Hanukkah is here, and there are just two weeks until Christmas. The world is kicking into high gear for the holidays. It's inescapable. The media, advertisers and merchants are targeting our children and us, pointing us towards their ultimate goal: buy buy buy. It's no wonder that children across the country are whining and begging for stuff. But maybe it isn't that stuff that makes the best holiday gifts -- or makes the holidays memorable.
Do you remember what you received when you were 4, or 7 or 9? Not likely.
Long after the glow-in-the-dark-magic-robot has lost his glow and the Barbie nail polish (in 20 different sparkling colors) has dried up, the gifts that don't fit under the tree live on. I am talking about the gift of an experience.
Experiences speak to children in ways that tangible gifts can't. Experiences are interactive and as such, make an indelible mark on a person's brain. It is through hands-on, active experience that children absorb, evolve and grow the most. Experiences are time-released; they are integrated over time and recalled over and over. They live on in our minds and in our hearts, never to be forgotten. And an experience that includes a parent or someone special is the icing on the cake (tinsel on the tree!).
Your child will never forget when her gift from Grandma was going to the theater to see "The Lion King" or when Uncle Jon took him fishing on the pier. Maybe the best gift ever was a campout in the backyard with Daddy or taking knitting lessons with Mom. While the gifts you buy may sparkle under the tree, they are not necessarily the ones that have the greatest impact or the deepest meaning. But they are the longest remembered.
Here are some ideas to get your juices flowing:
1. Camp out in sleeping bags in the garden with (with a parent).
2. Sign up for lessons in something your child has never tried (gingerbread house making, using a sewing machine, electric guitar playing, calligraphy, woodworking, fly fishing, horseback riding, surfing). Take the class together.
3. Build a skate board ramp with another family member (or build a birdhouse, a train table, a tree house... something the child will use all year).
4. Plant a vegetable garden together. Then nurture it and reap the harvest together.
5. Plan an all-day fishing trip.
6. Take your child on an overnight adventure at a dude ranch.
7. Make a visit to a working farm or a dairy to milk a cow (for all the city slickers).
8. Take a ride in a real police car.
9. Attend a live theater performance of a beloved musical or a special athletic event.
10. Make a commitment to attend your local high school basketball games, just the two of you, for the whole season. Get in the spirit!
11. Plan a sleepover at a daytime attraction. The Long Beach Aquarium (Long Beach, CA), Wild Animal Park (San Diego, CA), the science museum and the zoo all offer special sleepovers for families.
12. And, for children 7 and older, my personal favorite: a "hookie day." Let your child know that one day during the coming year, he will awaken to be told that it isn't a school day. Which day it will be is a surprise. You and your child will spend a school day together, doing whatever it is that you and she enjoy doing (a bike ride, a hike, a movie, a cooking project... but no school.) No need to spend a penny, either.
All these experiences (which arrive in the form of a wrapped certificate), are just for one specific child or for you and your child alone. Having you all to himself is part of what makes the experience so special. Long after the holiday decorations are put away, it will be a gift he will treasure the most and surely never forget.