Beyond the Toy Box: 6 Unique, Untraditional Gift Ideas

It’s that time of year again! There’s a crispness in the air, Christmas music playing on the radio, a hot cup of cocoa in hand, and a long list of names for your holiday shopping.

So what will it be this year? A new doll for Holly? The latest Lego set for Hunter? Perhaps the new game gear for all three kiddos?

Not for this mama!

I’ve got enough games for a lifetime and toys coming out of my ears. If you’re like me, you’re looking for something a little more unique, a memorable experience, something educational–NOT something that’s going to sit at the bottom of the toy bin.

Here are my top 6 suggestions for untraditional gifts this holiday shopping season.

untraditional gift giving ideas

1. The Travel Enthusiast

The newest craze is monthly subscription boxes. There’s Stitch Fix for women, the Dollar Shave Club for Men, and even the Bark Box for your furry friend. Recently my husband came across a subscription that is PERFECT for our oldest. She loves to learn about other countries and plans to travel to Europe with us this summer, so this gift is just what she needs. It’s called Little Passports. The box is suited for kids ages 3-13 and includes different packages for the national or the international traveler.

2. The Explorer

My daughter is very much into bugs, animals, and nature, so my parents got her a subscription to National Geographic’s kids edition last Christmas. She LOVES getting her monthly subscription in the mail, and the magazine has great articles and activities. It’s well worth the cost of $15.00! They even have an option for digital download for $12. Pair the subscription with a cute little stuffed animal and tickets to the University of Iowa’s Natural History Museum and you’ll have the PERFECT exploration gift.

untraditional gift giving ideas

3. The Budding Artist

If there’s one thing that Iowa City does well, it’s the support and opportunities for local artists. So why not start them young? With this gift you can purchase the top-of-the-line supplies at Dick Blick Art Supply and pair them with gift certificates to local artist workshops. Big Picture Gallery and Studio has options for all ages and ability levels. For the younger Picasso, Renee’s Ceramic Cafe is a great place to start and get creative. For the more experienced Michelangelo, consider purchasing classes at places like the Prairie School of Art or Maroger Fine Art Classes. Your little one can take what they’ve learned in their classes and create a masterpiece for the home using their gift of art supplies!

4. The Master Chef

Do your kids like to help with dinner? Or watch you intently as you whip up a batch of fresh muffins? Then this untraditional gift will help satisfy their bellies. Becky’s Mindful Kitchen offers a variety of kid cooking classes for the beginner and the intermediate child chef. Classes include sweet and savory camps for a variety of taste buds.

Looking for something a little simpler to get started? Kirkwood Community College also offers basic cookie baking classes for kids along with HyVee grocery. Check out their continuing ed section and events calendar for specific dates. Pair these classes with some kitchen utensils, such as a fun and decorative set of bowls and colorful baking spoons that they can use when they are whipping up their tasty treats.

5. The Moon Gazer

Did you know that we have an observatory in the Corridor? If you have a child that is interested in the stars, then this gift will be perfect! The Palisades – Dows Preserve is located near Ely and Mt. Vernon. Memberships for the observatory includes access to their facilities, telescopes, and astronomical resources for individuals and for families. You can access the membership form or visit their website for more information.

Want to turn it into a gift basket? Go galaxy themed with a killer night light. My sister purchased this for my youngest’s birthday and it was an absolute hit! Then top it off with one of my favorite Etsy sellers, Pebbleplush! Your child will then go to sleep Christmas night in their very own galaxy while dreaming of their adventures at the observatory.

6. Your Little Wonder

Does your little one have a heart of gold? Are they constantly searching for ways to do good deeds for everyone that they meet? This package will be just the thing for them!

Everyone is excited for the release of the movie, Wonder, based off of the novel written by Raquel J. Palacio. Wonder tells the story of a young boy with facial differences that shows everyone at his new school that beauty comes from within. The book is #1 on the New York Times best seller list and is a FANTASTIC read. This is a good book that kids can read on their own or have read to them.

Wrap the book with a handful of rocks (yes, that’s right) some paint, and paint brushes. The newest thing in the Corridor area are the Corridor Rocks! Kids (and parents) in the area are decorating rocks to place throughout the city to brighten someone else’s day. Read up on the trend and find out details on how to participate. Pair the book and an “America Needs Love” shirt from Raygun, and it is the perfect kindness gift.

Go beyond toys and gizmos this year. Try out some of these unique gift ideas, and enjoy watching your loved ones interact with the world in creative, thoughtful ways. 

Have any fun suggestions to add to our list? 


Mary, a native of Rockford, Illinois, attended DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois where she received her BA in Secondary Art Education. In 2007, she moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa after accepting a position as a high school visual arts teacher with the Cedar Rapids Community School District. She and her husband, Collin, who is a teacher in the Iowa City Community School District, reside in Cedar Rapids with their daughters, Zoey and Munroe. Zoey is five and Munroe will be turning one in October 2016. In addition to being a full time mommy, full time teacher, and writer for the mom’s blog, she is also a professional artist who has shown and published works both nationally and internationally. Mary enjoys traveling, painting, and most of all, spending time with her family.


  1. Big Picture Studio is a North Liberty option for budding artists. My 5yo loves the art classes here for kids! Google “big Picture North Liberty”.


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