101 (fun!) Toy-free Gift Ideas for Kids

101 toy-free gift ideas to simplify your holiday | Clean | www.lusaorganics.typepad.com101 toy-free gift ideas to simplify your holiday | Clean | www.lusaorganics.typepad.com101 toy-free gift ideas to simplify your holiday | Clean | www.lusaorganics.typepad.com101 toy-free gift ideas to simplify your holiday | Clean | www.lusaorganics.typepad.com101 toy-free gift ideas to simplify your holiday | Clean | www.lusaorganics.typepad.com101 toy-free gift ideas to simplify your holiday | Clean | www.lusaorganics.typepad.com101 toy-free gift ideas to simplify your holiday | Clean | www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Are you inspired to have a more simple holiday with a little less excess at the end of the season? Especially when it comes to your children?

You’re not alone.

Since I shared these two posts to inspire more simple celebrations and to share our family’s almost toy-free journey, I’ve gotten several emails asking for a bit more guidance.

Less toys? Yes! Less clutter? Please! Less consumption? Amen.

These ideas are easy to get on board with until it’s time to wrap presents or stuff stockings.

But then what?

Right. That’s when it gets sticky.

So my then 8 and 12 year-olds and I worked up a list of 101 fun, toy-free (and many clutter-free, consumption-free, stuff-free!) gifts to give to your littles this season.

GOING TOY-FREE REQUIRES A LITTLE THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX, SO BE OPEN TO NEW TRADITIONS AND A NEW WAY OF DOING THINGS.

Remember: just because it’s a new idea for your crew doesn’t mean it won’t be fan-freaking-tastic. You might find that you all love it more than you ever imagined.

101 toy-free gift ideas to simplify your holiday | Clean | www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

A few thoughts before we embark:

  1. We often go overboard in our culture. Way overboard. I’m as guilty of this as the next. But when I started to pull back on the gifts (and the toys) I expected my kids to be a bit disappointed. At least at first. But they weren’t. The first low-stuff year was voted the “best Solstice ever” by them both (That was the year they each received an ornament and a love coupon.) Go slowly and see how it feels to everyone. This isn’t a formula for a better way to do anything. It’s just how we do things around here. It might be a fit, it might not. Be open to either option.
  2. Consider making a gift of something you might do anyway. It sounds silly, but if you child wants to take a class or go to camp, why not give that as a holiday gift? It would surely be appreciated. And your budget will be so darn happy about it.
  3. And finally, consider the child. What does your little one love? What makes them tick? I’m betting it’s not only toys. Craft a gift that suits their passions. Because these are the gifts they will remember. A train-obsessed two year old would flip for a ride on a real train or a visit to a train museum. And a ballet-obsessed six year old would be wild with anticipation to see a ballet rehearsal or performance. You get the idea.

Many of the gifts listed below are items I have actually given my kids through the years. Obviously you have to consider the age and interests of your child, but this is a solid jumping-off place.

But enough chatter. Let’s get to it. (A handful of links follow. Some are afflinks, others are simply links to our favorite shops or products we love.)

101 TOY-FREE HOLIDAY GIFTS AND STOCKING STUFFERS

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GIVE AN EXPERIENCE

These are among our family’s favorite gifts – to give, to receive, and to cash in!

  1. Gift certificate to the skating rink
  2. Gift certificate to restaurant, cafe, or ice cream shop
  3. Movie theatre tickets
  4. Museum membership
  5. Love coupons for special dates together (one per month or one per season would be fun!)
  6. Music or dance lessons
  7. Tickets to a play, a concert, or the ballet
  8. Horseback riding lessons
  9. Magazine subscription
  10. Sparkle Stories subscription
  11. Gift certificate to summer camp
  12. Sleepover party “gift certificate”
  13. Media time tokens (if children receive limited screen time in your home)
  14. Home pizza party coupon
  15. Breakfast in bed gift certificate
  16. “Coupon” for an night at a hotel with a pool with a parent and a friend
  17. Certificate (homemade is great!) for a performance or special event (a play, midway tickets for the county fair, etc.)

101 toy-free gift ideas to simplify your holiday | Clean | www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

KITCHEN GIFTS AND TREATS

My kids have been busy in the kitchen since they could stand on a step stool at the counter. For this reason special kitchen-related gifts are always met with enthusiasm. (And yes, treats are too.)

