With the festive season soon to be upon us, like many other parents I am sure, I feel a mix of both excitement and pure dread when thinking of all that needs to be done.
At Christmas time every year, on top of the usual preparations comes the added pressures of thinking up and then sourcing gift options that tick a multitude of boxes. Our overwhelming desire to provide a heartfelt gift whilst also being environmentally conscious, considerate, and fun filled, can lead to an unpleasurable gift giving experience. What a headache!
I'm A Parent - Just Like You!
So you may be thinking what has me uniquely poised to comment on such a difficult task? Quite simply, I am just another ordinary parent who year after year goes through this very process. I am a consumer and one who is working towards making more conscious choices whilst still having to juggle many practical and ordinary factors such as affordability and accessibility. I am not affiliated with any specific toy company or shop, so I am just reporting on my own personal experience and offering a perspective as a mother of two, godmother, aunt, and chief elf for our little family. I devote many exhausting hours to the consideration, purchase and presentation of conscious and thoughtful gifts.
Finding That Perfect Gift
So let me start by compiling a rough guide of the latest gift giving, halo providing expectations that most of us may feel obligated to meet. Often, in my overstretched mind, gifts seek to be some combination of: fun, useful, practical, sustainable, locally sourced, age appropriate, educational, environmentally friendly, ethical, reasonably priced, BPA free, plastic free, outdoor friendly and adventure encouraging... hmm, I'm exhausted already!
In a world full of cheap, disposable, over marketed and generic options which only seem to further promote screen use and lack of imagination and disconnection, there is so much to consider when purchasing gifts for our children as well as for others. Simply answering the age old and well-meaning question of "what should I get them for Christmas?" is a mine field, and yet at the same time a fantastic opportunity for any parent to set the scene and encourage some conscious consumerism.
Whether we see this as a burden or simply our parental responsibility, either way the task upon us can seem overwhelming.
So with this thought in mind I thought I could do much of the overthinking and agonising for you (as I would be doing it anyway) and then share my conclusions and suggestions with you, hopefully ticking as many halo providing boxes as possible along the way.
Small choices still form part of a bigger picture. Encouraging outdoor play and making conscious decisions when purchasing, hold a powerful benefit to our environment as well as instilling a sense of purpose and responsibility in us all.
Our children will hopefully pick up on this which may help to shape their awareness and appreciation for all things positive in the great outdoors. Small changes all merge together and of course, taking small steps in the right direction is better than making no effort at all.
Physical Gifts Or The Gift Of Experiences?
Let's face it, younger kids are not as responsive to 'experiences' or vouchers - they often get most pleasure from the unwrapping and the excitement of the surprise! But how can we combine both?
I like to think of the end goal here as providing gifts that create opportunities for little ones to be industrious, as well as self-driven and purposeful, engaged, and even at times in awe of the fun and beauty that can be found right outside their back door.
Here are some gift ideas that encourage imaginative as well exploratory outdoor play:
- Vegetable garden items / seeds or plants / gardening tools
- Worm farm
- Wooden magnifying glass / bug catcher
- A slackline
- Camping gear
- Butterfly / fishing net or fishing rod
- Books on native birds or plants, insects
- Pulley construction kit, or safe child friendly real world tools like hammers or saws
- A flower press
- Walkie talkie set
- A compass
- A camelbak or similar
- A mud kitchen for the backyard
Bridging Gift Ideas
Many parents want to encourage more outdoor activity for their children, but sometimes come up against already formed screen time habits or strong interests in certain mainstream franchises. This is why I have also included some bridging gift ideas (gifts which may link indoor interests to outdoor activities). There are always opportunities to bridge these interests to outdoor activity, subtly encouraging kids to spend more time outdoors.
A kids cookbook, veggie garden, planting chart or kids apron could be a great way of linking an existing interest with cooking or popular TV cooking shows, with getting outside and learning more about where food comes from. Another example may be a trip to the conservatory or a telescope for those interested in science fiction.
Presents From Others
Grandparents, family members and friends asking you what you want, creates a perfect opportunity to plant the seed for future gifts as well as Christmas. Gifts that encourage outdoor play and adventure need not be limited to just toys and tools, but also practical gifts such as umbrellas, raincoats, gumboots, or even their very own sleeping bag. Many wonderful toy stores and handmade artisans are emerging these days providing fantastic options that steer away from generic, mass produced items.
So many toys can be used to spark intrigue in the outdoors, it's just how you look at it. Perhaps a set of handmade felt dolls could be used to ignite mystery and wonder in outdoor story telling? What better way to encourage strategic thinking, imagination and confidence in children. These sorts of items are also an opportunity for parents to participate (if needs be) and engage with their children, making more time to be outside together over the school holidays.
Less Is More
In his book Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne aptly suggests ‘’A smaller, more manageable quantity of toys invites deeper play and engagement. An avalanche of toys invites emotional disconnect and a sense of overwhelm”.
Take the opportunity this Christmas to give gifts that provide you and your children the opportunity to spend more time connecting and building memories together in the great outdoors, and lastly, consider gifting handmade unique items. Supporting local small businesses, valuing the environment, and avoiding mass produced products, means we can choose beautiful unique pieces that have been created with care and consideration, and which hopefully stand the test of time even better the mainstream ones. Essentially we can cast a vote with the dollars we spend, which is a thoughtful and conscious way to give as well as receive.
To wrap it up (pardon the pun), I think the point of all this agonising is that rather than visiting the closest department store and purchasing the loudest most colourful piece of plastic, we can each make small decisions to help change our own direction and the direction of many around us. It need not be difficult or stressful.
Let’s be a part of the change and take these opportunities to encourage more outdoor play through thoughtful gift giving. After all, it is our children’s future and the future health of our beautiful earth that all these small changes will work towards improving.