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13 Alternatives To Toys That Make Great Birthday Gifts

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When the thought of bringing one more piece of brightly-colored plastic into your home makes you want to sit down and weep, you need some alternatives gifts to toys. I mean, as often as a celebration in your kid's life happens (and with the village of people that love them), it doesn't take long before you're drowning in miniature Paw Patrol figurines.

All parents want to give their kid something special for their big day. But between grandma and the kid's friends, they are often given so many gifts for their birthdays, that your Buzz Lightyear just ends up buried under the Star Wars LEGO. And kids often can get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of all of those gifts. They take one look at the heap of DIY-slime kits and kinetic sand, then sigh and ask for the iPad.

Below, I've rounded up ideas for giving a kid the gift of an experience. It's a really lovely gift to give, actually, as you're giving the chid something to be excited about and look forward to, as well as the opportunity to make some lasting memories. Whether these will be good memories of chasing down a friend in laser tag, or haunting memories of how scary Mickey Mouse looked on ice skates — well that's all part of the fun and excitement of the gift!

1.The gift of art/science/massive dinosaur bones.

Passes to a children's museum, science center, Botanic gardens, or art museum in your area make great gifts. You've just gifted your child with a bit of culture, and yourself with a way to kill a Sunday afternoon!

2. The gift of pottery.

Kids really seem to dig painting ceramic mugs and turtles, no? There are loads of paint-your-own pottery places out there now. The chain Color Me Mine has studios all over the country. Grab a gift card, and the birthday girl can go to town painting her own piggy bank.

3. Pop into a pop-up.

If art museums and science centers sound like a snooze, maybe check your area for a touring pop-up museum. Here in NYC we are over-run with "immersive experiences", everything from slime museums, to the Museum of Ice Cream, to Tomatoland, which lets you see NYC from the perspective of a tomato. (Yeah. I have no idea.)

4. Teach the kid something new!

Passes to a fun or unique class also make a great gift. Maybe a robotics or hip hop class, or a cooking lesson. There are many places that now offer parkour classes (where kids basically jump off of pipes and blocks) and lessons in trapeze. And those places where adults go to paint pictures while guzzling merlot also usually offer classes for kids.

5. How about a trip to the moving pictures?

Kids generally love going to the movies, so why not give a gift card that covers popcorn, and enough tickets for the child to invite along a buddy? If you really want to splurge/make it special, maybe make the tix for an IMAX.

6. The gift of play.

You really can't go wrong with a gift card to a playspace or play gym. And if the birthday boy or girl is older, you could always make the passes for something more big kid-friendly, like laser tag or an escape room.

7. Mani-pedi, anyone?

Some kids (fancy ones) totally love the idea of getting a manicure and pedicure. It's just so adult... Maybe give a gift card to a nail salon, along with a few bottles of fun polish?

8. Give the gift of adrenaline.

Is you kid a bit of a daredevil? Or maybe they're the opposite — maybe they're a little anxious, and you want to encourage them to step out of their comfort zone. Then give the gift of thrills, and hand over passes to something like zip-lining, or go carts, or an amusement park. Or if you really want to blow their minds — a gift card for some indoor skydiving. (Kids as young as 3 can do indoor skydiving, and it's actually not as expensive as you might think. I Fly offers passes for as low as $49.99.)

9. Give them something to laugh about in 20 years.

When I was 7, my best friend gave me a photo collage featuring photos of the two of us together, inside a frame that featured a smiling sheep and the words: "Ewe are the best." I still have the picture, and I'm happy to say I still have the friend. When I stumbled upon the picture recently, I almost cried with laughter. Why not put together a collage of your child with his or her best buddies? Perhaps in this super cute frame?

10. A coupon for one awesome pizza party playdate.

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Maybe you don't really have the dough right now to shell out for passes and tickets. In which case, why not gather up some actual dough, and give your kid a coupon for a "pizza party." Let them invite over a friend or two to make special pizzas and play. You can even provide the kids with these (very affordable) chefs hats and aprons. After the pizzas, let them decorate the hats and aprons with fabric markers, and voila! They have special mementos of the day.

11. The always exciting gift of mail.

Kids totally love getting stuff in the mail, and there are so many awesome subscription services for kids out there now, well beyond the usual Highlights magazine. My personal favorite is Little Passports, where kids are sent little activity sheets, photos, coins, and collectibles from around the world. I also really dig Comix Experience, which sends the child one new graphic kid's novel every month.

12. How about an elephant?

Or a sloth? Or a polar bear? The World Wildlife Fund has a really lovely "adopt-an-animal" program where kids can select an animal to virtually "adopt." The donation goes toward animal conservation, and (depending on the amount donated) the child is sent a stuffed animal, a photo, adoption certificate, a species card, and a gift bag.

13. The gift of drama!

Tickets to a children's play/the circus/Disney On Ice/Blue Man Group — these are all surefire wins. If your kid is musically inclined, tickets to a first concert always make for a very exciting gift. Wrap up some JoJo Siwa tickets along with this sequin coat, and ready yourself for your daughter's piercing screams of delight.