  1. Child-sized tea cup or dishes set (we’ve found some lovely vintage pieces at the second hand store that have been loved for many years)
  2. Recipe and ingredients for a special dessert
  3. Tea party dishes and “coupon” for a fancy tea party with a friend
  4. Fresh fruit, dried fruit, or fruit leather
  5. Chocolate
  6. Homemade cocoa mix
  7. Cookbook
  8. Candle for the dinner table
  9. Homemade or purchased placemat
  10. Travel cup or drinking mason jar (my DIY drinking jar tutorial is here, or I have an already made version available here with your choice of closure.)
  11. Nuts in the shell and a nut cracker (we adore this version!)
  12. Personalized cloth napkin
  13. Homemade or purchased apron
  14. Child-sized kitchen tools
  15. Recipe box with favorite recipes and blank recipe cards

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OUTDOOR GIFTS

Get out there! To the county park, to your backyard, anywhere. Even if you live in the city many of these gifts can be used at your nearby park or even on your patio.

  1. Herbal Adventures, my new herb book for kids!
  2. Garden tools, seeds, small pots, and potting soil
  3. Rope, pulleys, and other open-ended hardware store treasures
  4. Pocket knife (we love this knife with it’s built-in fire starter, but this one is nice as well and has a blunted tip for younger kids)
  5. Snowshoes
  6. Skis
  7. S’more ingredients and a winter campfire coupon
  8. Nature exploration kit (magnifying glass, bird call, field guide, bug boxes, plant press, butterfly net, etc.)
  9. Sunprint paper
  10. Ice skates
  11. Treasure bag or backpack for nature walks
  12. Water bottle and snack pouch
  13. Headlamp (We love this model. Unlike other brands, they last for years!)
  14. Fire starting kit
  15. Sleeping bag and bedroll
  16. Certificate for back yard camp out with a parent
  17. Fort-making supplies
  18. Gift certificate to your local hardware store
  19. Tinkering kit – hammer, nails, screwdriver, screws, and wood

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GET CRAFTY

Crafting is our number one way to spend a day. That makes crafty gifts a natural win.

  1. Play dough ingredients and recipe
  2. Glitter, glue, sparkles, scissors, tape, glue gun
  3. Beading or jewelry supplies
  4. Stamp pad for thumb-print stamps
  5. Colored pencils (these have been our favorites since our teen was tiny!)
  6. Watercolor paints
  7. Sketch book
  8. Pencil sharpener
  9. Acrylic paints, brushes, and paint mixing tray
  10. Sewing supplies
  11. Markers
  12. Potholder loom
  13. Yarn and knitting needles
  14. Calligraphy pen
  15. Modeling wax
  16. Scratch board and tools
  17. Candle rolling kit
  18. Peg dolls (we buy ours from here), paints and perhaps a peg doll book
  19. Fimo or other bead-making clay
  20. Paper bead making supplies and instructions
  21. Washi tape
  22. Needle felting kit
  23. Embroidery book, needles, thread, and fabric

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WEAR IT

Simple things can be gifts too. When I was a child I think Santa brought me new socks and underwear every year!

  1. Mittens
  2. Hat
  3. Scarf
  4. Wool socks (we adore Goodhew and Darn Tough brands)
  5. Slippers
  6. Pajamas
  7. Analog watch

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NATURAL SPA

For some kids a spa gift is heaven on earth. Read those labels though, won’t you? Go with the good stuff. (Disclaimer: shameless self-promotion to follow.)

  1. Lip balm
  2. Soap
  3. Bubble bath
  4. Natural perfume
  5. Face pencils
  6. Body glitter roll-on
  7. Jewelry
  8. Jewelry box
  9. Non-toxic nail polish
  10. “Spa night at home” coupon and supplies for pampering (quality/nontoxic/synthetic fragrance- and preservative-free soap, sugar scrub, moisturizer, etc.)
  11. DIY body care kit (we offer a DIY organic Lip Balm kit that’s clean + fun, and my DIY natural perfume kit tutorial is here.

101 toy-free gift ideas to simplify your holiday | Clean | www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

JUST FOR FUN

These didn’t fit anywhere else. But all are fun, so there you go.

  1. Bath crayons
  2. Personalized pillowcase
  3. Books of every sort! A few of our favorite read-aloud books can be found here, and field guides, craft books, and my children’s herb book are delightful bookshelf additions as well.
  4. Homemade or purchased holiday ornament
  5. Deck of playing cards
  6. Board games
  7. Geode
  8. Stationary
  9. Photo album or homemade story book of the child’s life so far

Tell me – are you inspired to go toy-free this year? What would you add to our list

Originally published in 2014 on Rachel Wolf CLEAN.

