Grandparents Spoiling Grandchildren – Alternatives to Buying Gifts

I’m a fairly new grandmother. With Christmas coming up pretty fast, my first instinct, since my grandkids live far away, is to shower those kids with gifts. However, my children don’t particularly want the grandparents spoiling grandchildren, so I will have to be more creative. Besides, I want the “gifts” I send to be meaningful. My grandkids are lucky to have four living sets of grands and great grands, and the kiddos have a lot of potential to receive tons of the usual toys and clothes. I want my gifts to stand out, as well as pay attention to what their parents need. So, in my research, here’s what I came up with.

Give Experiences

If you are lucky enough to live close by, here are a few things you can do during the Christmas season with your little guys and gals.

Grandparents Spoiling Grandchildren - Alternatives to Buying GiftsHave the kids over to your house, and make cookies or ginger bread houses with them. Having them over to your house is key: Mom and Dad get some shopping alone time, plus the mess isn’t left for Mom to clean up.

Go Christmas caroling. Have several practice sessions beforehand and sing their favorite songs. You can research the words to the songs by Googling them. Take treats for the neighbors to give out at each door.

Do a service project. Bring a variety of treats or small presents to a local nursing home or hospital (check with the nursing staff ahead of time for appropriate snacks and number of patients). Sing Christmas carols while handing out the treats. Or put together care packages for service personnel, first responders, or doctors and nurses at a local clinic. Volunteer to decorate a church, inside or outside. Look up any number of projects online through church and community sites.

Have a craft day. Make hand-print turkeys or paper chains for the Christmas tree. Find an easy craft to help make presents the kid can give to his/her parents. Make tree ornaments, and put their name and the date on them. Again, there are many projects you can look up on Pinterest. Be sure to get all supplies beforehand.

Attend holiday events at the local museum, zoo, or library.

Attend local holiday celebrations in your area. There are tons of tree lightings, carnivals, Christmas parades, visits with Santa, races, caroling, ice skating and many other activities. Kids always have fun at those events.

Watch a holiday movie together, or go to a play or performance. Look for local play houses or arts society organizations. You will likely find some organization putting on “The Nut Cracker” or “A Christmas Carol” Check your local listings for new holiday movies, or watch a favorite at home on Netflix or Prime. Don’t forget the holiday treats, popcorn, and hot cocoa.

Make a “life-sized” gingerbread house. Find an old refrigerator or other appliance box. Cut doors and windows (with shutters!) in the box with a box knife (keep out of the hands of the children!). Provide markers, construction paper and a glue stick to decorate the house. Be sure to get extra boxes to cut up, to make dormers, window boxes, chimneys, or other architectural features.  Duct Tape works great for attaching window shutters, shingles, or other home improvement items on your cardboard gingerbread house.  Don’t forget furniture in the form of little lawn chairs or a toddler-size table and chairs for the inside. Work on it together with the children.

Go to the kids’ holiday events at their school or club. Nothing means more to a kiddo than having grandma and grandpa show up at the Christmas concerts. Some schools serve a Thanksgiving dinner at lunchtime, and invite kiddo’s parents. Volunteer to go in Mom’s place if she has to work. Volunteer to be a homeroom mom/dad and help with the class party.

Grandparents Spoiling Grandchildren - Alternatives to Buying GiftsHave a competition. See who can build the best snow man, or who can make the best Christmas cookie, or who can do the best Christmas window display. Have Mom and Dad judge the best, and keep secret who’s is who’s.

Read Christmas stories together. You can read smaller, one-night stories, or do a series of readings on such stories as “A Christmas Carol” or the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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Long Distance Experiences You Can Give

Even if you can’t be there for the holidays, you can still give experiences rather than gifts.

Buy 24 Christmas books. Wrap each one and send them to the child. Each evening for story time, the kiddo can unwrap a book and have Mom or Dad read it.

Do the Twelve Days of Christmas. Send a card or small gift that represents one of the twelve days. Send all at once to Mom or Dad just after Thanksgiving, so there’s time for shipping, and have the kiddo open one every day starting on the 13th of December. End the series on Christmas Day with a story about the song’s origin and what each gift means.

There are some really cute subscription boxes that are fun for kids. Check out Little Passports. They have several programs, like geography. Each month, the child receives a box full of activities that help the child learn about the subject. The boxes are fun and not too expensive.

Even if you can’t be there to attend a play or concert with a child, you can certainly send tickets to such events. Get enough tickets for Mom and Dad to go too.

Here’s a really cute tradition you could start with your grand kids. Buy a best-selling book for the child based on their age group. On the front or back blank pages, write the accomplishments of the grandchild that year. Sign the book and send it to the kiddo. He/she will have a whole library of keepsake books from you, by the time they are 18.

Grandparents Spoiling Grandchildren - Alternatives to Buying GiftsAdvent calendars and Christmas Count Downs are really fun for kids. They are available commercially, or you can make your own (See Pinterest) Make it a tradition and find a really cool, unique one each year to send. If you have more than one grandchild, be sure to send one for each kid. They have to do enough sharing, so this is one thing they should have of their own. Besides, if there is only one treat or gift for each day, how are they going to split it? It’s best they each get one.

Send hobby gifts. Buy two of the same hobby gift; one for the grandkid, and one for you. Decide on a day that you can work together on your new hobby. FaceTime, or send videos or pictures of you working on your hobby, and have Mom or Dad send pics of the grandkid working on his/hers. Send each other samples of what you’ve made with the hobby kit.

Send a gift of furniture. This year I found a little desk and chair combo for my oldest grandchild. He has a million toys, but he doesn’t have a desk. He will enjoy it and remember it’s from Grams and Gramps, whereas, he might not remember where one of a million toys comes from. You can get the grandchild his own chair, or toy box, or a fun headboard for his bed.

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When our first grandson’s brother was born, we got the older brother a teepee for his room, and we had Mom and Dad save it to open when Grams and Gramps visited. Gramps helped our kiddo put the teepee together. The grandson loves the teepee and often takes his naps in it. I even saw pictures of the kiddo sleeping in his teepee in a hotel room on one of their overnight trips. Score for Grams and Gramps.

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In Conclusion

You don’t need to buy dozens of toys for the grand kids. They likely won’t remember where the toys came from anyway. But they will likely remember experiences you facilitate for them, or that you can take them to. Personalized gifts and experiences are much more memorable than mass-produced toys. And you will likely spend less money on experiences than you would on those expensive toys. So get creative. Share your ideas with Mom and Dad to see what works best for everyone. Plan ahead. Then enjoy making new holiday memories for your grandchildren, and for yourself!

Please put your comments and questions below, and thank you so much for reading!



Rhonda Stetson


  1. Hi Rhonda

    Very interesting post. I am not a grandparent, but I can you give a view from a grandchild.

    I am not a materialistic person, for me, spending time together and doing things together is more satisfying than receiving materialistic things. Even if the time spent is only once a year(so are the Christmas and birthday presents)

    Although I do believe that this can be very hard for a grandparent. A child’s toys can be forgotten and thrown away, memories can’t be lost.

    • Hi Martin, thank you for checking out my post.  Yes, it is really hard for a grandparent to be far away from the grand kids.  It’s bittersweet.  I am so proud of them, and I hang on every picture and every phone call.  Thank goodness for our cell phones and the internet!  While I am bursting with pride and joy, I am sad because I can’t be there, to help my daughter with the boys, or to read stories or go for walks.  So yes, it kinda sucks, but in researching for this article, I got  few ideas on how to spend time with the little guys even when I can’t be with them.  Thanks again for your thoughts!  Rhonda

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