15 of the Best Experience Gifts for Kids and Families

updated Oct 27, 2022
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I think we speak for every parent out there when we say that another holiday season teeming with toys isn’t exactly what we want or need. More LEGOs, more baby dolls, more magnetic tiles, and more Paw Patrol “things” might be the mentality of our minis, but it’s never too early to start fostering ‘experiences over gifts’ best practices at home. Beyond that, retailers haven’t been shy about the potential for a major toy shortage come winter time — so in order to save ourselves the stress and struggle of last-minute shopping and disappointment when our littles’ must-haves are sold out and missing in action, we’re jumping on the experiences bandwagon.

From subscription boxes and hands-on STEM sets (that sneakily work brain-building into the picture in the midst of all their fun) to creative class sessions and interactive+immersive play romps for the whole family, the experiences might not be first on their wishlists when video games and traditional playthings are concerned, but they’ll be mighty happy that Santa (or whoever does the gift-giving in your house) made some changes to the shopping script this year 😉.

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Sago Mini

This subscription box for kids ages 3-6 has skyrocketed to the top of my preschool and toddler's holiday lists. Every box is educational, engaging, and entertaining — stuffed with make-and-play activities that teach modern skills to littles through play and keep them happy for hours. Using the "my kids like the box the toy or stuffed animal came in more than the toy itself" shared experience, the shipping boxes can often be transformed into the play platform itself. Kids will love bringing their boxes outside in the spring, they'll stay entertained and occupied during the summer brain drain, and they'll have fun collecting characters and mixing and matching with their best friends.

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What grownups love about virtual classes they find on Masterclass or Skillshare kids can find for their own age and skill level on Outschool. Like its name suggests, Outschool offers a variety of engaging, small-group classes online that are taught live so that learners and teachers can interact via video chat or text in real-time. Kids form real friendships on Outschool every day as they expand their knowledge and build their skills. Curriculum-focused courses (like world geography and beginner's multiplication) are available, of course, but we love the extracurricular options like Escape Rooms and dance camps.

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You know the phrase "Always be yourself unless you can be a dinosaur, then be a dinosaur?" Well, it's obviously adorable (my son has two pieces of mantra-style wall art in his room that say so), but it's not exactly doable. So, being a paleontologist is the next best thing! With this all-inclusive kit, your dino-loving kiddos can get to digging, using tools to excavate bones and assemble them into a towering dinosaur skeleton display. They can also make detailed fossil impressions with a set of mini dinosaurs, modeling clay, and plaster and read all about the geologic timescale (i.e. the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods), how fossils are formed, and what real-life adventures paleontologists get into on the regular. Also included? A hangable poster featuring colossal fossil facts and some of the most dazzling dinosaurs of prehistory. Would look 👌 in a dinosaur-themed playroom, if we do say so ourselves!

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We're all for nostalgic gifts that bring us zooming back to our yesteryears, so when we're talking about experiences, that can only mean one thing: Highlights for Kids. Who else can remember being thrilled to have a Highlights issue to flip through when sitting in a doctor's office lobby waiting for mom or dad to get out of their appointment? Us too! And these days, there are a number of editions of the award-winning magazine to surprise and delight all ages: Highlights for kids ages 6 to 12; High Five for preschoolers ages 2 to 5; Hello for babies and toddlers ages 0-2. And a special High Five Bilingüe imprint to start exposing toddlers to Spanish as early as 2 years old.

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Little Passports

Little Passports offers one-of-a-kind activity kits that awaken kids’ curiosity about geography, culture, science, and art. Through enriching globally-inspired activities, hands-on projects, and relatable characters, the fun travel-themed boxes ignite the imagination and open doors to a totally new way of seeing the world and exploring science. Regardless of the kit you choose (Early Explorers for ages 3-5; World Edition for ages 6-10; Science Expeditions for ages 8+, and a couple more, as well), your child will receive a colorful suitcase to stash all of their souvenirs — and keep the clutter in check, woo hoo! Oh, and if you sign up for their email list, you'll receive exclusive screen-free projects, hands-on activities, STEM experiments, and special discounts, plus access to a huge library of free DIY learning materials for kids ages 3-9+.

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We're already huge fans of the kids cooking subscription box, Raddish Kids, but new for the 2021 holiday season, the brand is offering Cook-Along Kits. These simpler boxes enclose a fun recipe like Cider Donuts, Gingerbread Cookies, Sushi, even Ravioli, necessary pre and cooking tools, plus exclusive access to cook-along videos moderated by a Raddish Culinary Coach. Now if relatives are coming over for the holidays (contingent on COVID, of course), your kids can dazzle them with their dishes. Sure beats all the talent shows, dance contests, and one-off "Mommy watch what I can do!" moments ... We kid, of course those are super sweet, too 😉.

