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2013 Holiday Gift Guide: 7 Gifts That Aren't Toys

My son, Javier, is an only child and the only grandson, so yes, he is often spoiled. I work hard at keeping him grateful, especially during Christmas, when the meaning of the season easily can get lost in a sea of shiny new toys. This year, I’m making it a point to find gifts that aren’t toys, but rather gifts that teach or stand for something. Here’s a few I have my eye on already. What are your favorite kid gifts that aren’t toys?

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1. Music lessons. At www.TakeLessons.com, you type in your zip code and the kind of lesson your little one is interested in (violin, piano, or drama, for example) and voila! A list of teachers in your area pops up. You can choose in-person or video lessons, too, depending on your needs and budget. They have gift cards you can download that are perfect stocking stuffers.

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2. A love of animals…and a way to help them. Crowdfunding is a major trend right now, so why not give school-age kids the power to raise money for the animals they love? Log on to www.LoveAnimals.org, and let kids search for charities that benefit their favorite animals (make sure you’re clear about how much money they can donate). The site is divided into categories for pets as well as wild, farm, and aquatic animals. Kids can choose to help sea turtles, the pets of military veterans, or a tiger with a toothache. The site helps animals in need by giving 100 percent of the money raised directly to each charity, so every little bit helps.

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3. Cooking lessons…sort of. For the kid who likes to help you make dinner, Handstand Kids Cookbook Kits provide a cultural tour of a country’s food, language and customs with easy recipes designed for ages 3-12. Each kit has its own theme: Chinese, Mexican, Italian or Baking Around the World. The Mexican kit comes in a resalable tortilla bag filled with fun utensils and English-Spanish translations, so kids can learn new words while they cook. $25 www.handstandkids.com

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4. A Date with You. One year a friend of mine made a coupon book filled with “Date Nights” her daughter could “cash” when she wanted to spend one-on-one time with mom, dad, or even gramps. Some were simple trips to the ice cream shop or the park--the outings don't have to be expensive. I loved the idea, and this year, I’m going to make something similar for Javier, so he can enjoy special bonding time with family members when he wants it.

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5. Museum or zoo membership. There’s a science center in our town that Javier is crazy about, and if we didn’t already have an annual membership, I’d order one for Christmas. Whether it’s a museum, zoo, aquarium or other cultural center, these places are educational and enriching in ways another set of toy cars never will be.

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6. Customized books. I love the personalized storybooks from Frecklebox. I had one made for Javier a few years ago. The story you choose will not only involve your child as a character, it may also feature some of his favorite things, too. Javier’s is about a frog that likes to dance to hip hop music. You can choose stories by themes based on your little one’s preferences. They also have personalized coloring books, placemats and wall art, too. From $19.95 at frecklebox.com.

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7. Tickets to a show. There’s a small children’s theatre near our house, and every time we drive by and see the marquee advertising the latest show, Javier asks if we could go. This year, I’m turning a pair of tickets into stocking stuffers! Check online for traveling shows like the circus as well as local theatre groups that perform without much fanfare. When you’re a kid, any show will grab you. It doesn’t have to be a Tony winner.

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