I recently shared an article from the Washington Post titled "My kids have too much stuff." It echoes the problems that are depicted in the picture book by David Shannon called "Too Many Toys." While parents recognize the problem and do their best to limit what they buy for their own children and the children of their friends, the constant influx of gifts from generous people who want to "spoil" their grandchildren, nieces and nephews is a real challenge for many people. In fact, a fan said as much and asked me for some guidance. This is my response to the question, "what about the gifts?"
Setting Sensible Limits
My recommendation is to set limits for the gift-givers. As much as I would like to say, "Please just buy ONE thing for my child," I don't think it would fly. So I expanded to Four Things:
One Thing They Want
One Thing They Need
One Place To Go
One Thing to Read
My hope is that this guide helps everyone strike a balance with enthusiasm for giving with sensible limits. Within each of these categories, the possibilities are endless. See...
One Thing They WantI rarely meet a child who doesn't have one thing they covet: a specific toy they've played with at a friend's house or a special book they always want from the library.
Many young children have ideas of things they want that they have seen in the store or at a friend's house.
Just Ask the Child!
Sometimes the child just wants "something new" but couldn't name it if they tried. In that case, I recommend looking through my lists of STEAM toys and picking something that you think would appeal to the special small person in your life.
My Gift Guides include themed lists as well as age-appropriate STEAM gifts.
My Gift Guides
One Thing They NeedChildren get messy. They stain their clothes with grass, paint, mud, and food. Between the rough and tumble lifestyle of toddlers and preschoolers (and children in general) and the fact that they continually outgrow stuff, it seems like they are always in need of clothes and shoes.
Find something that is as equally practical as it is fun like a Bobcat shirt from Jeff and Paige or a dress for everyday play from Princess Awesome.
ShoesPediped shoes are the greatest shoes. In fact, when a new pair arrives in the mail my children exclaim, "oh! the good shoes." Pediped has been awarded the American Podiatric Medical Association Seal of Acceptance for creating shoes that promote healthy foot development. You can find them for discounted prices at the Pediped sister site Kinderbliss.com.
LinensDepending on the child, clothing might be the least exciting gift. My daughter LOVES to receive new clothing. However, my son isn't excited to get clothes as a gift. Special sheets/blankets/towels on the other hand seem to appeal to him more. So how about getting some flannel robot sheets or character towels for your preschool engineer.
- Bedding. Maybe it is super soft. Maybe it has images of his or her favorite thing on it (robots, trucks, flowers, character). One way or another a set of sheets can go a surprisingly long way to make a child feel safe and happy in his or her own room.
- Fun Towels. Hooded towels come in every size and shape. Find one that seems like the perfect color, shape, and size.
Musical InstrumentI keep thinking about music lessons for my kids and feel grateful that we have instruments around for them to experiment with. However, perhaps having an instrument in the house is a roadblock for parents who have to make choices about how to spend their money. In order to learn to play a musical instrument, a child NEEDS an instrument on which to play. Think about getting one that sounds beautiful, not merely a child's toy.
One Place To GoAh, the gift of experience. It is exactly what every child wants but doesn't know how to ask for it. The most special gift is one where you give them your undivided attention.
A Day with Auntie! (Or Uncle, Grandma, Grandpa, etc.)Give a fancy "certificate" and tell the child that you want to spend time with them. What will you do? Here are some ideas:
- Cook something together.
- Go somewhere together like a playground, the zoo, a state park, or children's museum.
- Go to a cultural event together (play, dance performance, music concert, etc..)
- Shopping "spree" at his or her choice of stores with you buying. First, set your limit. Second, decide who chooses the store. Do you want to go to a toy store? an arts/crafts store? a garage sale? I realize that this gift might be a sneaky way to get around the limit of four things (my daughter recently bought four things just on her spree with her grandma), but the value of spending the morning shopping with Nana was worth the extra stuff.
Don't Live Nearby? Sponsor the Family
If you don't live nearby your preschool engineer, then maybe you could sponsor a fun day for his or her family to enjoy. My four year old daughter always exclaims when she sees posters for ballet performances. My son would go bananas for a trip to an amusement park to ride his first 'coaster or drive some go-carts or bumper cars.
A Single Special Show
Pay for the child and his or her family to spend a day at an amusement park or to attend a cultural event like:
- Music Concert,
- Play, or
- Dance Performance (think "Nutcracker").
The Gift that Keeps On Giving...Memberships
Oftentimes a family membership to a zoo, museum, or national park will pay for itself after two trips. Peruse the websites below to find a cultural attraction near you.
- Zoo or Aquarium: Look for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. Find the great zoo or aquarium near you by searching by the states or countries listed below.
- Children's Museum: Use the Search Form Tool below to locate an ACM member museum. Refine your search with the available filters.
- National Parks Pass: A pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person). Children age 15 or under are admitted free.
Child ExperiencesConsider paying for lessons for the child. It could be anything from single lessons like cooking at the local children's museum to ongoing weekly sports or arts classes.
One Thing to ReadOur house is busting at the seams with great books. In addition, we have regular trips to the library to borrow new ones (or old favorites). And we love to get books chosen especially for us as gifts. However, in an effort to minimize things, avoid getting full collections of books, let's just say "One Thing to Read."
One Great BookChoose from a great list like the Association for Library Service to Children, or I have written a few: Favorite Audio Stories, 24 Books for Preschool Engineers and Favorite Truck Books.
A Sneaky SubscriptionHere is a sneaky way to give more than one book. Consider giving a subscription to audio stories:
- Subscription to Audible: Includes one audiobook per month plus 30% discount off additional books.
- Subscription to Sparkle Stories: Sparkle Stories is an independent media company based in Austin, Texas and Vermont. We produce original audio stories for children, enjoyed by families around the world. Started in 2010, Sparkle has built a community of subscribers from the U.S. to Europe and Australia. Featuring the work of storyteller and teacher David Sewell McCann, Sparkle has been recognized for our simple yet highly-engaging stories. The Sparkle Stories Podcast was awarded the iTunes “Best of 2013” award in the "New and Noteworthy" category. Sparkle offers over 875 original audio stories - along with hundreds of recipes, crafts and parenting tutorials.
True Generosity is UnselfishThe psychology of gift giving suggests that, "the biggest effect of gift giving may be on ourselves. Giving to others reinforces our feelings for them and makes us feel effective and caring." But true generosity is, by definition, unselfish. Giving gifts in the spirit of selflessness means to show restraint and to consider how overwhelming gift-giving holidays can be for children.
That is why this is The Only Gift-Giving Guide You'll Use from Now On. It provides a framework to help you show true generosity. Now it is up to you to be the thoughtful and selfless person your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews can admire.