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Happy Partners Project

We don't have to wax poetic on the challenges of parenthood, especially over the last 18+ months, but as another year comes to a close, it's definitely important to get a pulse check on our relationships. Happy Partners Project created an expanded version of their original "Relationship Check-In Method (TM)" to include a special category, just for parents. With 20 additional open-ended questions and prompts, this new category supports parents as they navigate the day-to-day with their children. These questions also guide parents toward conscious parenting approaches necessary for bringing up the next generation of humans in a mindful, intentional way. And for just $45, it's a much more cost-effective alternative to therapy — which we ALL need now and then.

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Have you heard of CAMP before? It's known for being a totally unique shop/play hybrid experience with a number of physical locations across the country. Inside CAMP stores, there are rotating themed experiences that make every surface into a seamless blend of play and product. Until the end of October, their Connecticut location is transforming into Adventure Bay for a PAW Patrol Experience, while their Brooklyn store is hosting a "Cosmic CAMP" experience that takes familiies on an adventure through interactive games, physical challenges, and cosmic-themed stations and vignettes.

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Winnie The Pooh Show

Our favorite tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff is taking center stage in March in NYC, with more theater openings to come. And we can't think of a better live performance to take the whole family. Featuring the Sherman Brother's classic Grammy-award winning music with further songs by A.A. Milne, this beautiful fresh stage adaptation is told with stunning life-sized puppetry through the eyes of the characters we all know and love.

Of course, if you don't live in NYC, there are tons of local shows around — from Disney on Ice to musicals and to community theater plays. Get littles in on live theater early and watch the wonder sparkle in their eyes.

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World Wildlife Fund

Since we're on the subject of experiences, the holidays are a great time to reinforce altruism in the family. Adopting an animal through the WWF is a sweet way to give back while also learning and growing as global citizens. When you donate through WWFGifts and adopt an animal (from a baby lion cub to a harbor seal, my daughter's current favorite), you help create a safer world for wildlife, protect the beautiful and amazing places the animals inhabit, and build a sustainable future where all of us coexist peacefully with nature.

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Did you know that 85% of the brain’s development happens before the age of 5? HOMER offers digital, physical and experiential learning platforms to foster foundational skills across reading, math, and social-emotional learning — starting with kits for children as young as 2. While the language and math enrichment is exceptional, we're even more smitten with the "feelings" boxes, which help children learn and practice social-emotional skills they need for real-life, through play. There's a lot for little ones to discover in the Feelings Forest, and with the ever-evolving work and life transitions forced by COVID, self-regulation and coping mechanisms are more important than ever.

The magnetic story box doubles as a storage container for all of the pieces, so your kiddo's kit stays intact for repeat plays, rainy days, and younger siblings' turns down the road!

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Bubbles & Joy

I may be the only parent who has co-opted the PJ Masks' theme song for my own kids' bath sessions, "Cause bath time is the right time to SPLASH time," but I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that bath time is king for kids. That's why a scrub-a-dub-dub subscription is such a great gift idea. Each box brims with a handpicked selection of the best premium bath toys and natural products on the market, and it's delivered straight to your door each month. All of the toys are non-toxic and designed without holes to be mold-free; All of the bath products are natural, safe, nontoxic, non-GMO, and gentle on skin.

Bonus? The full-size toys can be used in any water sensory tables, too! #doubledutyforthewin

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Let's be honest, ice cream is the answer and solution to any bad day or bad vibes that end up trickling down to everyone in the family. So, even as the weather gets cooler, the icy treat needs to be on-hand — it's even better if you can whip it up yourselves using kitchen chemistry experiments and kid-friendly recipes for ice cream and sherbet frosty confections. Your littles can learn about the science behind ice crystals and freezing, how air is one of the most important ingredients in ice cream, and how stabilizers help keep dessert delicious, and then they can customize the included recipes to make all sorts of creamy concoctions. Insta snaps of the DIY sundaes and captions that may or may not include #SundaeFunday or it didn't happen!

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The classes offered on Skillshare are really great for parents looking to up their home decorating or horticultural games (speaking as a wife of a very committed plant daddy, the pandemic has brought out ALL of our inner green thumbs). Something like stylist Emily Henderson's "Creative tips and techniques for interior design" course is packed with the pro's creative style and signature humor. By the end, you’ll have the inspiration, understanding, and skills you need to create a home that feels unique to you and your crew.

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While we wouldn't say that Masterclass is kid-friendly (very few, if any classes exist for the much-younger set), we'd definitely add subscriptions to the list for teens and parents. Highschoolers who have started dabbling in photography, filmmaking, or creative writing in school might find sessions taught by the likes of Ron Howard, James Cameron, and Judy Blume particularly fascinating. And for parents, classes on leadership, creativity, and career architecting moderated by everyone from Anna Wintour to Howard Schultz can help parents everywhere become better communicators, better ambition-chasers, and better workforce innovators+disruptors. Not to mention, a lot of the skills taught have great relevance to raising children. Ever tried negotiating with a 4-year-old? It's terrifying.