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Toddler Talk: Five Non-Gift Gifts

I love this time of year. I really do. I love the white twinkly lights hanging everywhere. I love the Christmas music and the cheerful attitudes everyone seems have. I even love when the snow falls and turns the cold ground into winter wonderful. Being around children at this time is so magical. Through their eyes, everything is enchanting and mysterious and special. Unfortunately, too much emphasis can be put on the gifting part of this season, which brings out my inner Grinch. It's not that I dislike giving gifts (I love it!), I just think there is too much focus on material things. Besides the purple and pink Caboodle I begged to have in the early 90s, material gifts don't last that long. Experiences, time together and memories do.

So in the spirit of giving, here are five things to do for Christmas that don't involve a wrapped gift:

Make a photo book together

One of my kids' favorite things to do is to look back through pictures. Of course they love the ones of themselves, but they do enjoy pictures of each other and Mom and Dad. They love to hear stories about the day the pictures were taken and, as the taker of the photos, I love reminiscing with them. Sign on to one of the many photo book platforms and create a book together. Choose the photos from your trip to the zoo and tell the story of your day. Trip photos make for an especially great book, and paired with a retelling of what happened on your trip, it makes a fabulous memento. There needs to be a record of all the hilarity (and tears) that happen on family trips.

If those book forms aren't your style, try making up a tale on your own. Write a story, take the photos and then put the images and words together in a book. You could also make a simple book and illustrate it by hand. It will be treasured for years to come.

Go on an adventure

In my opinion, time together always trumps material gifts—and the memories will last so much longer. So get out and explore in your community! Live in a rural area? Check out local parks and important landmarks of your town. If you live in a metropolitan area, visit museums, parks or the zoo. Instead of reading about or watching things on a screen, get out see them for real. Animals look so much cooler in person and running through a park bring on the sweetest laughter.

If you're up for an extra adventure, create your own scavenger hunt highlighting the cool things near by. For littles, keep it close to the house. Note the tree with the interesting leaves and the empty bird's nest. For the older ones, include clues to places they have been and would like to visit again. Just have fun and get out there.

Take a class

Instead of investing in the newest toy, sign your kids up for a class! Say, ballet, swimming, archery or cake decorating. Check out your community education classes, local business and chain store offerings. It might not be the instant-gratification kind of gift, but most are ongoing and can continue to challenge class members.

Additionally, look for classes you can do together like a mommy-and-me dance class or a family education class. I like classes because it sets time apart officially instead of just saying, "yeah, we should do that someday."

Volunteer or donate to a cause

Imparting the value of giving instead of receiving can't be neglected. Exposing children to the lifestyles and realities of other people is a way to promote compassion and understanding of the world. Look into volunteering at the local food shelf or fulfilling donation needs through your church. It's Christmas, so look for Adopt-a-Family sign-ups and have your child assist in buying the items the family needs. Talk about how these items will help the family stay warm and fed through the winter.

If donating a cause is more for you, consult your little ones about what they would like to support—endangered animals, children's hospitals, refugees abroad or whatever else they feel passionate about. There are so many to choose from, so making sure it interests your children will help them stay engaged.

Learn a New Skill

I adore learning, and learning something new with another person is all the better. Children are wired for learning and if consulted, will probably be able to volunteer a number things they are interested in. Maybe they want to learn to knit or sew. Maybe they are interested in watercolors. Maybe they want to start collecting and cataloging bugs. If you are so inclined in their interest, set apart time (yes, really do it) and teach them what you know. Don't worry if you aren't perfect. You are amazing in their eyes. If you're not so inclined, look up skills and steps together or check out books from the library on the subject. Spending time and learning something together will be something you can share for a lifetime.

So make your list and check it twice. And give a gift that lasts for a long time.

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