While all kids expect some toys for the holidays, the gift of new experiences and time with family are the gifts that are most likely to be remembered long after the tree has been taken down. The DC area is rich with opportunities learn and explore and the holidays provide the perfect reason to finally plan an outing you've had on your "to do" list or take a chance on an event you think your child will enjoy. If you are concerned about your child not having enough gifts to open you can wrap a note or a small related item, such as a snowman figure if you're going to see ICE! or a small dog toy if you're going to see 101 Dalmatians.
1) Experience the Magic of Live Theater: One of the best ways to turn your children into adults who appreciate the arts is to get them comfortable in theater early. The DC area has so many great plays for children going on at any given time that there's no excuse not to turn your little one into a theater-goer early on. Imagination Stage and Adventure Theater MTC are two of the best children's theatres the region has to offer and they both have great plays showing for the holiday season. Imagination Stage is currently showing a fantastic adaptation of 101 Dalmatians that brings the story alive through music and larger-than-life puppetry with plenty of adorable puppies. Although not strictly a holiday show, the puppies do escape Cruella in time to make it home for Christmas. Adventure Theater gets your family into the holiday spirit with its adaptation of the classic Dickens' novel in Tiny Tim's Christmas Carol that teaches children lessons about the true meaning of the holiday season and why they should avoid being a Scrooge. Both also have subscriptions to make this gift that one that gives all year long.
2) Winter Wonderland: Sure it's cold, but there is nothing that evokes the magic of the holiday season quite like seeing an amazing, larger than life holiday display. ICE! at the Gaylord Resort at National Harbor is one of the best. This year's theme is Frosty the Snowman with towering displays carved from ice of characters from the beloved story reaching nearly to the ceiling. There are also several slides made completely of ice that children (and grown-ups) can slide down over and over. If you're wondering how the ICE! exhibit is made, this year visitors have the opportunity to see some ice makers at work. Top off the wonderland experience with a free indoor snowfall nightly, a gingerbread workshop, a ride on Santa's train, or a visit to Santa himself.
3) Go Local: Growing up as DC-area kid it's easy to be spoiled by all of the fantastic free museums clustered on the National Mall. It's also easy to overlook some of the smaller, local gems we have in the area and membership to one of them would make a great gift. Some of the best "off the beaten path" museums for kids are the National Building Museum with its ongoing Play, Work, Build exhibit and permanent Building Zone; and Hillwood Museum, Estate, and Garden with kid-approved giant hills great for rolling down, Japanese Gardens, tot-friendly classes, and more. National Geographic also has rotating exhibits, most of which are great for kids. Spinosaurus, featuring the intrigue behind a dinosaur bigger than T. Rex, and the highly interactive exhibit Food: Our Global Kitchen are both on display through early 2015. Get the kids a subscription to National Geographic Ks along with a visit to the museum for a gift filled that keeps on giving.
4) Treasure Hunting in a Mansion: You may have walked by the Mansion on O Street in the heart of DuPont Circle without ever realizing that you are passing by one of DC's gems. An eclectic old home converted into a hotel filled with hidden doors everywhere. Small doors and large doors are placed in unlikely places, such as hidden behind mirrors, shelves, and even under a bathtub. Themed rooms and unlikely treasures scattered throughout the Mansion make an afternoon there a great gift for kids. Families can visit just to wander and search for doors in a self-guided tour or can enhance the experience with an O'Kids Playdate package complete with milk and cookies or even by having brunch at the Mansion or even having Christmas Eve desserts there while waiting for Santa.
5) Dance and Jump: The DC area offers many great indoor activities for kids and a trip to one of them would make a great gift. Baby Loves Disco holds monthly events at the Rock n' Roll Hotel (with occasional special events held elsewhere) where kids can dance the afternoon away and take part in lots of other fun activities which may include crafts and a photo booth -- and adults can enjoy something from the bar. The new Pop Up Playzone, co-founded by local kid-legend The Great Zucchini, is a winter-only extravaganza of all things kids love from boucy houses to games and regular special events including book signings, tea parties, magic shows, a kid-friendly New Year's Eve party and more.
6) A trip back in time: Around the holidays Mount Vernon is transformed into a magical place filled with Christmas decorations like those the Washingtons may have enjoyed. Parts of the mansion not normally open to the public are open to tour during the holiday season and special events like candlelight tours, fireworks, a visit to the Christmas Camel, and chocolate making demonstrations make a visit to the first president's estate a wonderful gift during the holidays.
If none of these ideas seem like a great fit for your family don't despair! Look ahead to the events that come through the Verizon Center or elsewhere in the DC area every year such as Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, Disney on Ice, or Monster Jam, and let your kids know they will be going later in the year by presenting them with a small representation, such as a small princess figurine or little truck with a note. Another great source for experiential event ideas is the very popular site www.Our-Kids.com which lists just about every family-friendly event happening in the DC area and pick up a copy of Kid Trips: Northern Virginia to find some hidden gems.
However you celebrate the holidays adding a little culture, fun, and family time!