5 Last-Minute Gifts You Won’t Have to Wrap

Hacking the Holidays

Some gifts are unwrappable. All images: Kathy Ceceri

Sometimes the best gifts are completely unwrappable. Here are some suggestions for last-minute “stocking stuffers” for your kids and you to share. All are inexpensive or even free, none require overnight shipping — and the best part is, they’ll be remembered long after that last bit of wrapping paper has been recycled for the season.

Take Your Kids Outdoors:

Children today spend way too much time inside. As Richard Louv has been preaching for a while now, we’re in danger of raising a generation that doesn’t know how to handle themselves in a natural environment, let alone how to appreciate it. Making a trip to a wilderness area is ideal, but even a walk around the neighborhood gives you the opportunity to start pointing out the rocks, plants, creatures, and the lay of the land. Or now that it gets dark early, step outside for a few minutes at night and point out the red giant Betelgeuse in Orion’s left shoulder, or the brilliant white light of Jupiter. If you’ve got a Galileoscope or other telescope to search for Jupiter’s four moons, all the better. And don’t forget, outdoors is also where your kids will find many of the best toys around

Building TreehouseBuilding Treehouse

Teach Your Child to Use a Tool:

Jared Diamond says that in hunter-gatherer cultures, letting kids use adult tools promotes resilience. First-world families are not, as a rule, going to let kids play with knives. But you can help your child move into the world of adults by teaching them to use a new tool. It could be a soldering iron, sewing machine, or kitchen mixer. Kids can, under supervision, learn to use a power drill safely. It’s not only a skill they’ll be able to use for the rest of their lives, but an opportunity for parent-child bonding.

Give a Kid a Job:

When I was little, I was obsessed with being old enough to do the family food shopping on my own. I have no idea why, but somehow to me that signified to me moving into the world of adults. As parents, it may seem quicker or safer to do chores ourselves, but I know from my own experience that when you give a child some responsibility — emptying the dishwasher, doing their own laundry, watching a younger sibling — they tend to rise to the occasion. And it not only makes your day easier, it helps build a sense of competence in them that will carry over into new tasks and challenges they face as they grow up. With the new year coming up, assess your own child’s ability and acknowledge your trust by giving them a new way to be useful.

Soda MakingSoda Making

Help Your Kids Start a Hands-On Project (Preferably Messy):

If there’s one parenting regret I carry now that my kids are no longer little, it’s that I never set aside a spot in our house where they could really get down and dirty, so to speak. In the small houses in which we’ve always lived, it always seemed like there wasn’t room to dedicate to leaving half-finished projects around. But even within those constraints we still managed to do some pretty neat experiments. And I’ve found that some of the best learning happens when kids are allowed to get messy. Need ideas? Download an e-version of a hands-on family activity book like Geek Mom, Geek Dad, or Robotics.

Download a Book to Read or Listen to Together:

Read-alouds don’t have to end when a child learns to read on their own. My kids enjoyed our bedtime ritual of sharing the latest volume of Harry Potter or listening to the audiobook of our favorite steampunk series in the car well into their teens. For parents, it’s a way of sharing books you yourself like, and of making sure your kids are exposed to good literature. And for kids, it’s a sign that they can still count on you for support, even when they get old enough to spend most of their time on their own.

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