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As a parent, I love giving gifts to my kids. However, I also hate the constant clutter, wasting money, and spoiling. As such, I’ve found myself on the hunt for great non-toy gifts for kids, whether it be for Christmas, birthdays, or any other celebratory occasion.

One challenge to this approach is that I still want my child (or whoever the receiver is) to have something physical to open at the event. Over the years, I’ve found ways to get creative and give non-toy gifts that still leave something fun to open.

7 awesome non toy gifts for kids pinterest image
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If you find yourself “in the market” for some non-toy gifts for kids (your own, your grandchildren, your nieces/nephews–whatever!), please allow me to share with you my seven favorite ideas for gifts that aren’t toys (but still leave something fun to open)!

two boys opening a christmas gifts that aren't toys
Tearing the paper open is half the fun!

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“Tickets” to the Zoo or Museum

We live fairly close to DC. Our kids love going to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History as well as the National Zoo. Fortunately, admission to these places is free.

Do my boys know this? No.

non toy gift idea for kids example of a printed zoo ticket


As such, I printed up cute little “tickets” and laminated them. Then I put them in a little box, fashioned like a zoo cage, with some Little People Animals for decoration.


non toy gift idea for kids example with little people animals
I originally packaged these with the fake tickets, using a shoebox to make it look like a zoo cage (elementary-school-diarama-style). Unfortunately, I can’t find the pictures.

I wrapped the box of free tickets and Little People animal toys (that we already owned) and, ta-da!

My kids get the joy of unwrapping a gift, going on an outing they enjoy, and I didn’t add one new item to our household with this non-toy gift (well, I guess you could call it a non-NEW-toy gift, because of the animal figures). .

A win for everyone!

My most “creatively packaged” non-toy gift idea for kids: A movie box

My kids love going to the movie theater (I think this is true of most kids who are old enough to sit still). Still, it can be a costly outing for families.

For this non-toy gift for kids, we bought movie tickets in advance (we got discount ones that were available through my husband’s work, but any tickets will do).

I found a box that could pass as one of those old-fashioned popcorn containers and painted it with red and white stripes so it looked like an actual popcorn box. Then I took some stale leftover popcorn and hot-glued it to the lid.

I actually lost the photos of the original, but if you use your imagination, it looked a lot like this popcorn box pictured below (with stale popcorn glued to the top).

popcorn container for a movie non toy gift ideaVoila! A theme-appropriate popcorn box in which I placed the movie tickets and a box of Sour Patch Kids for each child. I wrapped it and put it under the Christmas tree labeled with all our kids’ names.

sour patch kids container to be part of the non toy christmas gift movie outing
The candy box was even Christmas themed. Bonus!

Truthfully, crafting that took some effort. If I were trying this in the future, I’d probably just buy one of these cute little old-fashioned popcorn containers on Amazon and let that serve as our family’s popcorn bowl for Family Movie Night (so it wouldn’t be a wasted purchase).

Again, the kids had a Christmas gift to open that was not a toy and added minimal (if any) expense to our bottom line.

We would’ve taken them to see a movie over Christmas break anyway, so this just allowed us to turn that inevitable outing into a non-toy Christmas gift.

Sports and sporting supplies

This is a category that really lends itself to non-toy gifts for kids.

I mean yes, technically a basketball hoop or soccer ball could be considered toys, but if these are sports your children play, you’re going to be purchasing these items anyway.

two kids with two footballs they received as christmas gifts

There are a few toy-free gift ideas you can make from this, such as:

  • Wrapping up a box of equipment you know you’ll need to purchase for the upcoming sports season. You could include a new soccer ball your child has been eyeing, but also wrap up new shinguards, soccer socks, water bottles, etc. with it. The latter items may not really matter to your child, but you’ll have to buy them anyway and they will enjoy unwrapping them. If it’s a non-toy Christmas gift (as opposed to a birthday or other occasion), they also look nice wrapped under the tree and can help cut down on the expense of “Santa” gifts (if your family believes in Santa).
water bottle and label as part of a non toy gifts for kids sports package
Part of last year’s gifts were more of these silicone water bottle labels. We’ve used this brand for SIX YEARS and love them! (Get them with just your last name so all your kids can use them).
  • If your child is old enough, sporting event tickets are another great non-toy gift idea that goes with this theme. You could take them to an NBA game, an MLS match, a college or NFL football game — whatever your child’s interests and your budget deem reasonable. Wrap up the tickets on their own or with other needed items.kid at a college football game as his non toy present
  • If you have a kid who’s very into dance, this could be a good time to update her ballet/tap shoes, stage makeup, practice clothing, or purchase new lessons. You could also buy tickets to a local ballet or dance troupe performance, if that’s something she’s old enough to appreciate.

