Maybe you have nine nieces and nephews, like me, or maybe it’s 15 grandchildren. Maybe you exchange gifts with all of your best friends’ families, and have been surprised by how quickly they went from one kid apiece to three to four… Maybe you’re buying gifts for out-of-town cousins you haven’t seen in years, and you really don’t know what they’re into these days. Well, here is a holiday gift for you: peace, joy, and simplicity—the magic of group gifts.
Buying separate presents for a range of ages is super tricky. And the complication of aiming at fairness? Wow. How many times have you watched the Christmas cart pile higher and higher as you’ve tried to even things up? I learned a long time ago that it’s much easier to figure out one great group gift than nine individual ones. And with a bigger budget in play, it’s possible to buy one really nice gift instead of a bunch of chintzy stuff. But there is another upside to this strategy—giving group gifts inspires kids to play together, not to envy and compete. And isn’t that sort of the whole point?
We like to avoid tech games, since every kid in America is already glued to a screen. The more active or creative or far-fetched the better as far as I’m concerned.
Here are a few suggestions of gifts that we’ve loved giving or receiving, gifts that made our far-flung people happy. I like to think big, weird, and wacky—the sort of games and activities that kids rarely get to enjoy in normal life. And at the end of the list, since this is me, are a few books—a bunch of my favorite read-alouds that work well for families of various age ranges.
- Crazy lawn games. Think giant Jenga, tetherball, zip lines. Hearthsong does a great job with these, if you want a shopping link. Once I found a cheap little game called Goodminton that works indoors or outdoors without a net—fun for squirrelly little kids in a cold-weather state. Super soaker water guns and snowball slingshots, slip ’n slides and sleds.
- Non-board games. Skittles is great fun (you spin a top to knock down pins, kind of like bowling and dreidel combined). Lipless is hilarious, embarrassing, fun for the whole family, and not expensive. Along the same lines, we like Utter Nonsense (also fun for game nights with company over.)
- Active indoor activities. Walkie-talkies, marble runs, dart boards (they make magnetic darts that won’t impale the baby.) You can also find table-top versions of air hockey, ping pong, or foosball that don’t require adding on to the house.
- Creative activities. Think of that massive, drool-worthy art set you set your mind on as a kid—the seemingly endless markers, pastels, paints, clay. You could add an easel, some smocks, go all out! Or think drama—a puppet theater, a box of costumes. Once I found a voice-changing megaphone that let my nephews sound just like Darth Vader.
- Events. Tickets to a play, the zoo, a matinee. We’ve taken our youngest to an escape room twice now—what a blast! Membership at a museum, or dinner at a fondue restaurant. Or best of all, put your head together with the other parents and make plans to meet in the middle and go camping. Mmm, s’mores!
- Speaking of s’mores, you could send a big box of them for Christmas. I’m talking giant marshmallows, candy bars, graham crackers, and cooking sticks. Or have you ever heard of a pie iron? Gourmet camp cooking, here we come. Throw in a campfire cookbook and let the feasting begin! If you are feeling extravagant, and the recipients have space for it, you might even be able to give a fire pit. They come in a whole range of sizes and price points, from collapsible, portable fire rings all the way up to fancy-pants chimineas. Now that would make a memorable gift.
- Don’t forget books!! Here are a few of my favorite read-alouds. For the kindergarten crowd, it’s hard to beat a classic like Winnie the Pooh. But have you heard of Tumtum and his sidekick Nutmeg? Emily Bearn’s books appeal to a nice age span. A little bit older, and you’re ready for The Tale of Despereaux, one of my all-time favorite kids’ books. Trying to please the 4th-7th grade set? Try The Sign of the Beaver or The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Tired of Harry Potter? Try Nick of Time. And you’d be surprised how big a hit The Penderwicks is with so many boys, as well as their sisters. Check out the Boys/Girls Who Changed the World/Never Gave Up/Made a Difference series if you want to give some inspiration. I’ve already written about some of our favorite missionary stories, but you can flip over if you missed that post. Here’s a screen shot of my Family Read Aloud page on Goodreads. (Click to get links for all of the books on the list.)