'Hanging by a Thread', United States, New York, New York City, American Museum of Natural History

With back to school season comes the inevitable onslaught of birthday invitations, and it can seem like you’re wandering the aisles of the toys stores almost every weekend searching for the perfect gift. Adults have been shown to be incredibly poor predictors of what make us happy — and perhaps not surprisingly, kids don’t fare much better.

Even if their wish-lists are crammed with the latest must-have toys, gifts of experiences are often a better idea — and choosing to give a gift of an experience rather than a thing is a great way to teach about prioritizing memories over material objects — and the practice is eco-friendly, too!

Check out this list of gifts that will be sure to blow the mind of any birthday boy or girl.

Young boy at kids museum
Image courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism.

A pass to a local zoo, museum, or science center

This is a gift that truly keep giving. As the birthday bliss wears away and new toys lose their luster, your gift will remain and provide hours of fantastic entertainment for months to come. If simply handing over a little card feels too small, consider finding something age appropriate from the gift shop of the center you are supporting, to pique their interest, as well as a brochure of upcoming exhibits or events.

A donation to a charity or cause in their name

It’s an incredible feeling knowing that someone else has benefited because of you, and it’s also a great way to gently ease kids into giving back to their communities, and experiencing firsthand just how rewarding social responsibility can be.

Sponsor a gift from an organization like World Vision

Nonprofit World Vision puts out a gift catalog every year offering the opportunity to provide a goat, medicine, school supplies, food, and more to those in need in the developing world.  This type of gift can be especially fun to coordinate with the interests of the birthday boy or girl.

For example, if she is a pint-sized Pele, outfitting a village with new soccer balls and knowing that kids half a world away are sharing in her passion is an incredible way to say “happy birthday.”

Help fund an extracurricular activities

Ballet, art lessons, soccer, hockey, all of these activities add up — especially if you have more than one child. Buying new skates or stocking their art supplies is a fantastic way to give them something they’ll truly use and appreciate,  while also helping to ease the financial load on the parents, who probably don’t particularly care if they have another video game,  but are just dreading the cost of activities.

The benefits?

Thinking outside the gift box for birthdays can be challenging — and at times it will be tough to break the habit of associating birthdays with a sky-high pile of brightly wrapped gifts. The benefits, however, are undeniable.

  • You are giving a chance to improve the lives of others.
  • Post-party, parents won’t be left staring at a pile of discarded wrapping paper and plastic toys.
  • The birthday boy or girl will begin to open their mind to a world beyond his balloon-festooned front door.

The more you adopt this practice, the easier it will be to see just how gratifying it can be. This is one situation where it will feel just as good to receive, as it does to give.

Feature image courtesy of Chris Ford

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.