Ah, that annual holiday tradition — casting about for just the right gift for your child. Sometimes that can be the source of stress — many kids have more than enough “stuff” at home already. This year, more than ever, many parents are looking to have a simple holiday season that refocuses on family togetherness and valuing experiences over things.
Given the supply chain and shipping issues as well, non-tangible “experience” gifts can be the way to go for something that doesn’t add clutter to your home, invigorates the local economy, isn’t subject to delays, and that has the potential to create cherished childhood memories or spark a new interest. As always, be sure to check the COVID-19 precautions outlined by each business owner and be prepared to follow their guidelines.
“Experience” Gifts for Kids in the Iowa City Area
4139 Croscheck Rd., Solon
Becky offers an array of virtual and in-person camps and events at her farm outside of Solon. Cooking combines with outdoor play in many of her public and private events. There is a treehouse, baby goats, zipline, ninja course, archery, slackline, professional kitchen, outdoor pizza oven, and more. Sign your kids up for a mindful leadership workshop, a cooking class, an outdoor play and baby animal experience, or work with her to design a private event.
1801 2nd St. #230, Coralville
Brush and Barrel offers guided canvas-painting events for all ages, both public and private, plus a new “splatter paint experience” for a child and their friends! They also have DIY kits to complete on your own.
Pink Umbrella regularly offers pre-packaged cookie kits, featuring a dozen themed cookies and all the supplies for decorating, around a seasonal theme. Currently, a Hawkeye-themed cookie-decorating kit is available for shipping or local pickup.
3378 480th St. SW, Iowa City
Whether it’s regular horseback riding lessons, a private “pony party,” or an individual, one-off experience where you can groom and ride one of the sweet ponies or horses who call this farm home, Noel Maier can work with you to create the perfect pony experience for your horse-obsessed kiddo.
PO Box 326, Swisher, IA
Speaking of sweet farm animals, do you have a kid who loves llamas? Check out offerings for a “Selfie and Snuggles with Llamas” session or join a seasonal event at Prairie Patch Farm.
1451 Coral Ridge Ave., Coralville
Pick up a punch card for ten visits of open leisure skating, a punch card for programming including hockey skills, or gift a session of lessons.
185 Highway 965 #3, North Liberty
Gift a session of private lessons, a group class like Preschool Art Adventure, open studio time, a take and make an art project, admission to a public event like guided canvas painting or a clay creation, or a private group event for your kids and friends. Gift certificates can be purchased online, as well — so many possibilities!
College and Gilbert Streets (two locations in Iowa City)
Grab a gift card to be used for admission to a fun family film and delicious concessions. (Marcus Theatres at Coral Ridge Mall and Sycamore Mall have gift cards, too.)
851 Highway 6 E #102, Iowa City
Get out of the house in the middle of winter and get some physical activity by jumping at the trampoline park! There’s an American Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course, an American Gladiators-style jousting area, and comfy chairs for grown-ups, too.
University of Iowa Campus Recreation and Wellness Center
Gift some day passes to enjoy the leisure pool in the middle of winter, including the lazy river, water “vortex,” and in-pool climbing wall. Out of the water, there is also a massive rock-climbing wall where kids can strap into a harness and scale it to the top. Visit the sauna and steam room, too, for a midwinter pick-me-up!
Grab a gift certificate or sign your child up for a camp, art class, STEM workshop, or youth sports league — an entire catalog of activities is available each season! Or grab a punch pass so kids can visit either the Robert A. Lee or Mercer Park rec center indoor pools several times — a treat in the winter! Robert A. Lee has a shallow “wading pool” and an in-pool climbing wall in the deep end, too. When my kids were small, there were also punch passes to Tot Time, an open gym time at Mercer Park with exciting toys and bounce houses (would be great for toddlers and preschoolers!). Swim lessons, or even scuba lessons, are also an option at Diventures North Liberty.
The indoor pool is set to reopen in early December, and kids can join an array of activities this winter! I’ve heard tell of an open gym membership, too, that might be the ticket for a teen who loves to play basketball or otherwise utilize the facilities to play with friends.
Coralville kids, too, can be gifted a pool pass or registration to an array of exciting rec center-affiliated activities and events.
940 S. Gilbert Ct., Iowa City
Paint an item from the array of blank useful and decorative pottery pieces in the studio — what a relaxing family activity for a winter afternoon, and great for an intergenerational group, too! Or grab a take and make kit and do it at home.
Coral Ridge Mall, Iowa City
An annual membership or a day pass is the gift that keeps on giving at this huge museum designed just for kids. There are exhibits appropriate for babies through tweens, all allowing kids to imagine, create, discover and explore STEAM concepts through the power of play.
805 2nd St., Coralville
This new restaurant allows you to eat inside a boat and then play a rousing game of darts, foosball, or mini-golf. What kid wouldn’t love a little indoor mini-golf?!
2253 Old Highway 218 S, Iowa City
Iowa City’s wonderfully kitschy bowling alley offers both indoor mini-golf and, of course, bowling. (Please, go look at the wallpaper in the women’s bathroom while you’re there.)
171 Highway 1 W, Iowa City, and 395 Beaver Kreek Centre, North Liberty
While we’re on the topic of games, Pizza Ranch in Iowa City and North Liberty have arcade areas in addition to their pizza buffets. Play some games and redeem your tickets for small prizes!
200 Collins Rd NE, Cedar Rapids
Take a trip up the road and visit the enormous indoor climbing/crawling/sliding play structure at the Playstation. It will keep kids busy for hours! There’s an arcade and a snack bar, too.
The Iowa Heartlanders are a professional minor league hockey team, new to Coralville. Visit Xtream Arena and watch them play. Hockey is an exciting, fast-paced sport, and a game is a great winter outing for all ages.
Women’s and men’s basketball, swimming and diving, wrestling, and gymnastics are all possibilities for your sports-loving kids this winter! Purchase tickets and let them bring a friend, buy everyone a big ice cream cone, and cheer on the Hawkeyes!
Live Theater and Music
Check the schedules for the Paramount Theater in Cedar Rapids; Theatre Cedar Rapids; Coralville Center for the Performing Arts; Englert Theater; Hancher Auditorium; and Riverside Theater. Give your child the gift of the magic of live theater! Swan Lake at the Paramount and Legally Blonde: The Musical at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts are two shows I’m eyeing for my tween and teen daughters.
Spa services (massage, pedicure, facial, etc).
There are a plethora of places to go in Iowa City and surrounding areas, but my daughter has enjoyed a relaxing massage with Megan Valencia of Valencia Bodywork as a gift in the past (she has gift certificates) and has also enjoyed a manicure/pedicure with family members and friends at Venus Nails.
What about a round of lessons that allow your child to explore and dip a toe into a new skill? Fencing; dance at University of Iowa Youth Ballet (including Wee Dance, a wonderfully inclusive, low-stakes yet innovative and high-quality creative movement class for toddlers and preschoolers), Nolte Academy, or National Dance Academy; Irish step dance with The Champagne Academy of Irish dance (a great workout and a cultural lesson to boot, with classes for preschoolers through adult beginners!); gymnastics at Gym-Nest (they have an open-play time during the week at lunch that would also be a fun option for the littles); and coding and digital design with Stairway5 STEM Academy are all options.