The Philly Parent Gift Guide: 25 Awesome Non-Toy Gift Ideas for Kids

No. More. Hatchimals.

Photo by Steve Debenport/iStock

We know … it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. And here we are talking about a Philly parent’s gift guide. But let’s face it: Once December hits, life for parents becomes one long blur of gift-buying and cookie-baking and magical memory-making. (They’ll watch that tree-lighting and they’ll like it, damn it!) And no matter how much we may say we’re not looking to buy a bunch more stuff for our kids, that they don’t need more toys, it’s really hard to be creative and think outside the Amazon cart when your schedule is packed with so much merry-making. So, here, we’ve culled some of the best gift ideas for Philly parents — gifts the kids will love that won’t end up buried in a giant toy pile in your house.


Tickets to one of the many awesome shows this year
There’s Peter Pan and Snow White at The Arden. There’s The Nutcracker. There’s Annie at the Walnut Street Theatre, and also The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley and StinkyKids the Musical. There’s a ton of Broadway musicals (for older ones) at The Kimmel. There’s The Golden Dragon Acrobats and Junie B. Jones at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center. There’s also a sing-along, princess-themed holiday show (complete with meet-and-greet princesses) at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre on December 17, which might be nice for a Hanukkah or early Christmas present.

Classes: Cooking, gymnastics, music, dance, art, karate …
Whether you want to introduce your kid to breakdancing or cooking or tumbling or Brazilian martial arts, you can find a class in this city to that’ll do it. (Note: Classes make for great grandparent gifts!)  

That (gently used?) guitar or piano might just be the gateway to a lifelong passion. Though as the owner of mini drum set — a gift from my mother-in-law to our two-year-old (thanks, Mom!) — I migh suggest thinking long and hard about which instrument you pick.

A choose-your-own-book outing
Yes, getting a book is not necessarily super new or exciting to most kids, even the bookworms. But the chance to go and pick out any book she wants from Head House Books or Joseph Fox or Barnes and Noble? Awesome. A trip to choose a book will become a lovely literary outing because your kid will want to study 100 books before making a choice. (If you’re really into this idea, your gift could also be letting them choose a book a month, or bi-monthly, or some such.)  

A choose-your-own-event pass
Kid gets one concert or sporting event or Fill-In-The-Blank-On-Ice of his choosing. (Paw Patrol Live, here you come!)   

A park day
Within 100 miles, there’s Hersheypark, Diggerland, Sesame Place, Storybook Land, Sky Zone …  

An overnight at a cool place
They get to sleep on the floor of somewhere awesome (the Philadelphia Zoo offers overnights, as does the Academy of Natural Sciences, Adventure Aquarium, Elmwood Park Zoo and the Franklin Institute), and you get … a sore back. But it’s one night, and your kid will love it.

A year-in-the-life video
I’ve yet to meet a little kid who isn’t obsessed with looking at photos or watching videos of himself. Every year for our child’s birthday, we put together a 10- or 15-minute slideshow of photographs we’ve taken throughout the year, and set it to music. (You can do this with Mac’s Photo app, or on any number of websites.) It’s a major hit each year with our kid, who constantly asks to watch his videos. (Bonus: These are nice keepsakes for the parents, too.)

A “mix tape”
Introduce the thrill of the mix tape to a new generation. You can do it old-school and make a CD with all their favorite music (assuming you still have a CD player somewhere in your life?), or create their own special playlist in your computer or phone, or even download all their tunes on an old iPod. It’s very exciting for a three-, four- or five-year-old to have the ease of their faves in one album, and to own all their own music.

A pair of ice skates
The most expensive part of the awesome pop-up rinks at Dilworth and Penn’s Landing? Skate rental. ($10 a pop.) Buy a pair of used skates on Ebay or Craigslist or at a second-hand sports shop, and your kid can hit the skating rinks all winter without costing you a fortune.

Kiwi, Doodle, Cricket, Tinker and/or Koala Crates
Getting special treats in the mail never stops being cool … especially when that special treat is a fun, STEAM-focused activity (that’s science, technology, engineering, art and math) that comes in a box every month.

While admittedly, the kid might not appreciate the ease and savings a membership to one of the museums or play spaces around here, they do tend to understand when you tell them it means they can go to their favorite place (Please Touch Museum! Kroc Center PoolNest!) all the time. Another great grandparent gift.


Be Well Family is a collaboration with Wee Wander, a site dedicated to helping Philadelphia parents navigate their city. See more in this series here, or keep up with all of  Wee Wander’s tips, guides and Philly related parenting help on Facebook or Instagram