Our Screen-Free Gift Guide (including our family’s initiation gifts!)

by | Nov 14, 2018

Almost two years ago our family moved across the country from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest. Due to the dramatic change in cost of living from one to the other, we knew we would need to cut our home size in half. (Yikes!) With five kids, it was a bit painful. Yet, also beautiful, because we made a conscious decision to live with less.

Since then we have been sorting and prioritizing our possessions. Through this process we determined what we really need. With the holidays approaching we wanted to share some of our favorite toys—the ones that have been lugged from one place to another and that always seem to get pulled out.

Kids love toys and it’s always fun to unwrap something special, but we also want to emphasize that some of our favorite gifts have been experiences. One Christmas the kids received one gift and Santa filled their stockings and we took a special trip instead. This was one of our best Christmases because we had so much time to focus on one another.

Whatever you gifts you give, remember that kids really just want a mom or dad that isn’t stressed out and who can spend time with them. (I have to tell myself this every year!) I hope this list helps you stress less and find some gifts that will stand the test of time.

(This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Our Favorite Games (Hands-Down!)

Telestrations. Like the game of telephone, but you draw instead of talk. We have laughed SO hard playing this game. We have the 8-person party pack.

Code Names. This one is great for older kids. We also have the Harry Potter version, which is also fun, but you have to really be into Harry Potter to enjoy it. It is a little more difficult than the regular version, but our older kids like it!

Sleeping Queens. Always a favorite for the whole family!

Catch Phrase. We’ve been playing this for years! Technically this game does have a screen, but it only displays a word. 🙂 This is an easy game to take when we travel and is a lot of fun to play in a group!

Mancala. The kids couldn’t believe I left this one of the list the first time around. This is a great one to pull out when two kids are bored. We have a different version than this that we bought at our local toy store, but this folding board looks great!

Family Initiation Gifts

When our kids are about age two or three they are initiated 🙂 into the family by receiving three things:

  1. A book light. We love these ones. They can clip onto the book and come in a variety of fun colors!
  2. A water bottle. CamelBak when they were little (they have the BEST designs!) and now the older kids all like their Hydro Flasks. (I realize that some kid are not quite ready to have this much water at bedtime so you’ll have to decide on the right time for this one.)

3. A bookmark (a homemade one from mom is awesome!). As our kids get older and want or need to track their reading time they get one of these bookmarks.

These three things go to bed with them every night and it’s rare that you’ll see our kids at bedtime (or even in the morning sometimes!) without their reading light, book, and water bottle.

Just for Fun & Unique

This Wooden Secret Decoder Disk can be found on Etsy and it has withstood the test of time. If you were to sit by us during church services you might see Tyler creating secret codes for the kids to decipher. SO FUN.

4D animal puzzles. We own 5 or 6 sets of these puzzles. Cats, jungle animals, etc. Right now all I can see are the dogs. I hope they bring the old ones back too. I saw some other sets on Amazon, but I’m not sure on the quality, so I have to recommend these. They are not cheap, but the kids will get these out on Sunday morning and all five of them are entertained!

Outdoor Time!

I know not everyone loves the idea of the trampoline (I get it!), but we’ve had a trampoline for five years and it has provided hours of entertainment and exercise. It’s also served as a fort on many occasions and a favorite place to star-gaze.

We have a 14 ft. trampoline from JumpSport similar to this one.

We do not have the enclosure. It looks like JumpSport has several options. We have liked the 14 ft. size and have been happy with ours!

If you are short on space or don’t want to invest in a full swing set, our kids have LOVED this swing. We often find two kids swinging in it together! (Caveat: you will need a tree or something to tie it to!)


If you live in place with a lot of sidewalk or an unfinished basement, our kids have all loved this PlasmaCar! We bought it in 2011 and it still gets used by all of the kids.

For the Doctor’s Office (or those times when you just have to wait with younger ones!)

Imagination Magnets. Kids use the magnets and cards to build shapes. This case is a bit heavy, but easy to carry and worth it! I’ve taken it to Parent/Teacher Conferences, the doctor and parent meetings at the school.

Tangoes Junior. Same idea as above, but a more portable and more basic shapes. Our kids have loved this one over the years!

Origami book and paper. I’m not great with origami at all, but my kids are! I knew it was a great skill. You don’t have to be an expert at anything to introduce it to your kids. 😉 We like this book.

Toddler and Preschool Age

Quick sticks. Basically paint in a stick (like a glue stick). These are so fun for little hands! They’ve been a favorite for a few years.

