100+ free or low-cost gift ideas kids might love even more than toys

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Kids playing
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Both of my boys’ birthdays and Christmas fall within a short eight weeks.

Each winter, the house floods with stuff. But what they really want is the time and attention of the people they love. They want memories and mentorships. They want to be known.

This is my response to some minimalist Christmas lists I’ve seen on the web that tell people to buy classes, camps, and memberships for minimalist families. Don’t get me wrong, I love those ideas! But a class or camp can run $300. I want to offer you some low-tech, low-cost alternatives. Happy holidays!

Save money on Christmas with these low-tech, low-cost gift alternatives

Invite them over for a…

  • Game Night

  • Movie & popcorn
  • Spa Day
  • Dance Party
  • Tea Party

Come on over to our house to…

  • Draw, paint or craft together
  • Make a fort
  • Hang out in a giant cardboard box
  • Have a jam session or sing-along
  • Paint your nails
  • Do facials
  • Cook a recipe

  • Read a story
  • Make play dough, slime or Oobleck
  • Look at stuff with binoculars, microscopes or magnifying glasses
  • Try on hats and take pictures
  • Paint your faces
  • Play cards
  • Put on a sock puppet show
  • Play hide and seek

Go out and do something together

  • Take them to the park, museum, zoo or aquarium
  • Attend a play, dance performance or concert
  • Watch a minor league or high school ball game
  • Go to a farmer’s market
  • Check out a local art or food festival
  • Find some free live music
  • Visit an art gallery
  • Window shop and talk
  • Visit a friendly cat

  • Explore a state park, landmark or beach
  • Take a short road trip somewhere new
  • Go to story time at the library or bookstore
  • Meet some animals at a farm or wildlife center

Go outside and…

  • Play on a playground
  • Roller skate or skateboard
  • Walk in the woods
  • Go on a scooter or bike ride
  • Have a squirt gun or Nerf war
  • Dig some holes
  • Swing on swings
  • Fly a kite

  • Throw a ball or Frisbee
  • Play in a creek
  • Make a map and bury some treasure
  • Feed some ducks
  • Climb a tree
  • Take a nice dog for a walk
  • Plant some seeds
  • Jump in puddles
  • Build sand castles
  • Make mud pies
  • Have a picnic
  • Rake up a big pile of leaves and jump in it

Even if it’s winter…

  • Have a snowball fight
  • Make hot chocolate or cider
  • Build a snowman

  • Make ice blocks
  • Go sledding, skiing or snowboarding
  • Build a fire and roast or burn something

Share your skills…

  • Juggling
  • Sewing
  • Tuning an instrument
  • Using a tool
  • Whistling
  • Baking
  • Candy-making
  • Flow arts
  • Braiding
  • Magic tricks
  • Origami

  • Throwing a pot
  • Harvesting a garden
  • Canning or preserving
  • Coding
  • Editing videos
  • Taking photographs
  • Metal or wood-working
  • Typing
  • Survival skills

Even from afar…

  • Call them
  • Text them
  • Send real mail, cards and postcards
  • Message them links about their special interests
  • Make videos or photo albums about your friendship
  • Send drawings, collages or photographs
  • Have Skype date on the regular
  • Create a playlist of songs they like
  • Read a story by phone or video

Share food with them…

  • Breakfast

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  • Smoothies
  • 2nd Breakfast
  • Brunch
  • Lunch
  • Snacks
  • Afternoon Tea
  • Dinner
  • Dessert
  • Popsicles (anywhere at any time)

Show up for them..

  • Listen to them
  • Show an interest in their passions
  • Ask follow-up questions
  • Come to their birthday party
  • Celebrate their achievements and failures
  • Go see them in a game/play/recital
  • Meet their friends
  • Watch them show off
  • Express your admiration and pride in them

  • Let them teach you something even if you already know it
  • Praise their uniqueness

Katherine Aurora Callahan is a minimalist mama of two little boys. This originally appeared as a post on Facebook and is reprinted with her permission.

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