 

101 toy-free gift ideas for kids

101 toy-free gift ideas for kids

Backyard forts (or: let’s not overthink this)

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

I spent one evening this weekend searching Pinterest for the perfect backyard tent to make with my kids.

And I found some charming designs. Wooden frames, hemmed fabrics, grommets, twinkle lights – the works.

Every one was picture-perfect.

And as I closed my laptop I decided that we wouldn’t make backyard tents this weekend after all.

Because I had no bamboo poles, dowels, or 1×2’s. I only had two grommets, and no yard after yard of perfect fabric to cut and sew into a tent. And frankly, no ambition to take on a six hour craft project after weeding eighteen thousand thistle plants out of my strawberry bed.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I adore Pinterest. I find great inspiration there. But sometimes what I see is all a bit beyond my reach.

 

And then as I looked out on my kids playing in the backyard I realized what was happening.

It was the perfection myth bubbling up again.

The false idea that if it isn’t photogenic it isn’t worth doing.

That if it isn’t perfect it isn’t enough.

 

What nonsense.

I wasn’t going to play that game.

We were building forts, dang it.

 

So instead of going back to Pinterest I went to the linen closet. I pulled out some old bedsheets, blankets, and table cloths.

I went to the barn and gathered all the bailing twine we pulled off the hay bales last winter.

I grabbed my pocket knife and we set to work.

Not Pinterest-style, but old school. Like what I built when I was a kid with only my imagination to guide me.

 

And we did it. In one afternoon.

Two fabulous, simple – and yes – imperfect play forts.

Total cost: $0.

Total time: 5 minutes for Lupine’s, all afternoon for Sage’s as he tweaked and modified and tricked his out again and again.

And the play value? Fan-freaking-tastic.

 

Want to make one, too? It’s easy. Really.

You can squeeze it between the sidewalk and your garage, tuck one in the corner of your patio, or set it up in the woods. Be where you are and use what you’ve got.

Heck, you could even make one without a yard if you screwed a couple of lag bolts into your living room walls and anchored the corners with bean bags or duct tape.

And, of course, it doesn’t need to be perfect. (But you already knew that.)

So grab your kids, some old sheets, and get outside.

Here’s what to do:

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Supplies

  • Large bedsheet, table cloth, or other sturdy fabric
  • Rope, twine, or clothesline
  • Knife or scissors for rope
  • Tent stakes or a few strong sticks
  • Four small rocks
  • Clothespins (optional)
  • Blanket and pillows for the ground (optional)

 

How-To

1. Find the biggest flat sheet you can spare for the day or the week or forever. (You can still use them for sheets as for this basic version there’s not need to cut or sew it.)

2. Run a strongish rope, clothesline, or spliced lengths of bailing twine tightly between two trees, a tree and an eye bolt on your house, or your fence and playhouse. Whatever you’ve got that will hold the weight of a sheet. Be creative! Set the height based on the size of your sheet (smaller sheet = lower line). Ours is a full sheet and set set it at waist/chest height.

3. Suspend your sheet along this rope. The sheet above is centered but you could also hang it off-center for a more one-sided shelter. If needed use spring clothespins to secure your fabric.

4. Sage suggests tucking a small rock into each sheet corner and tie a rope or piece of twine tightly around the rock. (The rock will keep the corners from slipping out.)

5. Secure to a tent stake, root, tree trunk, or stick pushed into the earth. Angle the stake back toward the tent to keep it from pulling out.

6. Trick it out with doors, windows, walls, tree branch supports – whatever inspires you or your kids. (Optional)

7. Line with a blanket or pile of pillows if you wish, and get in there and play!

 

There. Now aren’t you glad you didn’t get disouraged by those pretty, fancy play tents?

Me, too.

Take that, perfection.

 

Originally published in 2014 on CLEAN.

Easy DIY play forts (that anyone can build!)

Iced Maple Cold Press Latte Recipe

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Few things taste more like summer than an ice cold maple cold press coffee. (Okay, except maybe garden tomatoes, but we’re talking beverages here.)

If you’re new to cold press coffee, allow me to let you in on summer’s best kept secret.

Also know as cold brew, this concentrated coffee is easy to make at home. Ground beans are infused in water for 12 to 24 hours, then strained and stored in the fridge for up to two weeks. At the ready to be diluted with milk, cream, or hot or cold water water for your daily coffee craving, it’s our favorite coffee for summertime.

