Too many gifts under the tree can give kids the impression that the holidays are only about receiving more and more stuff. While we love to give our children gifts, it is easy to overdo it. The last thing we want is to end up with a debt hangover in January, and children who are impossible to satisfy. What kids really want is our time and attention, so this year consider focusing on "spoiling" children with the gift of time, instead of needless extra gifts. Here are 10 ways to spend quality holiday time together without adding to the clutter.

  1. Bake

    Baking goodies together allows parents to teach their children a valuable life skill while sharing family traditions. Remember Grandma's amazing apple dumplings? Mom's sugar cookie cut-outs? Dig out some recipes you remember from your childhood and make them with the kids. Watch Food Network to learn some new ideas and gain inspiration. Keep your goodies to enjoy, or make it a chance to give back by delivering to your local police or fire departments.

  2. Make cards

    It might be difficult to make a homemade card for everyone on your holiday card list, so pick a few people for whom kids want to make a "special" card. Don't just watch the kids draw; show them your artistic abilities (or lack-of), too.

  3. Game night

    Kids love board games, so turn off the electronics for a night and play together. Bonus points for playing by candlelight. These are the nights where memories are made.

  4. Hot cocoa and stargazing

    Make hot cocoa together, and take it with you for a walk outside to see the stars. Winter's early nights are the perfect time to do this with little ones. You can stargaze together and still have them in bed on time.

  5. Holiday light displays

    Cruise through a local holiday light display together or find a holiday light walking tour in your area. Botanical gardens and zoos often have elaborate displays this time of year.

  6. Holiday movie sleepover

    Camp out together in your living room with sleeping bags, popcorn and family-friendly holiday movies. Check out commonsensemedia.org for age recommendations on all of your favorites.

  7. Angel Tree

    Head to your local mall for the Salvation Army Angel Trees. Allow kids to choose a tag from the tree and help to shop for and wrap gifts.

  8. Holiday stories

    "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" are two of our family's favorites. Take the kids to the library or the bookstore to pick out a few new titles to read together. To add to the fun, you can wrap holiday books, place them in your home library and let the kids open one each night to read together.

  9. Religious services

    For people of faith, it's the perfect time of year to reconnect spiritually. There is something transcendent about a candlelight service with the ones you love.

  10. Ice-skating

    Nothing says winter quite like a trip to the ice-skating rink. Even if you live in a warm climate, indoor rinks have public skating hours where you can rent skates and try it out.

  11. Whether you decide to do any of these ideas or come up with some of your own, your children will love that you took time out of a busy December and made time with them your priority. What better gift is there than that?

Family Friendly Holiday Movies

(Age recommendations from commonsensemedia.org)

Ages 3 and Up

  • "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"

  • "A Charlie Brown Christmas"

  • "Frosty the Snowman"

  • "The Snowman"

Ages 4 and Up

  • "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (animated version)

Ages 5 and Up

  • "Muppet Christmas Carol"

  • "The Santa Clause"

  • "Prep and Landing"

Ages 6 and Up

  • "The Polar Express"

  • "Scrooge" (musical version)

Ages 7 and Up

  • "Elf"

  • "Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury"

Ages 10 and Up

  • "Home Alone"

  • "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York"

  • "Christmas with Holly"


Sara Simeral is a freelance writer and mother to twin six-year-olds. She enjoys exploring local parks with her kids and baking treats she probably shouldn't eat.