Experience-Giving Gifts

Christmas gift giving is always tough.  It’s a puzzling tradition, especially knowing how much we already have.  Sometimes, it seems that our lists and desires run contrary to the real reason for the season.  Trying to keep the gifting in the spirit of the meaning of Christmas and what we believe life is all about, some friends and I have been going back and forth sharing some of our favorite gift ideas.  I like to think that many of these “things” are something I call “experience-giving” gifts, presents that enhance experiences, give access to new possibilities, encourage interaction or memory building with family and friends or allows us to participate in new activities, as well as gifts from the heart (who doesn’t love a good homemade gift?).  We have only gotten better over the years of knowing what the kids will use the most.  We’ll start with a couple specific favorites, and then move into some general categories we enjoy.

1) Hydration and Cooling  Last year’s most useful gift was probably our Camelbaks, which were used pretty much every day on our summer trip (no more carrying water for the whole family! They carry their own, plus rain coats and snacks).  On longer hikes, the Camelbaks aren’t big enough to fit everything we need, so the bigger kids swap them out for a bigger backpack (in our family, quality backpacks are earned when they decide they are strong enough to hike with one ;)).  It’s even better when their bladders fit right in to those backpacks.  Another great gift is the new and very popular Hydroflask.  Since our kids are so active, we are always pushing water on them. Hydroflasks keep it cold for a long time and encourage them to stay hydrated.  Our kids were also given cooling towels last year as a gift, and they use them throughout the summer, as well as during all their athletic events.

2) Slack line (we set this up in so many of our campsites, and even after a hard hike, the kids never failed to race over to our little campsite playground).  We have also been able to set this up in the back yard for hours of entertainment, strengthening, and balance work.

3) Eno doublenest hammock (who couldn’t use a little time swinging in the trees, relaxing or reading a book?).  Now, if only we could find time to set it up at home too.

4) Walkie talkies (whether it was to communicate with the boys while they were on a run, occupy the girls while they were hiking, talk between two groups of hikers, or keep contact with another car when the phone lines died, these were a huge bonus).  They are so much fun yet serve so many purposes well, and you can spend between $20 for a decent kids set to several hundred, depending on the quality you are looking for.

5)  Hobbies.  They sure get expensive, so everyone can use things that will make those experiences better or easier.  For us, that includes shoes (running shoes, hiking boots, keens, etc), snowshoes, skis, snowboards, sleeping bags, tents, rollerblades, ice skates, goggles, gymnastics mats/bars, weights, cameras, binoculars, camp chairs, garmins, and more.  The kids were given joint Christmas/birthday gifts this year and got these awesome new tents!  The sleeping bags in the picture are the REI Kindercone, another favorite gift given to our kids.

Inflatable Boats have been a great addition for us too.  This year, we added an inflatable double kayak and stand up paddle board to our collection, which gave us a new way to get out and see the national parks when we needed a break from hiking.

6)  Games… Who doesn’t love a good game?  We played all of these games with others initially, and invested right away.  Many of the families we have introduced these games to have done the same.  We go in spurts playing them, but they always give our competitive family a good laugh and some great memories together.  Over the years, we have definitely developed some favorites, which include: Splendor (might be our personal favorite), Ticket to Ride, Set, Codenames, and last but definitely not least, Gubs (I must confess I have no idea how to play this one, as it is quite intimidating given how competitive our kids get when they play with each other!).

7)  Books… our kids sometimes do “book binging.”  When they find a good series, they just go!  Last summer, we found ourselves stopping at lots of Goodwill stores as Ethan raced through Percy Jackson books.  Other ideas include guide books to places we will be visiting or children’s book like Who Pooped in the Park,” how to draw books, intricate “adult” type coloring books, journals, mileage logs, or autobiographies.  Braden’s new love of running was cemented even more as we read Running for My Life by Lopez Lomong last month.  It was recommended by friends, and it has become his all-time favorite!  Reading is such a good time to spend time with the kids, or for them to have some solo time to become better readers.

8) Art Supplies… maybe it’s because dad is an art teacher, but all our kids love art.  Christmas gifts have included blank canvases, paints, markers, gel pens, any of the latest and greatest crafts, kinetic sand, play doh, clay, coloring or how to draw books as mentioned above, and even homemade art boxes with supplies from their aunt and uncle.  As I was looking for an art pic to share, I’ll take a moment to brag with a pic of Gavin and his winning yearbook cover;)

9)  Music – Whether it is music to listen to, instruments, or sheet music to play, music is an important part of the lives of many.  It keeps us moving, brings us together, helps us think, and develops skills.  In recent years, two of the boys have started playing the saxophone and trumpet, and all of them love learning to play the keyboard/piano.  Recorders, eukeleles, guitars, and wooden flutes have also been a fun outlet for them.  Here’s a shot of my bro teaching his “mini-me” to play the guitar, a highlight for me from our Thanksgiving visit.

10) Homemade Gifts – Nothing says “thinking of you” like a homemade gift.  I was so proud of our kids cross country team this year, I couldn’t help expressing it by making these brag boards as they headed off to the state meet this year, with the boys placing 5th and girls 6th in the state.  They worked so hard, I wanted to give them something to remember their effort and talent.

This list is certainly not meant to be inclusive of all gifts, but just some of the fun ones we have found in recent years.  Deals are better at some times than others, but all of these have been useful to us.  Please share with us any of your favorite gift ideas!

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