Non-toy Gift Ideas for Toddlers

J’s second (SECOND!!) birthday is this week, and because I have such wonderful and generous family and friends, they’ve been asking what the little guy would like for his birthday. Like a lot of kids his age, J has more toys than he could ever play with, so we’ll be asking for some non-toy gifts for him this year. I’ve put together a list of gift ideas that are perfect for toddlers (and their parents) that go beyond the world of toys!


  1. Clothes and outerwear. I’m not talking just another shirt or a pair of pants here. Take an inventory of your child’s clothes and ask for items to fill the gaps. For example, J always needs socks (I swear the washing machine eats them), and by asking for them as a gift, he receives MUCH cuter ones than the plain white ones I would have bought for him. For outerwear, think ahead for seasonal items they’ll need. Snow boots, swim suits, jackets…whatever! These things can be on the pricier side, so asking for them as gifts makes one less thing you have to buy later.
  2. Activities. Sometimes the best thing you can give a little one is the opportunity to get out and play! Many communities have activities for small children that will  help them develop in many ways. When I researched classes for toddlers in our area, I was amazed at the variety of options available. Swimming, arts and crafts, dance, martial arts, yoga, soccer, even rock climbing! There is a class for just about every interest your child could have. Ask family and friends to purchase a class for your child, or give a gift certificate towards a future class.
  3. Savings. This may not be the most fun gift now, but your child will surely appreciate future financial security later. Whether you establish a college fund or a general savings account, asking for contributions to your child’s savings will more than likely be well received by caring family and friends. In addition, this is a great way to start teaching your child about smart saving. Here is information on 529 plans (the rules vary by state, so be sure to research your state’s rules) and Coverdell education savings account (ESA).
  4. The gift of time. What a wonderful gift to give a toddler: you! Plan a trip to the zoo followed by lunch, or buy tickets to the Wiggles when they are in town. Even a special playdate will be appreciated by your little one. Experiences are much more memorable for a child than just another toy – and much more special for you. Bonus: if you’re gifting yourself to a child who is not yours, it’s also a gift to Mom and Dad, as they will get some kid-free time!
  5. Outdoor fun. Children love the great outdoors, so gifting them things they can use outside won’t go unappreciated! While these could technically be considered “toys”, water guns, a sled, wagons and other outdoor items get kids moving with the added benefit of fresh air. If you want to make gift educational, add a book related to the toy. For example, an age-appropriate red sled paired with the book “Red Sled” is a perfect gift for a child as winter approaches.
  6. Stuff Mom and Dad need. This may seem a little boring and perhaps selfish to ask for items YOU need for your child’s birthday, but there are ways to make sure your child is just as excited as you are to receive these items. Need new cups? Ask for cups with a favorite character on them. Out of bath supplies? Request great smelling bubble bath. Time to potty train? Get a potty and fun new sheets for your little one. Chances are your child won’t even notice the boring-ness of these gifts!
  7. Photo books. Little kids love to look at pictures of themselves and people they love. Sites like Shutterfly and Snapfish have a ton of options for creating professional-looking books full of pictures they will love. You can even add in a bit of an educational angle. For example, we are working on the alphabet with J, so for his birthday this year, we are making him an alphabet photo book with pictures of people and objects that he loves. For example, the page for “D” will have a picture of Ryan (“Dada”) and a dog. Photo books will not only delight your toddler, but they will provide a beautiful, personal memento of the gifter. Don’t feel like going digital? An old-fashioned photo album will have the same effect.
  8. Food. If your toddler is anything like mine, he or she has favorite foods they cannot get enough of. J is obsessed with fig bars I originally bought for myself as a healthy snack, but like everything else that comes into this house, he claimed them as his own. Since they are organic, they are a little pricey, so I like to ask for them as gifts. Trust me – once your child opens the box of food, they’ll probably be more excited than they would be for any toy. Or, a special treat would be a very welcome surprise for a little one (once you get his or her parents’ okay, of course!). One year for his birthday, I ordered M&M’s with my nephews face on them. He loved them! One piece of advice for special treats though – only wrap a small portion for the birthday boy or girl to open and discretely give the rest to his or her parents later so they can portion the goodies as they see fit.
  9. iTunes gift card / CDs. Little kids love music. My tot favors nursery rhymes sung by children – and Blake Shelton’s Christmas CD for whatever reason. I’m dying to add some variety to the rotation, so gift cards to iTunes and kid-friendly CDs will be at the top of our gift request. Another iTunes gift card perk: they can be used to buy apps. I’m currently researching apps for J that are educational (or semi-educational) and easy to use – any suggestions are greatly appreciated!
  10. Restaurant gift card. When I was growing up, going out to eat was considered a special treat. When we brought home a good report cards, it was a trip to Ponderosa. When our basketball teams did well in the playoffs, it was team lunch at the Spaghetti Warehouse. When we finished our reading challenges, it was a trip to Pizza Hut. It makes me laugh how Mid-Western-y and simple that all sounds (my sister and I LOVED Ponderosa – so much!), but that’s part of what made it so special. Because we didn’t just go out to eat all the time, when we did, it was a big deal. Fast food was a treat; ice cream didn’t happen every day. Gift certificates to a local pizza parlor, Chick-Fil-A, or Sweet Frog will provide a little bit of specialness for your little one.
  11. Craft supplies. This could turn into a glue and glitter mess – but open minds here! Crafts are a saving grace some days, especially during these cold winter months. Plus, crafting stimulates children’s minds. Gifts can be as simple as crayons for little hands, or more complex craft kits (like this and this). And don’t forget the magical world of Pinterest for craft ideas – just pick something you think your little one will like and get all the necessary supplies. The best part of crafts: you get a beautiful keepsake to treasure forever!
  12. Memberships. A membership to area attractions is a gift that will keep on giving!  Some ideas are the zoo, museums, indoor play areas, and pools / water parks. Memberships have the added bonus of quality family time. We have a pass to the Akron Zoo, and it has provided so much enjoyment for J – and us. It’s so special for Ryan and me to watch J experience new things.
  13. “Little Helper” supplies. J amazes me with how much he likes to help out around the house – voluntarily! Whether it’s bringing me a diaper for L or putting K-cups in a basket, he gets so much enjoyment and is so proud of himself when he helps. Why not encourage this with fun “littler helper” supplies? For example, a personalized apron and a children’s cookbook for a budding chef; age-appropriate garden tools and gardening gloves for a little horticulturist; mini-cleaning supplies for your little domestic helper.
  14. A gift to a charity in their name. Don’t think a gift to a charity will go unappreciated by your little one – kids can often understand more than we give them credit for. Charitable acts and giving is something Ryan and I want to make an important part of our children’s lives, so we want to start introducing them to the concept of giving to others early. A great way to get your child excited about this gift is to physically take them to a local charity to deliver the donation.
  15. Decorations. Parents are in charge of the decor for a baby’s nursery, but once babies turn into toddlers, opinions start to form! You may have spent hours decorating your little one’s room in soft, calming pastels with chevron accents, but Junior now wants his bedroom to be filled from top to bottom with all things superhero. Redecorating a room can be pricey, so asking for items for your little one’s new room is a great idea! Framed art, throw pillows, and fun sheets are all items that are reasonably priced and that will get your child excited. Other ideas that can be used for decorations anywhere in the house are framed pictures of your child and other family members, a personalized ornament or a special pillow or comfy chair just for them.



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