As the end of the year charges up to meet us, the usual southern hemisphere heat, rush and chaos has descended. Schools have finally finished, summer holidays have begun, kids are tired, the weather is scorching (but the water temperature is still cooler than we would like), and the end of year Christmas party season is upon us. In our house this time of year includes a kids birthday just days before Christmas! I am sure you will have noticed that 2020 has been an extraordinarily strange year, and now to make it even stranger as we approach Christmas, I am reading about Covid related shortages of toys! This year has been full of tragedy for so many around the world. Over a million people have died, essential workers are stretched, businesses have collapsed, people have lost their jobs, and doctors, nurses and epidemiologists are our heroes. Here in New Zealand we have very little to complain about. We have been blessed that other than a 6 week lockdown and a brief return to level 3 and 2, we have been blessed to be able to continue our lives largely as normal. Reading the news brings us back to the covid19 reality of the rest of the world.
In light of the global situation a few shortages seem pretty unimportant, and perhaps we need to get some perspective here. Kids don’t really need gimmicks and toys if we are truly honest about it. I think most of it comes from the adult idea about what makes us happy (and most of us have been sucked into consumerist ideas of happiness without even realising) and a desire to show affection in a visually tangible way (look how much I got you, look how big it is, and please notice how expensive it was…. That means I love you). But if you stop and think about it, do you want piles of expensive toys that kids will grow tired of five minutes after it is assembled, or after every button has been pushed? Adults have this funny idea about the “magic of Christmas” as if it has to be created. But really there are many ways to experience joy and there are many ways to spread joy that you can achieve without resorting to Kmart, empty toy shelves and the immense pressure to purchase toys everywhere you go.
Here are some ideas you might not have considered to help you bring joy without toys and to create fun and experiences that will continue giving joy for years.
- Sports equipment – good quality – listen to what your kids are interested in and buy things that will last for years. That way if your kids move on from it you can pass it on to the Sallies (or any charity shop), sell it online or give it away to someone else. Cheap stuff usually breaks and ends up in the landfill and that is something we all need to be trying to avoid. Spend more on less and get quality. Ideas include rugby balls, bike repair kits, cricket sets, tennis racket.
- Cooking equipment – decent stuff you’d buy for yourself – cake decorating things, icing bags, books of ideas and techniques. Choose stuff that will last, and encourage your kids to take care of it so it lasts a lifetime! In the past we have given our kids measuring spoons, cups, and baking molds. We even gave them small saucepans so they could use their own equipment. Cookery books for kids are a great idea. Even giving interesting ingredients will go down well.
- Gardening things – Create a bit of garden for them to plant things in, or if you haven’t got space for a garden bed, try a wooden planter box. Perhaps buy the materials and help them to make it for themselves. Give seeds, and seedling pots, plants, watering cans, garden trowels and hand forks. Help your kids to discover the joy of gardening and learn together as a family.
- Tool box and tools – again don’t be tempted to buy the cheapest stuff at the hardware store. There is nothing fun about tools that don’t work properly or break when you are using them. Seek advice and get something that will do the job well and will last if it is dropped! I am thinking of builder’s pencils, tape measures, hammers and nails, a set of screwdrivers, a handsaw, little socket sets and the like. If Mum or Dad or Grandpa like to tinker on the car or build things in the garage, then a toolbox with tools is a great Christmas or birthday idea. I have seen simple pre-cut kitset bird tables, bookends, and planter boxes for sale and if you can’t find one or make up the pieces yourself, the chances are that you can find someone who can whip a kitset together for you in their garage (or try your local Menz Shed).
- Books! Do I need to say more? Books are a great gift for all ages and interests. Books for information, how to guides, stories, facts, classics, books about sport, animals, monsters, technology, gardening, cooking, crafts, famous people, the list is endless. Books are amazing. Our kids all read, and they read ALL the time. The secret to getting kids to read is to get them great books, to read to them and with them. Read good stories out loud to the family after tea instead of turning on the TV. Choose wisely, and look for literature rather than meaningless cutesy stories or that latest movie fad. Go online and look for a list of great children’s authors and hunt out something really enduring. Books by local authors often make more sense to kids because they feel familiar culturally. In our case, there are a vast array of amazing authors right here in NZ. Librarians are great at recommending books if you are stuck.
- Craft supplies – Give gifts of fabric, elastic, soft toy patterns, eyes, buttons, needles, thread, sewing scissors, safety pins, knitting needles, and wool in exciting colours. French knitting (you can make your own with a toilet roll and 4 popsicle sticks) or get a wooden one that will last and not disappoint. Crochet needles, knitting needles, felt, googly eyes, little beads. Tee shirts and t-shirt paint! The list of possibilities goes on. Don’t feel you have to buy kid themed things or pre-packaged boxed activities. Adult things work better as a rule and are usually made to last.
- Art supplies – real art supplies. Go to a place that sells proper art things for adults and get them proper coloured pencils, sketch pencils, fine line pens (for outlining) gel pens, erasers, good quality metal pencil sharpeners, a paint box with a couple of good quality brushes, some sketch books, art pads, pencil boxes or oil pastels. Giving kids a creative outlet and something to experiment with is invaluable to developing creative minds and new skills.
- Give adventures and experiences. Take your kids tramping (if you’re outside of NZ you might know this as hiking, rambling or such like), buy them tramping gear of their own, go camping, take them to places like wildlife refuges (Pukaha Mt Bruce, Zealandia), museums (Te Papa), the zoo (Orana Park, Willowbank), a seal colony, etc. Take them fishing. Go for a swim at the beach or the river and make a real expedition of it. Make memories.
- Games and puzzles for the family. During lockdown board games and jigsaws were rediscovered by people everywhere. A great game will bring hours of fun and entertainment. They can be played by groups of friends, families, and all age groups. Jigsaws are another family friendly activity that is worth considering. We still get wet days in summer and often a puzzle is the perfect way to occupy kids.
All of these things make great presents for kids, and all of them will keep giving joy for many years. If you buy quality you might end up with a little less under the tree, but what you give will last and can be passed on to others in the future instead of breaking and ending up in the landfill.
A couple of other ideas that might be fun to try out if you have a bit of time are gingerbread biscuits or if you are ambitious, what about a gingerbread house? Try helping your kids to make the family Christmas Crackers. A few funny jokes on bits of paper, small gifts, chocolates and Christmas decorations are all you need. Write Christmas cards with the kids and post them to their friends. Have you ever noticed how much kids LOVE getting a letter in the mailbox? Make Christmas decorations one afternoon. Get creative and see how many things you can find on a walk that you can decorate for the tree. Help your kids to sew simple drawstring bags or hair scrunchies to give away as gifts. Make lavender bags!
Above all, take time out for yourselves to slow down and enjoy time together. We are so often running around here, there and everywhere, or plugged into our devices, that we miss the simple joy of spending time together.
These ideas have created joy in our family for years and I really hope and pray that they give you ideas for your families as well. Sometimes less is more and I really do mean that. Kids can actually create magic out of their imaginations, they don’t really need the latest Hollywood movie themed noisemaker or dress-up to have fun. All they need is love at the end of the day. And Love is what Christmas is all about.