Chanukah is around the corner, and there are just three weeks until Christmas. The world is kicking into high gear for the holidays. It's inescapable. The media, advertisers and merchants are targeting our children and us, pointing us towards their ultimate goal: buy buy buy. It's no wonder that children across the country are whining and begging for stuff. But maybe it isn't that stuff that makes the best holiday gifts... or makes the holidays memorable.
Do you remember what you received when you were 4, or 7 or 9? Not likely.
Long after the glow in the dark magic robot has lost his glow and the Barbie nail polish in 20 different sparkling colors has dried up, the gifts that don't fit under the tree live on. I am talking about the gift of an experience.
Experiences speak to children in ways that tangible gifts just can't. Experiences are interactive and as such, make an indelible mark on a person's brain. It is through hands-on, active experience that children absorb, evolve and grow the most. Experiences are time-released; they are integrated over time and recalled over and over. They live on in our minds and in our hearts, never to be forgotten. And an experience that includes a parent or someone special is the icing on the cake (tinsel on the tree!) -- and they really stick. The gift of an experience is a gift that keeps on giving.
Your child will never forget when her gift from Grandma was going to the theater to see The Lion King or when Uncle Jon took her fishing on the pier. Maybe the best gift ever was a camp out in the back yard with Daddy or taking knitting lessons with Mom. While the gifts you buy may sparkle under the tree, they are not necessarily the ones that have the greatest impact or the deepest meaning.
Here are some ideas to get your juices flowing:
1. A camp out in sleeping bags in the garden, just you and Dad.
2. A lesson in something your child has never tried (gingerbread house making, using a sewing machine, electric guitar playing, calligraphy, woodworking, fly fishing, horseback riding, surfing) Take the lessons together.
3. Build a skateboard ramp with Uncle Ben (or build a birdhouse, a train table, a tree house... something the child will use all year.)
4. Plant a vegetable garden together. Then nurture it and reap the harvest together.
5. An all-day fishing trip.
6. An overnight trip to a dude ranch
7. A visit to a working farm or dairy to milk a cow (for all the city slickers)
8. A ride in a real police car.
9. Attend a live theater performance of a beloved musical or a special athletic event.
10. Commit to attending your local high school basketball games, just two of you, for the whole season. Get in the spirit!
11. A sleepover at a daytime attraction. The Long Beach Aquarium (Long Beach, CA), Wild Animal Park (San Diego, CA), and many science museums and zoos across the country offer special sleepovers for families.
12. And, for children 7 and older, my personal favorite is a "hookie day." Let your child know that for one day during the coming year, he will awaken to be told that it isn't a school day. Which day it will be is a surprise. You and your child will spend a school day together, doing whatever it is that you and she enjoy doing (a bike ride, a hike, a movie, a cooking project... but no school.) No need to spend a penny, either.
All these experiences (which arrive in the form of a wrapped certificate), are just for one specific child or for you and your child alone. Having you all to him or herself is part of what makes the experience so special.
Your child may not be over the moon when he unwraps the gift, and he may not get it at all yet. But long after the holiday decorations are put away, it will be a gift he will treasure the most and surely never forget.