toddler at the beach
Gift Ideas, Holiday

Please Stop Buying Toys For My Toddler – Consider One Of These Ideas Instead

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As we prepare to celebrate Calista’s third birthday my husband looked at me with dread when I showed him the stack of invitations – addressed, stamped and ready to go in the mailbox. This year we opted not to host it in our home, instead we’re going to let our favorite swim school do all of the work. I thought he would be relieved to not have to get the house ready for yet another event this summer (I know I am), but it isn’t the fact that we have a party to plan that has him cringing.

It’s the gifts.

The bags and boxes full of plastic junk that will either:

  • never get opened
  • break after (or before) the first use
  • sit on a shelf and collect dust until I find the time to give it away

I am running out of ways to say this nicely. I’m just going to put it out there.

Stop. Buying. My. Kid. Toys.


There, I was nice about it.

I know you love my kid. I know you get excited perusing the aisles of Target and picking out the newest, brightest, shiniest toy. I know you anxiously await the sight of her face lighting up as she opens your gift. You imagine the hours of fun your very special present will provide. Or maybe you wait until the last minute and rely on Amazon Prime to get it to you just in time and fill out the card in the car as you hastily stuff a piece of tissue paper in the gift bag you picked up at Dollar Tree on the way to the party. I’ve been there. I used to be that person. And to all of my friends who had kids before me, I apologize if I ever did this to you.

Let me give it to you straight. Save your time. Save your money. Most importantly, save my sanity…because I’m the one who will trip over, clean up and eventually get rid of all of these toys. I watched her play with an old bowl, some mulch from the yard and a cup full of water for almost 2 hours last week. The week before that a sock entertained her for a solid half hour. Trust me, she’s all set when it comes to toys. I would rather you come empty-handed than give a gift out of obligation. We’re not having a party because she needs gifts. We don’t expect them. We don’t want them. We just want her to be surrounded by the people who love her most on her special day.

But if arriving empty-handed to the next birthday party you’re invited to just feels wrong, consider one of these non-toy gifts instead.

Museum or Zoo Membership

We have a brand new children’s museum in Buffalo and a great science museum that has a ton of events for kids, as I’m sure most cities do. It’s a great way to spend a rainy day or get out and play when the snow starts flying. We also really love our local zoo. At Calista’s age, she never gets tired of going. The animals are always doing something different and there’s always a different feature or attraction, so it’s a new experience every time. Can’t afford a full membership? Why not a day pass, gift certificate or money toward a membership then? The kids get to play. No messes are made at home. They might even learn a thing or two. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Amusement Park or Activity Center Pass

Day passes for our local amusement parks are very reasonable, while a full season can cost as little as $40 (or less). You know the parents are going to get stuck forking over an absurd amount of cash for games, snacks and souvenirs…it’s nice to at least get them in the gate 😉 We also have a variety of trampoline parks, bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades and bounce house centers. There’s even an Animal Adventure Safari Park nearby that I’m excited to take her to. I’d much rather spend a day watching my child bounce her heart out than sift through her toy bins figuring out when and how I’m going to get rid of them all. Groupon is great for places like this!

Ice Cream Shop Gift Certificate

What kid doesn’t love ice cream? I promise you, no toy will ever beat a cone topped with Calista’s favorite dessert. It doesn’t have to be an ice cream shop…any kid-friendly restaurant will do.

Movie Passes

Frozen 2. Need I say more? Calista is finally at an age where she can sit and watch an entire movie. Just make sure you budget for the extra large bucket of popcorn, too.

Mess-Free Drawing Mat

Kids love to draw. And color. And paint. And do anything that involves changing the color of that white paper. Every time Calista asks to paint I muster up my best negotiator skills and try to divert her to something else. Anything else. I ordered this Water Drawing Mat a few months ago on a whim and it was the BEST $14 I have ever spent. Just add a little water to the markers and the mat changes colors as you draw on it. It dries and the color disappears. So it can be used over and over. And over. And over. It’s so amazing I picked up a few travel-size ones by Melissa and Doug when we were at Main + Downing last month. I always carry one in my bag so when we’re at church, on a long road trip, in a waiting room, etc. I can pull it out and be guaranteed at least 30 minutes of quiet, mess-free distraction.

The Flipping Holder

If the kid is of the ‘drinks-juice-or-eats-snacks-from-a-pouch’ age, they need a Flipping Holder. This is something that gets used almost daily in our house. It prevents the messes that come from squeezing a juice box or food pouch. It’s flipping brilliant.

Munchie Mug

We haven’t used another snack holder since we got the Munchie Mug. With its spill-proof design, scratch-free lid and large capacity, parents will thank you again and again for this one. Calista has thrown, shaken, dropped, stepped on and tossed hers down the stairs. It’s still kicking. This plus a few snacks to put inside it is bound to be a hit.

tag*a*long Stroller Handle

This is another one of those, ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ products. Calista is at an age where she doesn’t always want to sit in the stroller but she isn’t a big fan of holding hands either. So I always have a tag*a*long stroller handle for her to hold when we’re out on an adventure. And it works. It gives her the independence that she wants while keeping her safe and close.

The Nugget

I know, I know. This is a big one. It’s most likely not within any one person’s budget to gift a Nugget, but it could be a great group gift. Or you could simply contribute to a ‘Nugget fund’. Every single day the couch cushions and pillows are ripped from their proper home and strewn all over as Calista leaps, jumps, tumbles and builds forts all over the house. If you have children, you need a Nugget. This is at the very top of our wishlist for her and what we plan to buy with any money she receives.

Or you could ask…

If you’re not sure what to gift, do what I’ve started to do…just ask what the child may need. I’ve showed up to birthday parties with diapers, wipes, clothes (only when requested), dance leotards and sometimes cold hard cash. When a friend asked me before Calista’s first birthday what she needed I half-joked and said snacks would make her happy. So she showed up with a gift bag packed full of her favorites and it was by far one of the best gifts she received.

I hate to tell you what to buy. But I don’t mind telling you what NOT to buy. Seriously, enough with the toys already.

I’m considering hosting a ‘Fiver Party‘ for Calista’s next birthday. Has anyone tried this with success?




gift ideas for toddlers

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