucket with a crafting subscription, cooking utensils with a certificate for a culinary class, ballet shoes or a leotard and tights with a dance class, an easel and paints with an art lesson, a sleeping bag and battery-powered lantern with a State Parks pass, a swimsuit and beach towel with a local pool membership or waterpark pass, a piece of luggage, a travel journal or fun Passport cover to go along with travel-related experience gifts; tailoring your gifting to a specific hobby or activity allows you to get a bit creative with the delivery of the overall gift.

I hope that the ideas found in this post help you check off a few of the boxes on your Christmas list in a thoughtful, experience-based way. I would love to hear from you about your favorite experience-related gifts to give or receive, and how these types of gifts might have created or cultivated a new tradition or experience in your own family.



  1. Great ideas and perspective. I do the Want, Wear, Read, Need thing for my son’s birthday. Love the sounds of that Paper Pumpkin subscription.


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