Meaningful, inexpensive family gift exchange ideas to try

Susan Bearman has been searching for ways to teach her kids the importance of giving during what she calls the “I want” holiday season. Over the years, she has done everything from making homemade crafts to organizing group excursions to the dollar store in search of items like fly swatters and bath salts. Ultimately, the Evanston mom of four says, “I want my kids to understand that it is as important to learn to give as to receive.”

During the holiday season, all parents share a common objective: How do we teach our kids the importance of giving? Experienced recipients know that the best gifts come from the heart (it may be a cliché, but it’s true).

This year, rather than take your kids shopping to buy trinkets for one another, encourage them to get creative with their gift giving. Here are a few ideas for sibling gift exchanges that focus more on sentiment than money spent.

Homemade for the holidays

Gifts don’t have to be elaborate or perfect-just thoughtful. To come up with a creative gift idea, focus on the gift-giver’s skills and the recipient’s likes and interests.

Make “coupon books” redeemable for everything from help with household chores to at-home pedicures or even a special trip to the ice cream store to pick up a cone. Frame a picture of the siblings together in a wooden frame from a craft store and embellish with personal touches. Go through family photos and put together an album of favorites. Write an original poem or song. Surprise a sibling by washing her bike and filling the tires so it is ready to ride come spring. Burn a CD of big brother’s top 10 favorite songs. The artistically inclined could paint portraits of their siblings. Even younger kids can get involved with simple projects like creating homemade jewelry out of string, poster paints and uncooked pasta in various shapes.

Follow a family tradition (or start your own)

If you have a cherished gift-giving tradition among your sibling group, pass that idea down to your kids. Ada Vaughan of Lombard grew up in a family of five siblings. Last year, her brother was undergoing treatment for cancer during the holiday season. In lieu of buying gifts, her family pooled the money they would have spent on presents and gave it to her brother. They still wanted to do some sort of gift exchange and came up with a creative idea that didn’t cost a dime.

Vaughan and her sister decorated a small box for each member of the family with wrapping paper and ribbon. Everyone received a set of index cards and was instructed to write a note to each member of the family. On Christmas, the whole family opened their individual boxes of handwritten notes from all of the relatives.

“Everyone loved it. I keep the box on my dresser and still look at it from time to time,” says Vaughan, who definitely plans to continue this tradition with her own family. Even though her daughter is only 2, she says, “I want

to teach her at an early age that it is important to give thoughtful gifts during the holidays.”

If your family doesn’t have a specific gift-giving tradition, let this year be the start of one. For example, family members could simply write each other notes and tuck them into stockings to be read on Christmas morning.

A gift for the group

Rather than buy individual items for each member of the family, kids can instead choose a gift the whole group can experience together. For example, plan a day of sledding and hot chocolate. Make an invitation for each family member with all of the details.

Bearman recalls a group gift her whole family loved. “One year, all of the kids pitched in to buy a game for the family. They wrapped it up and we all opened it together one night of Hanukkah,” says Bearman.

Think community

Give a gift to a charity or organization in a sibling’s name. This is a great way to demonstrate the importance of making charitable contributions during the holiday season. For example, if your teenage daughter loves animals and volunteers at the local shelter, her sibling could make a donation to the shelter or a national organization that advocates for animal rights. Similarly, if your son’s baseball team is trying to raise funds for new equipment, a donation to the cause would make a great present.

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