Updated November 30, 2021
The holiday season presents a challenge when shifting to a low waste lifestyle with kids. Older children in particular have developed expectations about receiving gifts and are around peers with different experiences. Now is a good time to model giving presents with intention and showing that the meaning of gifts can (and should) go beyond the physical item.
Here are some ideas for meaningful gifts without an excess of stuff or waste, focussing on kids from kindergarten to high school.
An obvious choice for the eco-minded giver! An insulated water bottle, bento box style lunch kit, little snack pouches, cloth masks with cute patterns, or a cutlery set can all make great gifts for kids and double as a conversation starter. Participating in selecting and preparing their lunches is a great opportunity for kids to learn both valuable life skills and a myriad of things about the planet at the same time.
Last year, my sister-in-law baked our son chocolate chip cookies for his birthday and it was a smash hit. Consider edible items like cupcakes, hot chocolate mixes, baking kits, or bulk candies in jars as sweet little gifts for the kids in your life.
Put together a kit with thrifted art supplies or items from your own stash based on their interests. This could include paints, a recycled notebook and coloured pencils, or a “learn to knit” project bag. For younger kids, homemade play dough with thrifted tools like cookie cutters and rollers is always a favourite!
Dress Up Clothes
Help the kids in your life foster their imagination by outfitting a Tickle Trunk for them! Go through your closet and hit up your local thrift store for fun accessories, multi-use items (scarves, capes), or Halloween costumes for hours of creative play well into the new year.
Literally billions of plastic toys still exist out there, so why not give them a second life? Lots of parents are looking to re-home perfectly good toys their own children have outgrown. Check out your local Buy Nothing groups, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, or selling apps like Kijiji for the toys your kids are interested in. We have had excellent luck with Lego sets still in the boxes and too many Transformers to name!
They may not seem that *exciting* to open, but books truly are the gift that keep on giving. Consider passing on a favourite of yours with a small note about why you loved it. Look for something interactive, such as how to draw or create objects, a nature guide, or collections or choose your own adventure. Keep your eyes peeled while at secondhand stores and be sure to prioritize independently-owned BIPOC booksellers if buying new.
Experiences, versus things, can be enjoyed throughout the year and even create memories that are cherished for a lifetime. Depending on age, experiences such as ice skating, skiing, hiking, rock climbing, or a trip to the art gallery might be just the ticket.
If you are looking for one on one time, a special day together is a gift to both of you. If you are not the parent, this type of gift doubles as childcare as well! Arrange an afternoon of baking or doing arts and crafts. Perhaps you go to the movies, thrift shopping, or bowling together. Or stay in as a family one night with a puzzle and hot chocolate, or watch a movie with a pizza. Making a “coupon book” outlining the activities still gives them something to open and let’s you get creative too!
Get kids into growing with a few simple items. Put together a packet of seeds and set aside a little garden space or indoor pots. Get into gardening together by giving a set of tools and their own set of gloves. Books on plant species native to your area may be of interest to kids born with green thumbs. Easy to care for houseplants such as snake plants, pothos, or rubber plants are good choices for kids.
Are you crafty? Handy with a needle or two? Do you write or draw? Make something! Write a story or draw some custom colouring pages. Create felt masks or knit a pair of socks. Sew something useful like an apron to make kids feel at home in the kitchen, or a cutlery roll for their lunch boxes.
Parents may appreciate help with the cost of lessons in something their child is interested in. Swimming or music lessons, dance classes, an art or sewing workshop, or cooking classes are good options. Older kids might enjoy a makeup tutorial, woodworking projects, time with a 3D printer, even driving lessons. Memberships to art galleries, museums, rock climbing gyms, indoor playground, amusement park, science centre, aquarium, etc are also great gifts to use all year long.
Personal Care Items
Depending on ages and preferences, consider items like bath bombs, manicure tools, lip balms, lotions, or cosmetics from ethical and sustainable companies, or DIY if you enjoy it!
Tweens and teens can be tricky to buy for, and may not be open to an experience or day together. Consider gifting them a subscription to a music service like Spotify or Apple Music, audiobooks, e-books, or a game or app they like. All with parental permission, of course!
If you have a civic-minded youth in your midst, consider donating to an organization working for a cause close to their heart.
It may seem impersonal, but money is really a gift of choice and autonomy. Rather than a gift card which must be spent at a designated store, cash allows kids to choose how and when they spend it.
Whatever you choose, opt for recyclable or reusable wrapping materials such as craft paper or cloth bags. A thrifted scarf or scrap fabric can serve as part of the gift using the Japanese furoshiki wrapping method.
Switch to eco-friendly gift wrapping alternatives to reduce waste and save money this holiday season! Check out these 5 different options for recyclable and reusable gift wrapping alternatives.
Now…what to do about what *other* people want to give your kids is a whole other kettle of fish that I plan to cover in another post!
Share your ideas for zero waste gifts for kids in the comments below!