Monday, April 29, 2013

12 Non-Toy Gift Ideas for Kids

When birthdays or holidays roll around, it's usually a safe bet that your kids are going to get a lot of toys from friends and relatives, so parents or grandparents are often looking for ideas for non-toy gifts that kids will enjoy. Here's a list of 12 great gifts for kids that aren't toys!

Note: I'm including links for some of these. They're not necessarily products I endorse or have reviewed; they're just added to give suggestions for where you can find some of the gifts.

1. Bird Feeder
A friend in our neighborhood has a bird feeder outside of her playroom window, and the kids love watching the birds and squirrels that stop by, so I decided to get one for L with some money he got for his birthday. Ours hasn't attracted any squirrels yet, but we regularly see cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, mourning doves, a bunch of birds I can't name, and two ducks! L loves watching the birds (he thinks the ducks are especially hilarious.) Our play area windows extend down almost to the floor, so it's easy for L to look out and see the feeder. If your windows are higher, there are bird feeders that stick directly to the window with suction cups so that kids can see the birds even from below the window. (I found a suction cup window bird feeder for $3 at Big Lots last week.) For older kids, you can combine this with a bird book written especially for children (Amazon has a bunch of them here) so that they can identify the birds they see, or you can buy a bird feeder kit so that they can build and decorate it themselves (with adult help, of course.)

Bird feeder tip - Our feeder was up for a week without a single bird visiting it, so a friend suggested that I cover toilet paper rolls in peanut butter, roll them in bird seed, and then hang them in the tree near the feeder. Within 24 hours, our bird feeder was the new neighborhood hot spot for birds.

2. Play Rug
A play rug brightens up a play room or bedroom and will give kids more options for playing with the toys they already have. I've seen play rugs at Walmart, Lowe's, Home Depot and Big Lots. You can find typical city or road style rugs, dollhouse rugs, maps of the United States, and even hopscotch rugs. You can get them as small as 1.5'x2' or large enough to cover a whole room. We found the 8'x10' Pottery Barn Kids rug that we use in our kitchen play area at our local Once Upon a Child store for only $48.

For now, it's mostly just nice that his play area is padded for when he falls (which happens quite a lot.) But when he gets older, he can drive toy cars on the roads and train tracks.

3. Family Photo Album
We don't have any family nearby, so I had been meaning to put some family pictures in an album for L so that he'd recognize his relatives when they come to visit, but I never quite got around to it. And then my mom made him this awesome book!
When I put the book on the floor to take a picture, he immediately ran  over to grab it.
You can see his shadow and his foot in the bottom picture.
Each page has a picture of one or more of his family members, and she wrote a cute rhyming story to go with the pictures. Included are pictures of L's grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and parents (that's Dan and me... obviously.) She printed each picture onto thick computer paper, put each page into a plastic page protector, and put them all in a three-ringed binder. L loves the book so much that I recently confessed to my mom that I've had to hide it a few times when L was demanding that I read it dozens of times per day. You could make this as simple as a cheap photo album filled with pictures, or you could write a cute story like my mom did.

4. Zoo Membership
We just bought a zoo membership for the first time this year, but we have friends whose kids get a zoo membership as a gift every year. It's educational and fun, and it gives you something to do when you all need to get out of the house for a while. If you want your child to have an actual gift to open, you can combine it with a book (purchased or homemade) of pictures of animals you'll see when you visit the zoo.

5. Books
This is a favorite in our house. L loves when I read to him, and I try to make it a point of buying him at least one book for every major holiday. Even kids who don't typically like books will often enjoy them if you buy high quality books with a subject that interests them. Some kids' books are poorly written or illustrated, and even my 14-month old will reject books that aren't good. If you need ideas for good children's books, check out Sandra BoyntonBarefoot Books, or Usborne Books. For toddlers and babies, books should have only a few words per page (one to two sentences is a good length) and simple pictures or they'll quickly lose interest. We have a great used bookstore in our town, and I've found board books that looked brand new for $1-2.

6. Kid-sized Furniture
Just-my-size furniture is fun for even really young children. Stores like Walmart and Target often sell inexpensive stuffed chairs for kids, or you can look for higher-quality pieces that will last for a long time. My parents gave L a rocking chair for Christmas, and he periodically goes over to it and demands that I help him sit on it (he hasn't quite figured out how to climb onto it himself yet.) Then he just sits there with a big smile on his face! I wouldn't have guessed that he'd love it so much, but he's crazy about it. As an added bonus, having his own kid-sized chair makes him willingly sit still long enough for me to get unbelievably adorable pictures like this one:
Seriously, how adorable is this child?

7. Clothes/Pajamas
This one is pretty obvious (and is usually the first thing people think of when they think of non-toy gifts,) but it deserves a mention. When a child doesn't have any older siblings to get hand-me-downs from or is the first girl/boy in a family, they can almost always use more of at least one type of clothes. (For several months, L had plenty of play clothes but no clothes he could wear to church.) To make it a fun gift for the child, look for clothes/pajamas featuring the child's favorite animals, characters or colors.

