My niece’s birthday is next month. She’s turning five. By this time of year I’ve usually purchased her gift (I can’t resist a good toy store when I’m playing tourist). But five years in, the object-based gifts are getting a little boring, and with so many loving aunts, uncles, cousins and good family friends, it’s difficult to guess what she already has or will be gifted each holiday. In order to maintain my “cool aunt” status, a responsibility I took on the day I learned she was a human being, I’ve decided to switch it up: from now on, I’m focusing on experience-based gifts. Wham-bam! Beat that cousin Carol (just kidding, my mom is my biggest competitor).

Experience gifts mean avoiding adding to someone you love’s clutter, and giving them something good to hoard: memories! I had so much fun creating this list, it got me excited about all the fun things I did as a kid, and activities that weren’t around when I was little.

Experience-Based Gift Ideas for Kids

  1. Memberships to the local zoo, art museum, natural history museum, aquarium or kid’s museum.
  2. Season Passes for the rec pool, water park, theme park or boardwalk.
  3. Gift Certificates for a paint-your-own-ceramics studio, trampoline park, rock climbing club, ice skating rink or bowling alley.
  4. A Special Trip with You like mini golf, horseback riding, perhaps a trip on a train or ferry trip, maybe camping.
  5. Tuition for Summer Camp There are so many cool camps out there, like rockstar camp and all sorts of tech camps for kids.
  6. Extracurricular Classes such as music, theater, gymnastics, dance and karate.
  7. Tickets to the movies, a concert, professional sports event, Broadway show.
  8. Fun Addition to a Family Reunion like ski lessons or swimming with dolphins.

The possibilities are endless, and the list will grow and change as the kiddos in your life get older. Give them something to look forward to, not something to add to their toy room, and buy them fun memories!

Painting by Amberlee Rosolowich.


  1. christine September 21, 2015 at 7:31 am

    YES! as a minimalist mom i totally agree. this year, i asked friends and family to gift memories in lieu of things and it was so successfully that i want to make this a birthday tradition.

  2. Emma Thorne-Christy September 21, 2015 at 8:28 am

    That’s great, Christine! What memory gifts has your child enjoyed the most? Any recommendations?

  3. BKC September 21, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    100% adore this idea. You’ve covered a ton of great suggestions! I’ve successfully gifted gymnastics lessons to my best friend’s son, and swim lessons to my own daughter. I also added my daughter’s father to my yearly science museum pass, and gifted him his own membership card for Christmas, via our kiddo. It’s a great way for them to kill a few hours any day, at no cost to him!

  4. Emma Thorne-Christy September 22, 2015 at 7:38 am

    That’s great! Spread the love to adults too. One of the best gifts I ever gave was a surprise trip for my dad and me to zipline through the redwoods.

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