5 Birthday Gift Alternatives

cake.jpgA couple of weeks ago I brought Laurel to a birthday party with a non-traditional gift request: to bring a new, wrapped book for a book swap. It was so fun to watch the girls open and chat about their books (and trade already-read titles). I thought this was such a lovely idea and decided to query on Facebook and Twitter about other non-traditional gift ideas for kids. The responses were wonderful (and rather Minimalist Parenting!) and I wanted to share them with you:
1. Book swaps...new or used. In addition to the aforementioned new book swap, via Facebook Mary shared her love of used book swaps for birthday parties: "Recycling books that aren't age appropriate, etc., is great for the kids as gifts and for parents too...If done for 2-3 year olds, it's the perfect age because kids aren't as aware and parents get new books to read to their kids."

2. Encouraging handmade. Laura shared via Facebook: "I've been to a party where both gifts and gift cards were handmade by the kids invited. It was very nice! A lot of fantasy and demonstration of affection."

3. Gifts for the animals. Via Twitter, @toddlersummer shared: "A friend hosted a party at the local zoo and asked for donations for the zoo. Kids saw it as 'gifts for the animals.' It was a great idea!"


4. Gifts for charities. The response regarding charity focused birthday parties was amazing! Here are some great ideas; if you go this route, bring your child into the process. They will be more invested (and have less trouble letting go of the idea of traditional presents) if they choose the charity:

  • Elizabeth: "We have always asked for donations to Birthday Wishes and I will call them and see if there is anything specific they need for people who like to actually bring something. One year we did a juice box drive, another year we raised enough money to buy a vacuum that they needed."
  • Kale: "A friend's very sweet animal loving daughter does her parties at the animal shelter. They help with the animals and I think they do donations of toys, etc."
  • Melissa: "We did 'bring a gift for Toys For Tots' for Brendan's fifth birthday and it went well. Some people still brought a gift. Brendan thought it was fine and we went to donate the toys together."
  • Elizabeth: "A friend of Kate's asked for dog/cat food donations to give to an animal shelter."
  • Jenna: "We asked guests to bring books to donate to Boston Children's Hospital's Reach Out And Read Program. It was well received and we gave 267 new books to this wonderful program."
  • Christine: "My son's friend asked that no gifts be brought but instead they took donations for a platoon of soldiers over in Iraq. As a thank you card we received a note from the soldiers thanking us for the items and how much they appreciated it."
  • Heather: "[We've experienced] a slumber party where you bring a set of PJs and a book for the Pajama Project and a Christmas time birthday where the host asked for guests to adopt a child off our church's giving tree. It's a great way to show children service in action."
  • Micaela: "We made the turn to donation parties and never looked back! We have taken Webkinz to the Mgh orth office, pet supplies to a shelter, Pokemon toys to child life @ hospital, etc. A few years ago we lost a dear friend to cancer. We now have one large family birthday party in the summer for all four kids at once and ask for donations to Jimmy Fund instead of gifts. It's a win-win because our family enjoys the walk together and we receive less toys that we really don't need!"
  • Christine: "We help our boys choose a local non-profit to make donations to. So far we've picked the zoo, the no kill animal shelter, and an organization providing healthcare and a food pantry for underprivileged children and their families. We host a bday party at our home with games, cake, balloons and all that good stuff and ask all guests to bring an item the birthday boy can add to his donation (we include suggestions or wish list gifts from the organization). All guests happily comply! The kids do not miss presents at all, and feel SO proud to give back to our community and also inspire others to give back as well (children and adults!). Even a little can go a long way and I love teaching them at such a young age that it takes a village. The boys get to pick whatever they want for breakfast, lunch and dinner on their birthday, plus whatever kind of cake they'd like, and do get a few special gifts from mom, dad, grandparents and that totally satisfies them. It is a day when we focus on celebrating the amazing person they are, and not on the 'stuff' that clutters our lives. Our boys don't end up with toys they don't need, we've enabled our friends to come together to support a worthwhile cause, our boys learn that quality of life is not about material things, and we all come our winners. Can you tell I love this tradition?"

5. Simply no gifts. Finally, some parents simply request no gifts. And they have discovered wonderful results:

  • Jackie: "I once did a no gifts party for my son when he was in kindergarten because he wanted a party so much but the gift thing would overwhelm him (he has autism). So I asked the parents if they could please skip it. What I didn't expect were so many handmade, heartfelt cards made by the kids that meant more to my son than any gift ever could. It was a great birthday."
  • Katie: "We always specify "no gifts" on birthday invites. And most parties we attend say "no gifts." While a few kids bring something, most just bring a handmade card or a simple handmade gift because it signals to the parents that we don't want any more "stuff." For my 4yo daughter's party this spring, one of her friends brought flower seedlings that she had planted the week before! And my kids don't care. We've explained that in our family, birthday gifts come from family only and parties with friends are to celebrate and have a good time together but aren't about gifts."

Aren't these ideas wonderful? If you have other great ideas for birthday gift alternatives, feel free to share in the comments below!

Image credits: FreeDigitalPhotos.net; text and graphic elements added to second image by Christine Koh