It’s the second week of December. Are you shopped out yet? I find buying presents for my kids equal parts frustrating and exciting.  Their desires change from day-to-day. Whatever thing they’ve just seen in a commercial or on the shelf is the thing they must have for Christmas or DIE. As parents we have to out think, or at least out guess, those whims and balance them with our own requirements.

I saw a little bit of wisdom floating around the Internet that read: “Give them something they want, something they need, something they wear, and something they read.”  While my kids don’t need clothes and I’m not sure our house can handle a single book more, this gets to the core of our gift giving dilemma.  How do we round out the rampant commercialism of the next big thing with more value and meaning? I thought I’d share a few questions that I started to ask when buying Christmas presents.

How can I extend their interests?

More than likely, you child’s list focuses on one or two main themes. Think about what they can learn about those things. My son has obsessed over Hot Wheels for years now. Christmas and birthdays could pile up more tracks, more cars, and more collecting containers than would fit into our house. Instead, for his birthday, we bought him a build-your-own engine kit. This extended his interest in cars to a deeper understanding of how they work. He loved it!  A few years ago, when I thought I’d scream if I saw another princess, we bought our daughter a doll fashion design kit. We couldn’t have predicted how she took to designing. Now-a-days the princesses serve as models for her unique creations rather than toys.

How will my kids use this?

Some of the most popular toys this year don’t require kids to do anything but press a button. So after a few days of pressing the button, they lose interest and the toy goes on the shelf.  Consider what your gift will lead to. Will it make them think? Get their creative ideas flowing? Spark their imagination? Get them outside and moving? I try to give a good mix of quiet and active presents.

Does this work practically?

It’s so easy to get caught up and forget the aftermath of gift giving season. Sure you want to buy that gorgeous dollhouse or painting easel, but do you have room for it in your house? Can you afford it? Will your kids still be interested in it three weeks from now? Does it mesh well with the things they already have? Practical doesn’t always have to be boring.  It makes sense to think ahead to what’s coming. If you have a long car ride or a snowy winter ahead, new inside activities will be a gift for all of you! The reverse is also true. Adding a little practicality to something fun is a good idea, too. Wrapping kits, doll accessories, or anything that comes with little parts in a plastic container they can be kept in makes life simpler! (Keep it really practical with the article: Learn to Spend Less on Seasonal Gifts)

Can I make a lasting memory?

Time spent with you can be the most valuable gift of all. Giving your kids an activity that you can do together or you can teach them. If you know how to knit or paint or bake, passing that on will be an unending gift. Even just going out to do something together can extend the joy and create moments your kids will remember their whole lives. With all of the deal-of-the-day websites out there, you can easily find a new adventure to take. And just think, you don’t have to store it!

There are so many ways to go beyond the commercial-fueled lists of your kids. Apply a little creativity and you’ll find magic. Whatever ends up under the tree, embrace the joy. And your kids!