Jessica Ballinger’s Experience-Based Gift Guide

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With six kids ages 2-16, we have gone through so many stages in life. When our oldest were little, we needed all the STUFF. The toys, equipment, clothes, etc. That accumulated over the years until we got to a point where we just didn’t really need all that much anymore. The favorite toys are passed down and last for the next kid. They still get some personal new toys & gadgets for holidays and birthdays, but overall, we have more than enough and are content with what we have. Right now, we are all about experiences over things. In the chaos of life, we’ve found that the real gems are the memories we make together.

Some of these ideas are one-time special events, and others can lead to a whole year of fun! Whether it’s for babies, toddlers, tweens, or teens, these ideas are sure to bring a smile to your loved ones’ faces.

If you’re working with a limited budget, many of these ideas don’t have to be “purchased”.  Things like a special at-home cooking lesson,”spa” day, scavenger hunt, or movie night can be within budget when approached with creativity and enthusiasm.

I’ve sorted my recommendations out by age, but make sure to scroll all the way down to get ideas for gifts that work for the whole family together! 

Gift Ideas for Babies (Ages 0-2):

  • Baby Swim Lessons: Give the gift of water safety & fun with baby swim lessons.
  • Music Together Classes: Babies love music, and these classes are perfect for bonding and fostering a love for rhythm.
  • Gymnastics or other gym classes (MyGym, Gymboree, etc), done in a mommy (or daddy) & me style.
  • Baby Massage Workshop: Pamper your baby with a soothing massage class.
  • Sign Language Classes for Baby: Enhance communication skills with baby sign language classes.
  • Annual Pass to Children’s Museums: Exploring hands-on exhibits is a fantastic experience for babies and parents.
  • Professional Baby Photoshoot: Capture those precious moments with a professional photoshoot.

Gift Ideas for Toddlers (Ages 3-5):

  • Family Theme Park Pass: Season passes to your nearest theme park ensure endless fun for the whole family. With this age, Sesame Place and Legoland are great, as are other local mini-theme parks that I’ve seen in various places. They aren’t as commercialized, but are often super sweet spaces that work well for younger ages– if you’re lucky enough to live near one.
  • Cooking Class: Enroll your toddler in a cooking class to ignite their culinary curiosity. You can find them in person, as well as online!
  • Nature Scavenger Hunt: Plan a fun outdoor scavenger hunt for the family. Look into Geocaching and see if it’s an option where you live.
  • Theater Show: Take your toddler to their first theater show or musical.
  • Farm Animal Encounter: Visit a local farm for hands-on animal encounters.
  • Mini Golf Adventures: Mini golf is a great way to introduce toddlers to the game.
  • Art Classes: Nurture creativity with art classes designed for little ones.
  • Baking and Decorating Workshop: Learn to bake and decorate delicious treats together.
  • Butterfly Garden Visit: Explore the magical world of butterflies in a butterfly garden.
  • Children’s Science Center Membership: Join a science center for exciting hands-on learning.
  • Local Train Ride: This doesn’t have to be themed– a train in itself is an incredible adventure for little ones!

Ideas for Ages 6-12):

  • Adventure Park Pass: Gift an adventure park pass for thrilling zip-lining, climbing, and more.
  • Music or Dance Lessons: Encourage your tween’s artistic side with music or dance lessons.
  • Camping Trip: Plan a family camping trip to connect with nature.
  • Escape Room Adventure: Challenge your tweens’ problem-solving skills with an escape room experience.
  • Amusement Park Tickets: Day passes to an amusement park are always a hit. I always recommend asking about the price difference between a single day pass and upgrading to an annual pass– sometimes you can get incredible deals on passes that last the whole year. 
  • Horseback Riding day trip or Lessons: This can be such a special experience for someone who has never had the opportunity to ride a horse!
  • Artistic Workshop: Dive into pottery, painting, or another artistic workshop. I LOVE a good pottery wheel. 
  • Cooking Class: Learn to cook exciting new dishes together.
  • Outdoor Movie Night: Set up an outdoor movie night in your backyard. You can use a projector on the side of your house, go big with an inflatable screen, or keep it simple and huddle around your laptap. But you’ll be OUTSIDE! Fun additions, like creative seating, popcorn and hot chocolate can make the evening extra-special. 

Gift Ideas for Teens:

  • Concert VIP Experience: Upgrade their concert experience with VIP tickets.
  • Theater Workshop: Teens can explore their love for drama with a theater workshop.
  • Skydiving Adventure: Honestly, I’m afraid of heights and I think it puts a ding in your life-insurance application, so I didn’t want to even put this on the list. But just in case that’s you’re kind of thing, I guess…
  • Cooking Class: They’re going to be needing those skills pretty soon, anyway!
  • Rock Climbing Adventure: Conquer new heights with indoor rock climbing.
  • Ski Trip: Hit the slopes for a memorable family ski trip.
  • Musical Instrument Lessons: Support their passion for music with instrument lessons.
  • Hot Air Balloon Ride: Soar high in a hot air balloon for a breathtaking view.
  • Teen Spa Day: Indulge in a relaxing spa day for the ultimate pampering.
  • Culinary Tour: Explore different cuisines with a culinary tour in your city.

Gifts for the Whole Family

  • Zoo or Aquarium or Science Center Membership: Invest in a membership to a local zoo or aquarium for countless fun family outings.
  • Family Memberships: Memberships offer a year’s worth of adventures. Plus, perks like free parking and discounts? Yes, please! I’ve found this to be a very special grandparent gift. Obviously, not all grandparents will be as interested, but many love that it’s a gift that lasts all year and that they’re supporting active & educational family outings. Often, it reminds them of their own parenting journey and the nostalgia of visiting the same places. It can be a very sweet gift in that way.
  • Theater Shows: We’re a family of theater enthusiasts, and let me tell you, tickets to shows or concerts are a game-changer. We love musicals & the amazing touring shows that stop in cities near us. The bigger shows can have BIG price tags, but I am much more comfortable spending a little more when it’s the main Christmas or birthday gift. I’ll even splurge and get seats pretty close-up when the opportunity presents itself!
  • Magic shows? Cirque performances? They’re a hit for kids and adults alike!
  • Cue the excitement for! It’s a haven for curious minds, homeschoolers or not. The site has massive variety of interest-based classes — art, music, book clubs, logic puzzles, math, languages – you name it! They even have Dungeons & Dragons groups and other social clubs for kids with a variety of passions, special interests, and neurodivergent brains. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving – continuous learning and growing.
  • Gift Cards: We love us some gift cards! There are all kinds of different ways to make them feel like HUGE gifts. Some general ideas are cafés (Starbucks in our house), bookstores, smoothie & ice cream places, local spots, Target, Amazon, etc.

Tight Budget?

Experiences can be costly, but they can also be free or inexpensive. Sometimes, it’s the simple things. The things we take for granted as adults can be truly magical through a child’s eyes. Local train rides can be an incredible adventure! Dinner at your kid’s favorite spot can be a special outing. You can pack a picnic lunch and go for a hike, spend a day at the beach, or visit a local landmark. Or perhaps you have a friend or relative who is an expert at something and would enjoy sharing their craft!

Give the Gift of Lasting Memories

Remember, the most precious gifts aren’t always wrapped with a bow. Experience-based gifts create lasting memories and bonds that will be cherished for a lifetime. So, go ahead and give the gift of unforgettable moments to your loved ones!

More Gift Ideas

If you’re looking for more holiday gift ideas, you can read Jessica Ballinger’s No-Screen Gift Guide, or check out this video where we share lots more ideas like books, gifts for mom and dad, and more!

More From the Ballinger Family

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