“Is there anything they’d like for their birthday?”
The question that many of us are fortunate to hear about our children but that also brings feelings of blank and slight awkwardness. Given that 8.5 million new perfectly good toys are thrown away each year in the UK, the whole things makes me feel a bit uneasy and serves to reinforce the fact that childhood has in some ways become synonymous with more and more toys and more ‘stuff.’
I’ve known of mothers who have bagged up toys before birthdays to make more space for the new incoming toys and of kids who’ve had total melt downs at their birthdays because they’ve felt totally overwhelmed by all the new toys they’ve received. It just doesn’t add up. Don’t get me wrong; the kids love toys, and I love toys. But we don’t need cupboards full of them and I actually see their birthdays and the gifts the kids receive as part of my parenting responsibility. Does that sound over dramatic?! (The science is there to back it up, just in case). Because the truth is, living lightly and simply for me and the family is a priority. The kids have enough toys, and the toys they do have, they share – from a scooter to a sticker book.
All that being said, it’s nice for the children to receive something for their birthday – everyone loves to open something on their birthday or to be made to feel a little special so I’ve put together this alternative gift list which I hope also might help navigate well-meaning family or friends who perhaps don’t share your values, but who you want to have an answer to when they ask the question and don’t want to appear ungrateful to.
My main tip is to not shy away from asking for practical gifts. This year for Jack’s 4th birthday I asked for some (much needed) pants, a good quality splash suit, and a kids camping head torch – all of which have been received, used, and treated with much love. Practical stuff can be fun, too. Gruffalo gardening gloves anyone? Yes please!
I’ve categorised the gifts according to ‘type’ but to be honest I reckon most children will enjoy most of these gifts. One common theme through all of them is that many of these gifts are experience based, many are free or cheap (or can be sourced from a charity shop), others are simply practical or allow kids to help in some way. Some are more expensive, but will last and have meaning, others are entirely personal and will take time to create. Of course some are age dependent, but I hope you can find something here for children of all ages. So here goes; the alternative kids gift list for….
1. Book vouchers (and a trip to choose the book)
2. A playdate in the library
3. A theatre trip
4. An audiobook subscription
5. Write them a story and feature their friends and family. Print it out, bind it – they’ll LOVE IT.
6. Fun gardening gloves or a trowel
7. A day out fruit picking
8. A plant to grow and nourish
9. A wormery DIY kit
10. A compost bin
11. A litter picker
12. A sewing machine
13. High quality paint, pens or a paintbrush
14. An easel
15. A box of dressing up clothes (scour local charity shops for some amazing finds!)`
16. A giant empty cardboard box (seriously)
17. A peeler or a knife
18. An apron
19. A cookbook
20. A fruit and veg bag
21. A fun chopping board
22. A headtorch
23. A tent
24. Membership to a local farm, Woodland Trust or National Trust
25. A magnifying glass
26. Swimming goggles or flippers
27. Great quality wellies
28. An instrument
29. Tickets to a gig (and lunch at their favourite restaurant)
30. Music or singing classes
31. A track with you or someone they love speaking or singing on
32. Charity donations – Ask friends or family to make a charity contribution to a charity close to your heart in your child’s name
33. Contributions to a savings account
34. Enrol them on a course
35. Adopt an animal
36. Group together – ask friends/ family to group together to buy one larger item
37. Anything homemade is always a winner – from a cards to cakes, you can’t go wrong when the thought is there
38. Remember to ditch the wrapping paper if possible or opt for recyclable wrapping paper (a simple scrunch test will determine whether wrapping paper can be recycled – if the paper holds its shape when scrunched then it is recyclable; if it springs back it is not. To recycle cards, any plastic and glitter sections need to be removed).
I really hope this list is a little helpful to those who are are looking for an alternative to toys as gifts.
I’ll leave you with this quote from psychologist Kim John Payne, who puts it brilliantly, if not a little stronger:
“We are the adults in our children’s lives. We are the grown ups. And as the parents who love them, we can help out children by limiting their choices. We can expand and protect their childhoods by not overloading them with the pseudo choices and the false power of so much stuff. And as companies spend billions trying to influencers our children, we can say no. We can say no to entitlement and overwhelm, by saying yes to simplifying.”
Emma Ross is mum to Jack and Sonny and runs Mamalina, a blog and vlog discussing motherhood, travel, zero waste, vegetarianism, yoga and more. www.mamalina.co