Remember that the end game of these non-toy gifts for kids is to give your children enjoyment out of their presents without adding to the clutter and expenses of your household in major or wasteful ways.

Memberships or classes make great non-toy gifts for kids (and their parents!)

If you have a local YMCA, gym, ice rink, etc. that sells memberships, these are great ways to give kids useful, fun Christmas gifts that aren’t toys.

Find out what your child (or grandchild, friend’s child, niece/nephew) likes to do in their area and gift them a month (or longer, if your budget and relationship will permit) of membership or weekly classes to their preferred hobby.

3 kids playing at a playplace with passes they received as a gift idea for christmas
I buy indoor play passes as a Christmas gift for my kids EVERY winter. Life-saving!

Older kids will like this non-toy gift idea because it shows that you actually know about their interests. Parents will love it because it doesn’t take up space and these costs can be a real burden for families.

This can be a great gift for your younger kids too. Babies and toddlers quickly get overwhelmed by too many gifts to open or toys to play with. You can quickly reach a point of diminishing return.

Whether you buy the child five gifts or fifty, they will be equally happy (and equally disinterested after a while). For babies and toddlers, things like a Little Gym/My Gym/Whatever-Baby-Gym-you-have-near-you memberships are another great non-toy gift option.

My Gym: Where I run my toddlers ragged.

Sites like CertifiKid often run specials on these types of memberships in various local areas, so definitely check those out. You can also buy gift certificates/credits for different activities through the CertifiKid site. Last Christmas, my mom (“Nana”) got us five play passes for a local play place that was clutch during those looooong winter months (and because she did it through Certifikid, she only paid about half the regular admission price).

Of course, you could also consider a subscription to a babysitting service. This is as much a gift to the parents as it is to the child (probably more), so a membership to Urban Sitter or Nannies4hire might be the perfect non-toy gift.

Subscriptions ideas for Non-Toy Gifts for Kids

Subscription-based items make excellent non-toy gifts for kids.

Kids love getting mail, so having a magazine that interests them delivered with their name on it is exciting. Plus, since it’s only once per month, there is a huge novelty factor.

Beyond magazine-type publications, many different companies have begun offering subscription services. These services range from new books, science kits, toys, snacks, surprises, and more. One example is Lillypost, which is a book subscription service for ages birth to (approximately) seven. You select the type and level/difficulty of books, and the length of time (month-to-month or prepaid subscriptions for X-months), and then they send them to the recipient each month.

A different literacy-related subscription that would make a great non-toy gift for kids is a membership to Epic! It’s a digital reader program that has thousands of books from baby books to chapter books. You can sign up here so your recipient can read FREE for 30 days and then (at least at the time I’m typing this) the membership is only $5/month.

Another example is the Disney Movie Club, and as part of your sign-up, you get your first four movies for $1, and then new movies are mailed to you (or the designated recipient) monthly. You can “set it and forget it,” and a selected feature will automatically be mailed monthly, or you can login and you can make adjustments for what you receive and when, according to your preferences.

National Geographic and the Smithsonian Zoo Magazines have been popular here.

Another non-toy gift option is the We Craft Box, which is a subscription-based craft box that ships monthly. Each box comes with a unique story and the supplies necessary to complete 2-3 related crafts. The box targets the 3-9 age range and each box can generally be shared between 2 kids (more than that, and you may want to consider separate subscriptions for additional siblings). Although it is most popular as a subscription, which is a lot of fun, there’s also the option of just giving a single craft box as a gift.

(As an aside, if you decide you want to give this subscription a try, We Craft has given me a code to share with my readers to receive $5 off your first order. The code is WILDWEST5)

One of the challenges with this type of non-toy gift idea is that there isn’t an actual present to open on the birthday or Christmas morning (which is a lot of the fun for the gifter and receiver alike). One way to get around this is to purchase a related item to wrap with the subscription.

An even better option is to plan ahead and subscribe your recipient so that the first box arrives before their birthday or Christmas. Some companies, like the We Craft Box, even allow you to ship the first box to your location and the subsequent boxes to the gift recipient’s address. Then you can have the first one wrapped and ready to go on the big day, but this toy-free Christmas or birthday gift will keep on giving!

A 529 donation

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that college planning isn’t exactly an exciting non-toy gift idea, but it’s so important.

