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Non-toy gift ideas from the Queen of Free

While children like to get toys as holiday gifts, giving books, lessons and other experiences can show you care just as much.

INDIANAPOLIS — Christmas can be a magical time of the year for parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles to light up a child's eyes with a special gift. 

But many parents know how quickly toys pile up in rooms, and play things often end up forgotten and unused in closets and under beds. Cherie Lowe, the Queen of Free, said, "You can show how much you care without blowing up the toy box."

She shared her non-toy gift ideas on 13Sunrise and in her weekly blog. The ideas are just as fun, and probably more educational and memorable for most children.


A fantastic idea for kids of all ages, books offer limitless options. Cherie said to consider audiobooks, cookbooks, or sketchbooks. Or consider a magazine subscription that involves a child’s passion for from science, sports, movies and other pastimes.

Subscription Boxes

If there’s a passion, Cherie said there’s likely a subscription box to match it. You can find many options on Amazon or a site like CrateJoy. If you have adult children, they may like a meal subscription box like HomeChef, Hello Fresh, or Blue Apron.

Digital Subscriptions

Video, music, fitness channels and gaming streaming subscriptions are another great option – especially for tweens, teens and adult children. You’ll just pay the monthly bill and give your child a gift they’ll likely use on a regular basis. You can purchase gift cards in stores or online for services like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and more. You can also buy digital versions to print out or email to the recipient to announce your gift.

Memberships and other experiences

Cherie is big on experience gifts. The visit to a museum or special destination can be gifted through a family membership. It’s a gift that keeps giving all year long. Museums often allow members to participate in a reciprocal network of other museums or zoos, like the North American Reciprocal Museum Association, which then gives a recipient even greater access to more facilities across the country. Check out ASTC Travel Pass, which includes places like the Indiana State Museum, Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and the WonderLab in Bloomington. This way, if your family travels, your membership works at other destinations. It’s a great way to visit other landmarks and use local facilities, too.

Event tickets to sporting events, concerts, theaters or pop up podcasts and trade shows and conferences like ComicCon also make great experience gifts for kids. There’s an accompanying event for most every child's interest. Just because you can't play with event tickets on Christmas morning, this gift is one of both experience and anticipation. If you want something tangible for a gift to put under the tree, buy a t-shirt to wear to the event or some other swag item or snacks for the road trip.

Summer feels a long way off in December, but a summer camp is probably already on the calendar. Instead of a toy, you can provide an entire week of fun this year that will offer a lasting memory. You may have to make sure the camp doesn’t conflict with sports or vacations. Print out a certificate or ask the camp if they have gift options. Or, think about a new swim suit or hiking boots to announce the camp gift on Christmas Day.

Money gifts

Toys will not pay tuition when a child gets ready to go to college, so this may be the year to scale back on physical gifts and invest in the future by making a 529 contribution as a gift that is easy and secure. You can start for as little as $15.

Sometimes, just cash can be a great gift for a kid at Christmas. There are plenty of creative ideas on how to present the money beyond a bill in a card, which can still be fine and appreciated just as much. 

You may also want to consider giving gift cards. Many places like Sam’s Club and other stores offer gift cards under face value at this time of the year. They can complement a big gift with potential extras. As an example, a gift card with a gaming system helps kids purchase other games or accessories. Or a new doll could get multiple outfits or accessories with a gift card. 


Kids usually like to dance, play sports or music, or go to art or cooking classes. So you could make this year the year of gift certificates for lessons or special enrichment activities for your child. "Whether you’re furthering a current passion or starting something new," Cherie said you can help your child develop talents and have fun at the same time.

So consider "giving outside the toy box" this year to show the people in your life how much you care.

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