If you're like me, looking around your house in the weeks before Christmas will probably have you convinced that the last thing your kids need to find underneath the tree is a pile of new toys. This year, instead of buying the latest and greatest toy that'll be forgotten by February, here are a few ideas to give kids the gift of new experiences and education instead.
A nice journal: $10
Budding artists can practice their artwork, young writers can pour their hearts out onto the pages, and kids who just like to doodle and scribble can do that, too.
Kid-sized versions of tools and utensils: various
For kids who like to help Mom and Dad out in the kitchen, the garden, the garage, it's nice to have scaled-down versions of grown-up tools that will fit better in little hands. Kid-sized brooms, aprons, oven mitts, rakes, and trowels can be found in plenty of toy stores.
Kids in the Rotunda and lunch at Ian's pizza: $20
The Overture Center's Kids in the Rotunda series on Saturdays is free. Each week showcases different music and dance. Throw in four macaroni-and-cheese slices from Ian's and you have a great family date.
Befriend-An-Animal at Henry Vilas Zoo: $50
This program helps support the free zoo, and provides an opportunity to teach your child a lesson in biology as well as in charity. The $50 donation level includes a window cling and trading card of your chosen animal, as well as a certificate of zoological friendship for the recipient.
YMCA swim lessons: $87
The YMCA has three locations in Madison, all of which offer swim lessons to children as young as 6 months. A youth swim class costs $87 for non-members, and $43 for members.
Sports tickets: various
A college town like Madison offers plenty of opportunities to make young sports fans happy. Several UW-Madison sports offer family four-pack ticket options, which include a hot dog and small soda as part of the price; these four-packs cost $24 for women's hockey, $28 for women's basketball, and $56 for men's hockey. For four men's basketball tickets in the cheap seats, the price tag jumps to about $100.
Tickets to an Overture show: various
The Overture Center offers plenty of family-oriented programming. The Peking Acrobats will be in town in February, and magician Bill Blagg arrives in March.
Madison Children's museum gift membership: $125
There's always something new to see and do at the Madison Children's Museum, and a gift membership means you can check in whenever you want to see and do all of it (although you may not want to spend too much time on the rooftop until things warm up this spring).
Overnight Wisconsin Dells water park trip: various
A family trip to an indoor water park is a nice way to get away from the winter weather. Prices drop if you can swing a weekday night, but for a weekend, prices start around $250 for a basic 4-person room and go up from there.