8. Backpack/Bag
For my nephew's second birthday, we bought him a little robot backpack with his name embroidered on it. He wore it around (with nothing in it) for at least an hour. It's a fun gift, but it's also practical for overnight trips or outings.

9. Dress-Up Clothes
I have a friend who keeps an eye out for potential dress-up clothes every time she goes to a garage sale. You can find Halloween costumes, party dresses, sports uniforms, etc at garage sales for next to nothing, and you'll add a new element to your child(ren)'s imaginative play. Remember: dressing up isn't just for little girls! Super hero capes, football helmets, or police and fire uniforms can be fun for boys or girls. L isn't quite old enough to play dress up yet, but he does think hats are really funny, so I'm planning to add some dress-up hats/helmets to his toy bin.

10. Lawn Sprinkler
Most kids love playing in water, especially on a hot summer day. Running through a sprinkler is also a good way to get your kids to play outside. Now that summer is approaching (hopefully!) a lot of stores have fun sprinklers designed especially for kids to play in, but the good old back and forth sprinkler that we all grew up playing in will work just as well.

11. Sleeping Bag/Bed Sheets/Blanket
Bedding with animals or cartoon characters can be a great gift for kids. Most children who are old enough for sleepovers would love to have a cool sleeping bag to take with them to a friend's house. I don't mean to brag, but when I was a kid, I had a Glow Worm sleeping bag that actually glowed in the dark. I was the coolest kid at every sleepover I attended! (Ok, maybe that last part was only in my head, but you get the point.)

12. Flashlight/Night Light
I haven't met a child yet who doesn't like flashlights. You can find inexpensive flashlights in bright colors almost anywhere. (Since they're usually fairly easy to take apart and contain batteries and small parts, make sure the child is old enough before giving one as a gift.) L has - and loves - this toy flashlight that he got as a birthday gift, but since it's a toy, let's pretend I didn't mention it in this list. Decorative night lights are great for older kids who are afraid of the dark, and maybe it's just me, but I think this nightlight is the coolest one I've ever seen.

Bonus: Click here for 8 more non-toy gift ideas!

Do you have more ideas for non-toy gifts for kids? Share them in the comments!


  1. i love these! especially the book of family. my sister moved halfway across the world with my two nephews and since both of them are still pretty young, i think this would be a great gift. flashlights have always been my secret weapon when babysitting kids. i don't know what it is about them, but i have never yet met a kid who did not love them.

  2. Love these ideas! We live in life is a that I think about it, I should charge money for people to come watch me (wait..not like that!!) you know in the zoo I live in. :)

  3. These are all really great ideas for gifts. My kids love flashlights. So simple and it makes them happy! We also got a bird feeder and they adore watching the birds and making sure it's full during the warm months. We focus too much on toys when it's the simple things that make our kids happy!

  4. These are great ideas, I especially like the zoo membership idea! We have a Science Center and Childrens Museum here in Pittsburgh and memberships to those places also make great gifts.

  5. Great list! My kids are 15-23, so we're long past the toy gifts (mostly). I'll keep these in mind for when the grandkids come along. Hopefully, that's not too far off for us.

  6. This is a great list!! My kids really don't need more toys, but they still like getting gifts and people like getting gifts for them.

  7. These are some great ideas! I would never have thought about a bird feeder, but I bet my kids would have loved that when they were little.

  8. Very good gift ideas. If I had a room large enough I'd love to buy my little one a rug. Enjoy your SITS Day.

  9. The flash light is definitely my kids FAVORITE. I always tell people when they ask what they want, but they never buy them. If they could only see the fun it brings! Love this post.

  10. This is a great gift list for kiddos. :-) Very timely for the holiday season, too. Happy SITS Day!

  11. What great ideas! I love the idea of non-toy gifts too. kids have too many toys i think. thanks so much for the awesome suggestions. i wouldn't have thought a 2 yo would wear a backpack, who knew?!
    Happy SITS day!

  12. SO Much better than all these toy guides!!! THANKS!! :D Happy SITS Day!

  13. Thank you so much for this list! The suction cup birdhouse is actually something my daughter asked for and I'd completely forgotten about it. Thank you for the reminder! :)

  14. I just love the dress up clothes idea! I've gotten some things like that at the party store - inexpensive hats, etc. - for my nephews who love to act out stories about everything from cowboys to knights. Great, great list! Happy SITS Day!

  15. Great ideas. As a mom of 4, I do appreciate most of these ideas. Happy SITS day!

  16. Great ideas! I've been brainstorming and googling and every site comes up with the same tired ideas. So glad to have found some fresh ones here!

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  18. Erm...... Thank you for your sharing, I think a lot parent had make their mistake to buy unnecessary gifts to their children.... I would likely to share your post to my friends, tell them about gifts that should avoid to buy for their children in the future. Little Kids

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  21. Love these ideas! :) Here's another great list of Non-Toy gift ideas.

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  24. Love these ideas! The bird feeder would be great -- or maybe a fish pond in a pot?

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