Cold press has zero bitterness and so much flavor. Think espresso’s laid back, friendly cousin. But I don’t recommend drinking it straight. It’s legit strong, and intended to be served diluted.

If you need more convincing, let’s talk price. If you make it into a fancy coffee shop-style drink instead of hitting the cafe, your wallet will thank you. Assuming you’re buying very best quality, fair trade/organic beans, organic cow milk, and grade B maple syrup, a pint jar full still comes in under $1.25.

And unlike the ices lattes at the mainstream coffee joints, there are no questionable or excessive sweeteners hiding in here–just a splash of pure, sweet maple syrup. Made with decaf, it’s one of my kids’ favorite summertime treats.

Ready to make your own? Never mind. That was a rhetorical question. Of course you do! Today, tomorrow… all summer long. Here’s how. (Afflinks follow.)

jar3

Tools and Equipment:

You don’t need any special equipment to make cold press coffee. Zero. That said, we were gifted a Toddy Cold Brew System years ago and we love it, so that is what we use, but honestly – you can make it just as easily in your ordinary french press or a large mason jar.

Using a mason jar? Bigger = better. Go for 1/2 gallon. (Since the concentrate keeps for 2 weeks or more, making a lot at once just makes sense.) If you don’t have a cold press insert for your mason jar, just strain your finished cold press through a very fine mesh strainer or a collander lined with a flour sack towel reserved for this purpose.

Now that you’ve gathered your gear, let’s get brewing! (Do plan ahead, as cold brew coffee takes 12 to 24 hours to make.)

Make your cold brew

Make cold brew coffee in any amount. The quantity you make will be determined by the size of your jar. You can easily fit the amount below in either a Toddy or a 1/2 gallon jar. To make in an average-sized french press, reduce the amount by half.

The batch below will yield approximately 6 cups of coffee concentrate, or enough for 12 pints (6 recipes) of the iced latte below.

Ingredients

  • 12 oz coffee, coarsely ground (we’re partial to our friends and neighbors at local-to-us Kickapoo Coffee who just happen to also be the friends who hooked us on iced cold press in the first place, the devils)
  • 7 cups cold or room temperature water (filtered or well water preferred)

Instructions

  1. Place freshly ground coffee in the brewing vessel of your choice.
  2. Slowly pour water over coffee.
  3. Stir gently to combine.
  4. Cover and fridge if desired, or allow to steep on the counter. (The latter is our normal method).
  5. 12 to 24 hours later (longer = stronger, in both caffeine amount and flavor), strain your coffee. We normally go 24 hours. To strain, either remove the the plug from your Toddy and drain through the felt filter; remove the filter basket from your filtered mason jar, allowing concentrate to drain from grounds into jar before discarding; or pouring slowly through the mesh sieve or cloth-lined colander if you’re using an ordinary mason jar.
  6. Store in a covered mason jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Make your iced latte

Ingredients for two pint-sized lattes

  • 1 cup cold press coffee concentrate
  • 2 1/2 cups *full-fat milk of your choice
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup, or to taste

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a quart jar or pitcher.
  2. Stir to combine.
  3. Taste and adjust if desired by adding more milk, coffee, or maple syrup.
  4. Serve immediately over ice.

* Regarding milk: fat is good for us. It tastes wonderful, our bodies and brains need it, and did I mention it tastes wonderful? That said, cow milk is not required here! Use whatever full-fat milk you love. The lattes pictured above are made with whole, raw cow milk, but I’ve had many a fine cold press made with whole pasteurized milk, raw goat milk (really!), and even some with a full-fat dairy-free milk with great results. If you’re going dairy-free though, here’s a tip: add part dairy-free milk and part dairy free creamer for a tastier drink. It’s worth it. I promise.

Oh, and one more thing…

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About these snazzy mason jars…

I made them. I love them. I sell them.

Grab yours here for your summer iced latte habit, while they last!

Each jar costs the same as ~3 of those corn syrup-sweetened coffee shop iced lattes that don’t taste half as good as this one, so if you refill it just four times this summer with our homemade version, you’re winning by miles. You even get to choose your closure (steel straw cup lid or Cuppow coffee lid)!

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Need more incentive?

Order one or more magical mason jars, and add a note to your mason jar order of “HAPPY HEALTHY” and we’ll throw in a sample-sized (1.5 oz) bar of soap for every jar you buy, just because.

Now get busy and make that cold press! Because summer is waiting.

Iced Maple Latte Recipe. Easy to make at home, plus you control the sweetener! #coffee #coldbrew #coldpress #summer