Many parents and relatives make contributions to these, but not necessarily as a gift. I’d encourage you to consider making a 529 donation in lieu of a birthday or Christmas gift like a toy that will cost money, take up room, and ultimately be discarded.

Again, many people would be happy to do this, but they want something for the child to unwrap under the tree or next to their birthday cake, which I understand. This is where you can get creative.

What does the child want to be when they grow up? Give them a small gift related to this, with the rest of the gift being in the form of the 529 donation.

If your eight-year-old wants to be an engineer, you can give them a K’nex building set to go with your donation.

k'nex make a great addition to a 529 contribution as non toy gifts for kids
Our friend “Uncle Mike” (an engineer) got this K’nex roller coaster set for our boys.

For example, if a five-year-old says he wants to be a police officer, you could give him a police set of Legos, handcuffs, or a police costume as the unwrappable gift to accompany your 529 donation.

This even works if the child has an absurd career goal, such as “I want to be a ______ (princess, pirate, dinosaur).” Just get one wrappable toy related to their “career goal” to go with your non-toy gift.young kid dressed as pirate toy as part of a non toy gift idea of a 529 donation

Yes, technically you’re giving them a toy (and this is a toy-free list), but I know many parents and grandparents are going to buy a ton of toys anyway, so perhaps this idea can help them limit their toy splurging and channel it in a productive way.

(A mom can dream, right?)

A charitable donation is a non-toy Christmas gift idea that puts kids’ focus back where it should be

Just like above, hear me out before you immediately write off this idea.

I know for me as a parent, I find it challenging to get my children focused on the true meaning of Christmas while the culture all around us (even well-meaning friends and family) ask them 1,000 times what they want for Christmas and then proceed to buy them everything their heart desires.

Sure, we do angel tree gifts. Sure, we make donations at the food pantry as part of our candy-free family Advent celebrations. Yes, we talk about Operation Christmas Child etc. Yes, we write letters to our sponsored child.

But let’s be honest: for kids, those things kind of pale in comparison to a month (or more) of consumer-driven messaging.

Every year, we receive this gift catalog from Compassion International. I’ve decided to have my children look through it and pick out a gift to sponsor. This counts as one of our family gifts to one another. I think it would be amazing if family and friends considered doing the same thing.

Now, any charitable donation is good, but this works most meaningfully if you truly swap it out and give it instead of something else (not just in addition to).

I’m not saying friends and family shouldn’t give toys and actual gifts to kids. I recognize that toys and Christmas gifts are great fun for the giver and recipient alike.

What I am suggesting is that if you’re a relative close enough that you will be giving a child multiple gifts, perhaps consider swapping one of those purchases out for a non-toy gift idea like this.7 awesome non toy gifts that still give kids something to open Christmas pin

Do you celebrate birthdays or holidays with non-toy gifts? Toy gifts? Both?

Let me know your take on the non-toy gift idea approach in the comments. All (respectful) commentary appreciated and encouraged!

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  1. Wow lots of fun things mentioned here! My son just turned 4 last week. I’m always amazed and thrilled when he wants to just sit with me and read a book. I bought personalised children’s books on his birthday. When he opens his gift and his face lights up with delight, you’ll truly understand the importance of personalized gifts. I got mine at personalisedchildrensbooks .com ❤️

    1. This reads like a spam-bot comment, but just in case — no, kids don’t need toys! Toys certainly have their time and place as gifts, but this post is to give parents (and relatives, friends, etc.) non-toy gift ideas for kids to celebrate birthday or Christmas. Sometimes a non-toy is the PERFECT gift for a kid (and their parents lol).

    1. Hi Krystn,

      Oh I’m so glad you found the list of non-toy gift ideas helpful! Two is such a great age for this because all they really care about is ripping open the paper and they get bored of the whole unwrapping show so quickly. I feel like my kids always get too many toy gifts from everyone else anyway, the last thing I want to do is add to the supply!


  2. I love these non-toy ideas for kids! I always give my kids an “experience” gift for their birthday each year. We have young kids to a trip or a membership to a children’s museum or the zoo are hits in the 2-5 year old world.

    1. Hi Stacy,

      Yes! I have two kids in that age range (plus a seven-year-old) and I feel like we’re always drowning in toys. I think experience gifts are so great — but really, any type of non-toy gift is a win in my book! Haha


    1. Hi Stephanie!

      Thank you! Yes, non-toy gifts for kids can be some of the best gifts! There’s no reason you have to sacrifice the fun of gift-giving when you give up the toys. I think memberships are some of the best non-toy gift ideas! It helps parents with the expense and the kids can continue to enjoy the gift all year long. A win-win for sure!


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