8 Gifts to Get Your Kids Away From the iPad and Into the Great Outdoors

The most “creative” and “innovative” playthings for kids include, according to the 2013 Toy Fair, the “Rebelle heartbreaker bow” decorated with synthetic pink and purple phoenix feathers, a digital dress for Barbie, a giggling monkey “with animatronic bells and whistles worthy of a Disney World ride,” plastic pieces that can transform an iPad into an “apptivity fort“and some silicon building things called “Squigs.”

It’s hardly surprising that the “hot” toys (according to grown-ups at trade fars) for kids are all about technology, technology and more technology. Project Wild Thing has proposed ten alternatives that include a stick (“easy to pick up, performs a thousand different uses, and can be thrown away as easily as you found it”) and a stone (“skim it, carve it, throw it away”).

These are certainly sustainable, readily findable and cheap but (let’s be honest!) probably not likely to be gloated over by most. Here are some other suggestions for gifts that are not an iPad, that don’t require batteries, that can (in some cases) get a child into the great outdoors and that are fairly accessible, given that (if you celebrate Christmas) the holiday is just a few days away.

1. A Year’s Worth Of Nature, Art and/or Science

Consider giving a year’s membership to a special place. Admission to national parks is free for children under 15 but you could give an annual pass so the whole family can visit more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Or, consider a membership to a children’s museum or an art or science museum.

2. Adopting an Animal

My sister and I had so many allergies when we were children that a cat, a guinea pig or any sort of furry pet was out of the question. I would have loved to adopt an animal — an endangered tiger or polar bear or an animal rescued from the streets or a circus — and the Internet has made doing so a lot easier. You can even do so at the last minute and present the recipient with an email or print-at-home gift card.

3. A Gift That Gives to Someone Else

Afghan school girls in HeratPhoto via Wikimedia Commons

For a child who’s getting older and learning that giving to others can be a far better gift than receiving “stuff,” consider a donation to an organization in his or her name. It could be to an organization that’s seeking to raise awareness about a medical or other condition that a relative has; that is fighting to preserve the environment and the many creatures we share this planet with; that provides empowerment and training for girls and women in Afghanistan or that helps kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.

4. A Notebook

The word “notebook” has become synonymous with a small laptop computer but I mean the “old-fashioned” paper, original kind of notebook. A blank notebook or journal with a design on the cover will probably get unwrapped and set aside while the recipient checks out something with more razzle-dazzle. But one day, it may be more than treasured: I write in a journal almost every day and, after I fill one up, I’m quite pleased to find an unfilled one in a drawer or on a shelf.

5. Chalk

What else is “dead cheap” and a super stocking filler, just what is needed to scribble and color all over a driveway or on the sidewalk? If you’d prefer to seek out something besides Crayola’s products, there are eco-friendly and organic chalks to choose from.

6, Something With Wheels

I received my first (bright orange) pair of roller skates as a gift from a relative. I was a very cautious child and would never have asked for such a thing but once I had that pair of skates, I wanted to try them (and did, while clinging for dear life to my parents). A skateboard, scooter or bike is more of an investment and certainly worth it: giving a child their own wheels can motivate them to get outdoors and, quite literally, in motion. If you’re not sure about what kind of bike or other two-wheeler would be most appropriate, a gift certificate to a local bike or other store might be just the thing.

7. Something to Grow

A gardening kit with seed packets, gardening gloves and tools to fit a child and perhaps a press to preserve special leaves and flowers might be just the way to cultivate a green thumb in a young pair of hands. To stoke his or her interest in digging in the dirt, include a children’s book about gardening (there are a few suggestions on this list of ways to get your child interested in organic gardening).

8.  An Elephant On Your Arm

Photo via celinecelines/Flickr

With this Menagerie Set of temporary tattoos, your kids could soon be sporting a lion, a toucan and a benevolent bear on the backs of their hands and arms. The tattoos are printed with vegetable-based ink and (if your child needs to get dressed up and look her or his “best”) they are temporary and can be removed with soap and water. Applying and then admiring them is a surefire way to remind kids that there are plenty more things to do than check out some new iPad app!

Photos from Thinkstock unless otherwise noted


Kathy Johnson
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

love it!

Debi G.
Debra G4 years ago

Australian researchers have found that children who spend the most time outdoors are the ones least likely to be nearsighted. Kids need to get away from the small print.

Allan Yorkowitz
.4 years ago

In the states there is a children's book of the month club.

Rachael Clark
Rachael Clark4 years ago

I would like all these things, too. :)

Doris G.
Past Member 4 years ago

thank you

Karen Chestney
Karen Chestney4 years ago

Thank for this article......Those are all really great ideas. I'm not a child and I would love doing several of those things......Matter of fact ....I think I will.!

Angela J.
Angela J4 years ago


Julie Cannon
Julie C4 years ago

These are great tips! I don't have any kids but if I did I would rather them do any of these on the list than give any of them an Ipad.

Stardust Noel
Stardust Noel4 years ago

Great ideas, & another idea: Don't give kids I Pads ! My nephew's kids love to go fishing, & do lots of outside things, like ride bikes.

Kristin West
Kristin West4 years ago

Great ideas for alternatives to tech gift-giving! When I was a kid, my friends and I all loved riding our bikes around town, playing on the school jungle gym, catching fireflies at dusk, and camping in our backyards. I enjoy technology as much as the next person, but I think many of us, myself included, get easily distracted and waste a lot of time playing games and/or re-posting stuff on fb or twitter, when we could and should be enjoying our surroundings outdoors,and/or spending quality time bonding w/ our loved ones in "reality" rather than virtual reality. I think we need to maintain a more healthy balance between the two at least, and I agree w/ Lisa L. that there is A LOT of technology waste filling up our land and water, rather than being recycled, and that is definitely something important for us to consider. My parents didn't have A LOT of money when I was growing up, so we were forced to entertain ourselves using our imagination. I think children today lack some of those imaginary skills because they are never allowed due to a schedule of sports activities, or else they simply don't know how to "play" without a device in front of them. And THAT is very sad indeed. Thanks for posting these great suggestions. :)