Child Caring

Aunt wants her holiday gifts to do more than collect dust

Hi Barbara,
With the holidays coming up, Iíve got a question about gift giving. I have a 4 and 5 y/o niece and nephew who come from a very fortunate family. They have wonderfully loving parents who work hard to provide for their family and two sets of grandparents who have no problem spoiling them silly. Every birthday includes mounds of gifts from family and friends and Santaís sleigh is always overflowing when he visits. The kids seem almost overwhelmed by the amount of gifts to the point that it seems like each item becomes just another ďthingĒ to throw in the toy room. That being said, my question is, what can you give a child for a gift that will not just end up being meaningless stuff to add to the pile?

Any advice would be wonderful, thank you!

From: Molly S,Wilmington, MA

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Dear Molly,

Good for you for wondering about alternative gifts for your niece and nephew! Kids aren't born with the Gimmes and it just might take a creative auntie to help them find their inner selves. There are many ideas that will keep on giving over the years because they will develop into loving and beloved rituals. All you have to do is think outside the (gift) box:

1. Best gift ever? The gift of yourself. Think of an activity each kid loves and and present her/her with a certificate to do the activity together. He loves to ice skate? An afternoon at the Frog Pond in Boston, followed by hot chocolate in a restaurant overlooking the Common. She loves to make a mess? Get her a chef's hat and apron and a certificate to bake in your kitchen, flour all over the place included. What about a certificate for a spring vegetable garden that you can jump start in late winter on a window sill? Or a sleep-over at your house with popcorn and videos and breakfast in bed? You get the idea. Create an elaborate gift certificate, wrap it beautifully in a big box and have pictures and descriptions of the activity inside with the certificate. The first year, they may be a little underwhelmed but I bet this will grow into a tradition they will anticipate with pleasure. Oh -- and be sure to take pictures. The events will make a fun album as the years go by.

2. Second best gift ever? Helping them learn to give to others. This involves another certificate, one that reads, `"Your present is a gift to the charity of your choice.'' Give them pictures of causes that are age-appropriate such as, World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy, Save the Whales and help them choose. Include a book or video, a stuffed animal or some object to accompany the certificate.

3. Find gifts that encourage creativity. Buy some raw materials for a crafts project you think they would each like and then help create it with them. There's nothing like a big box that can be turned into a space ship, boat or castle. Include fun stickers, markers, paint, glitter -- the works -- for fun decorations. No room for giant-size boxes? Try "Shoe Box Gifts," a brain child of TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment). A Shoe Box Gift is a collection of small items organized around a play theme (office, restaurant, rescue) that you put in a decorated shoe box. "Office," for instance, might include a message pad, receipt book, labels, ink pad, stamps.

4. The gift you can never go wrong with? Blocks are always the single most important toy because children can do so many things with them. But don't think of blocks too literally -- "blocks" can mean any kind of manipulative, for any age, and for both boys and girls.