The holiday season can often feel like a giant tangle of toys and activities that leave parents rushing from shop to event to home, with the hope that they've generated happy memories for their children along the way. For most children though, it's the simple yet thoughtful gifts and experiences that cost little or no money that stay in their minds.
Here, we've rounded up several easy ways to make this season a memorable one for your little elves.
1. Make a list
Start by asking your children what they liked best about the previous holiday, suggests Heidi McBain, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Flower Mound, Texas. "I'm often surprised by what my kids remember that I've forgotten." Then compile a list of those activities they'd like to repeat.
2. Give the gift of one-on-one time
What does your child like to do most of all? Go to the zoo? Eat at their favorite hometown pizza joint? Whatever it is, present them with a customized gift card that entitles them to do that activity—with just you.
3. Throw an ornament-making party
Round up a few of your children's friends and spend an afternoon crafting homemade ornaments. To keep it simple and thrifty, use organic materials, like twigs and pine cones, or practically anything lying around the house, such as leftover ribbon scraps.
4. Start a new tradition
Old traditions are wonderful, but consider launching a new family tradition and let your children decide what it will be. It could be as simple as attending your hometown's tree lighting ceremony, watching a classic holiday movie, or taking a Christmas Eve stroll around the neighborhood to look at lights.
5. Create a personalized storybook
Present your child with a beautifully illustrated hardback starring them as the main character. Shutterfly's customized storybooks allow you to insert your child's name into the plot, design a character that resembles them, and write a thoughtful message on the dedication page.
6. Organize a holiday game day
Dedicate at least one day to playing holiday-themed games. They're a great way to make memories —and burn off a little bit of that holiday energy. Try a spirited candy cane search (like an Easter egg hunt, but with candy canes!), which can be played indoors or out.
7. Commission their portrait
From modern silhouettes to detailed paintings, there are many options and price points when it comes to commissioning your child's likeness. They'll love seeing themselves in a whole new medium.
8. Deliver homemade treats to neighbors and friends
Kids love to give, especially when it's something they've had a hand in making. Even small children can get in on the baking action when it comes to making simple desserts like sugar cookies or brownies.
9. Wrap their presents in selfie paper
10. Make sharing festive
In addition to the traditional cookies and milk, encourage your child to leave Santa a sack of gently used toys to distribute to other children. "I created my Santa Share Sack DIY project to give families an easy way to teach children about giving back during the holidays," says Jennifer Porter of Satsuma Designs in Seattle. "For little children, sharing a gently used toy and book and placing it into the Santa Share Sack gives them the chance to stretch their gratitude and care muscles."