Play-doh Starter Set. This looks a little different than when I bought it years ago, but it is very similar. It comes in a fun bag with some great tools. I know play-dough seems so obvious, but it really is the gift that keeps on giving. Just ignore the mess for awhile!

Tinkertoy. A classic and still just as great!

CD player with books on CD. A few of our kids have loved books on CD during quiet time in the afternoon. The CD player we have is no longer available, but it is similar to this one. It’s easy for preschoolers to use independently once you show them how. Scholastic often sells bundles of books with CD’s and the Disney ones are always great options as well.

A doctor kit. We have this exact one and it’s lasted through years and years of play. I’ve played along with the kids with this kit many times. 😉

A play kitchen with kitchen toys. Tyler built a play kitchen for our kids, so I don’t have a recommendation on a specific kitchen, but we do have some favorite items to recommend. IKEA has some fun inexpensive kitchen tools and dishes you can check out here. We have purchased several of their kids’ kitchen items. Our kids love this ice cream set:

A stroller and a baby. This seems to be fun (no matter the gender of the child!).

Kid K’nex. We have had this set for a long time. All of our kids still love to create silly creatures with these.

Quality puppets. Years ago I searched high and low for quality puppets. I finally found some made by Telltale, but it looks like they are no longer around or were purchased by Fiesta Crafts. Theirs are the closest thing to the ones we have! They have provided hours of imaginative entertainment!


Elementary Age

Legos. I know it’s an obvious one, but it’s amazing the amount of miles you can get on a basic lego set.

Regular K’nex. Great for learning how to problem solve and put things together.


Any kind of digging kit. Our kids have loved several of these!

Ravensburger puzzles. These German-made puzzles are awesome! We have quite a few. I recommend searching Amazon for something your child is interested in along with “Ravensburger puzzle” and you may just find a great fit. The 100 piece puzzles are a good number of pieces for this age. Here are a few we like:

Zoob. Kind of strange looking, but kids can get really creative with these! The other day one of our kids made a purse out of them.

Ingredients for Slime. Such as a giant bottle of glue, containers, and mix-ins. Our kids loved this family gift last year. Our glue is almost gone!

Anything Playmobile. I would look and see what your child is interested in. They have sets for all interests and genders. One of our favorite basic sets is this little house:

Magna-Tiles. These are a hit anytime, but one of our favorite things to do with these is to create a “light-box” with a long shallow clear storage container. Stick some white Christmas lights inside, plug them in and put the lid on top of the box. Turn out the lights (works best in a bedroom!) and then the kids make fun designs on top of the box. SUCH a great activity for cold winter days!!!

Snap Circuits. When our kids were first learning how this worked, this was definitely a parent-child activity. Think of it as an opportunity to connect. Before long they’ll get the hang of it, and they’ll be creating all sorts of fun sounds on their own. With so many projects, it’s the gift that keeps on giving!

Middle Schoolers

Gift-giving can start to get challenging at this age. We have found that our kids start to get more opinionated and will share more ideas about what they want. Here are a few ideas to get the wheels turning…

Ping pong on your kitchen table! This is a go-to when friends come over.

Bop it. I didn’t think this one would really last, but a few years later my kids still like it and love playing it when friends come over.

Thinking Putty or this Create Your own Custom Color. You’ve probably heard of Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty. We own quite a few colors here. 🙂 However, our kids LOVED this set where they could create their own color. This would be fun for middle school kids to do together if they are looking for something to do!

Mini Quadcopter Drone. We have no teenage boys in the house, but we have a dad who loves machines, building, things that fly, and electronics. This is a great fit for the boy/teen who might really like video games and who you’d like to see trying a few other things out. Tyler got this one last year and it’s a great starter quadcopter to see if your son likes it before you dive into the more serious ones!


Gator Skin Dodgeballs. A friend told me about these and our kids have had a ton of fun in the church gym playing dodgeball with friends. If you have access to a school or church gym, this is a great way for middle-schoolers to burn off some steam! 🙂 We have the 8″ balls and they are perfect for catching and throwing!

Art supplies. Think hand-lettering books, journals, fancy pens, paintbrushes…these are some items our daughter likes. (You could find more manly versions for a young man!)

Books are a favorite for all ages, but I feel like this is an age when kids sometimes start to read less. Ask your teen what topics they are interested in and find some books to spark their interest in learning more!

Decor for his or her bedroom. Check out Etsy for unique ideas!

Experiences. Recently our teen wanted to take her friends to an escape room and they had a lot of fun! As kids get older they might prefer a gift certificate to go do something with friends or family.

Any suggestions on gifts for high-schoolers? We’ll be there next year! 🙂

I hope these suggestions help you with your gift-giving this year. Let us know what toys make your list!

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