How to give your grandkids memories instead of Legos

Listen: We know how hard it is to keep up with the changing interests of grandchildren, which toys they already possess, and which ones they’re going to take one look at before it’s relegated to the bottom of a toy bin. It seems like playrooms these days are positively overflowing with toys and gadgets, and the kids still walk around moaning about how bored they are. (The nerve!)

We also know that when it comes to gift-giving occasions, it is so much easier to pick out a shiny new toy than to plan for something else. And despite the fact that Lego has proven itself as one of the most solid financial investments one can make these days (seriously!), why not invest in something else that will only gain appreciation over the years: your time. 

Some of the obstacles that need to be surmounted when trying to share time with the grandkids—travel, money, busy schedules, etc.—can seem daunting. To help out, we’ve come up with some ideas for how to bond with them.

Memberships or season passes

Grandma at the zoo with grandsonSo many places designed for families are actually cost-prohibitive for an entire family to attend. Zoos, aquariums, botanical parks, science museums, and children’s museums are amazing experiences that can cost a small fortune for one afternoon of fun. A yearly pass, however, often ends up paying for itself if the family can go more than two or three times a year. And, if a grandparent were to give them that family membership, well, we’re willing to bet that that grandparent would be asked to have the privilege of using up all their guest passes. It might seem like a small thing, but you never know when you might be funding the inspiration for a future career, or hobby, or merely providing an experience that might not have occurred to the parents. (Not to mention, those parents will be super grateful for being able to take those kids somewhere fun and only have to pay the outrageous food prices.)

Tickets to a live event

Grandparents at live event with grandkidsThis is another awesome gift option that tends to get overlooked and is a perfect grandparent/grandchild bonding moment. A lot of parents would rather stick spoons in their eyes than have to hear another Sesame Street/Disney/Kiddie song, but those live events are wondrous for little kids. In swoops Super Grandma—who, unlike the parents, doesn’t have to hear those tunes played endlessly day in and day out—and she can actually enjoy an afternoon spoiling her little one rotten. And this isn’t only for little kids, either. Sporting events, concerts, even local carnivals or fairs are great opportunities to kidnap the grandchildren and ply them with treats while they get to experience something a little special. Got a sultry pre-teen? You could win major cool points if you take them to a concert and get them some merch. 

Pay for camp or special programs

Girls at STEM campIf your grandchild has a special interest, we can guarantee there is a camp or an after-school program that supports it. You could win all the grandparent awards if you were able to tell little Timmy that you were sending him to Lego camp for a whole week instead of just gifting him another box set. In the same vein of ideas, look into local rec centers and libraries. They often offer camps, after-school programs, and even private lessons in a wide variety of interests, and they don’t cost an arm and a leg. You could give a gift certificate, even, so the child could pick whatever program they’re interested in.

Plan a “date”

Grandma with grandchild on a hikeSometimes the most important thing you can give a child is your undivided attention. We know that sometimes that can be difficult when you might have lots of grandchildren, but they will value it all the more to know that you went out of your way to do something just with them. And it doesn’t have to be a big event; it could be an afternoon of walking in the park, learning to make pie, or even a movie date with all the snacks. And if you’re feeling bankrupt of ideas, ask them to help you plan it. Kids love to come up with fun ideas; having an adult to help them execute the dream can just make it all that more special. 

The best part of this gift is that you can even plan an online date, so if you live far away you can give your time without paying for airfare. One example would be to send them cooking tools and then plan an online cooking class you could take together. Or you could attend a Zoom seminar on something they’re interested in. There are also dozens of games designed to be played online in a cooperative effort. 

Teach them something

Family gardening togetherThis category of gifts is often a tough sell but has more long-term benefits than the kids will ever imagine. The important part is to frame the experience as time shared, and teach them a valuable skill without them even realizing it. We think it might have been easier for previous generations to get away with this; I have very fond memories of “playing” in the garden with my grandmother, for example, and I can still remember the moments she taught me the names of common plants and how to tell the difference between a flower and a weed. At the time, though, I was probably bored and driving her nuts, she needed the free labor, and she wasn’t battling the lure of a Nintendo Switch or an Xbox. But these shared moments are still doable and growing more valuable with every passing day. Ask your grandchildren to play a card game they’ve never learned, or to assist you in a craft or a home improvement project. Many kids will have a huge sense of pride in feeling as if they helped an adult accomplish something difficult, and you’ll secretly be gifting them a skill they will be able to use somewhere down the road.

Record your voice

Grandparents reading to grandkidsWant to have the power to summon gut-wrenching sobs from future generations, even after you’ve exited this earthly plane? Give your grandchildren a recording of your voice. You can record yourself reading a book, and there are even stuffed animals that you can make where your voice comes out at the push of a button. Smaller children will love the novelty of hearing your voice whenever they want, and it will allow you to “be there” even when you’re not. But the true power lies in the fact that this recording will last longer than you will, most likely, and someday you can rest assured that your son or daughter will have a good cry every Christmas when your grandchild asks for The Night Before Christmas as read by Grandma.

Be there

Grandfather and grandson walking in the woodsGrandparents are so crucial to children knowing that they are loved and treasured and valued as a part of the family. The gifts of your time and attention—in any way that you can grant them—are really the best ways you can offer these things to the next generation. And while the kids may not always value your efforts at the time, know that those memories will only grow more valuable as they grow up.

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