Every so often, I see letters to advice columns about parents whose kids have every toy imaginable. The parents want to instill in their child the value of charity and want them to give toys away. Or people complain that kids are materialistic and don't appreciate what they have (yet add to the present pile).
I do wish people would stop complaining about how materialistic kids today are. I heard it when I was a kid; I'm sure my parents heard it as well. Yet the very same people who complained about that were part of the problem by adding to the present pile. If you think there's a problem, don't be part of the problem. And while we're at it, let's keep in mind that sometimes people have very good reasons for doing things we may not advocate. Here's the thing: I used to be absolutely certain that I'd never let my kids watch TV if I ever changed my mind on the kid thing, that TV was evil, and that kids didn't need it. Then I babysat my niece (and later, my nephew). No, they do not need TV. But I needed them to sit in front of it for 15 minutes so I could use the bathroom. Or catch my breath. Or clean up the mess the toddler tornado made. So. . .let's just say I got schooled quickly.
OK, rant over. Now, here are some alternatives I have used instead of adding to the toy pile.
Get them a book. This seems counter-intuitive as you're getting them something, but if they're readers they will appreciate it. (Also, I'm not against gift-giving, but am for giving in ways that won't add to the toy pile). It will also encourage them to be readers. I have never heard a parent complain their kid has too many books (and if they truly do, they can swap them for other books). Both of my niece and nephew enjoy reading.
Send money to their college account if they have one. You'll have to get the information from their parents (the bank, the address, the account number, etc.) and they may not be comfortable with that if you're not close. You can also get a savings bond for the child for college.
Spend time with them.You can take them to a movie, take them to the park, do a
project with them, or just hang out. You don't have to plan a flash
I used to have my niece over for sleepovers. We'd go to the playground near my place, we'd make her favorite dinner (well, I'd make it--Chinese food), we'd read stories and take walks and build quilt forts. When my nephew was born, their family was busy enough that we weren't able to do that as much, but I did have him over for the day. Yes, we took full advantage of the nearby playground, watched cartoons, and (I) made his favorite dinner (meatballs).
You'll have to do this when they're younger; as they get older they get into sports and hang out with their friends more often. My parents and my sister and brother-in-law used to say that I didn't have to watch my niece (and later my nephew) when we were all together; but I knew that soon enough they'd be older and would rather do other things than hang out with their Aunt Pamela. Which is as it should be. That they have a friends they want to hang out with and sports they want to play is a good thing.
What are things you do for the kids in your life? What are alternatives to yet another toy that the kids in your life will enjoy and their parents won't object to?