Children get so many presents these days that when Christmas and birthdays roll around you can find yourself reluctant to add to the haul. Instead, what about buying an experience gift for kids?
Tempting though it is to fulfil their every desire, ask yourself, really, do they actually need an Elsa dress or Hot Wheels track? There’s an argument that childhood should be more about doing, rather than getting, things, though it’s easy to lose sight of that as Christmas-gift advertising ramps up. But what about an activity or experience gift, giving your children (or others you buy for) the opportunity to try something they ordinarily wouldn’t do. It’ll be remembered long after the Elsa dress is torn and the Hot Wheels track is broken.
Here are 5 brilliant experience gifts for kids:
1. National Trust membership
The sheer number and variety of National Trust properties makes them a great day out, but without membership, repeat visits can get expensive. Buy a family membership and you can treat these places as you would a park, going every weekend or more. It isn’t just about fusty old houses, either – think crisp walks along the sea front, bike rides through woodland and picnics in idyllic gardens. The National Trust also organises lots of outdoor activities, such as climbing, and canoeing in rivers and creeks. During school holidays, meanwhile, it lays on events like den-building and wild art – a boon for exhausted parents, who can go and hide out in the tea room. Under-5s go free anyway, but family membership covers one adult plus children (£65 per year) or two adults and their children (£104 per year).
2. Goodwood Young Driver course
Got a young person who can’t wait to get behind the wheel of a car? Give them the chance to zoom around Goodwood’s world-famous track in a Mini 3-door Hatch. It’s all very safe and secure – children are accompanied by a qualified expert – although, as a parent, you’ll no doubt still be anxiously chewing your knuckles on the sidelines. There’s no lower age limit, but children must be tall enough to reach the pedals, which in real terms means being 1.5 metres tall. A tall 8 or 9-year-old would definitely qualify. Sessions cost £90 and run at weekends on selected dates throughout the year.
3. Into the Blue
Like Red Letter Days or Virgin Experience Days, Into the Blue offers one-of-a-kind days out for people of all ages. Most of the 2,000 activities on offer are adults-only, but there are a few tailored especially to children. These include the Kids Superstar Singer, which allows wannabe pop stars to lay down a track with music producers in a professional studio. If you’re looking for something a bit more outdoorsy, kids can try falconry, archery or shooting, knight training as well as a cowboy adventure in the New Forest. Vehicle-obsessed kids can also have a go at hovercrafting, quad biking and truck driving. If you want to do something together, there’s family powerboating, or even a family bushcraft weekend. Prices vary depending on the activity, but start at around £20. Vouchers can be booked online and are valid for 12 months.
4. Circus school
The National Centre for Circus Arts, just off Hoxton Square in East London, takes clowning around very seriously indeed. It’s one of Europe’s leading providers of circus education and is one of the best places to study for a degree or post-grad in circus arts. For those who see the circus as more of a hobby thing, it also offers fabulous youth experience days. These allow kids aged 8-16 the chance to learn skills such as trapeze, diabolo and tightwire walking. You can buy a child a voucher for a youth experience day, which costs £56.
Under-8s needn’t miss out, either. You can book them onto one of the 12-week circus courses that run each term. Even children as young as two can sign up, and learn skills like balance and coordination in a fun, unusual way.
5. Horse-riding in Hyde Park
Most horse-riding schools offer vouchers, allowing you to buy a lesson for a young pony-lover. But if you want to give your gift a little extra wow factor, book a lesson at Hyde Park Stables. That way you can make a real day of it and afterwards go for lunch, or better still, an ice-cream sundae at Fortnum & Mason’s. If you’re feeling flush, you can always follow that with a trip to see Matilda or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the West End. As you’d expect, lessons at Hyde Park Stables aren’t the cheapest – prices range from £85-£125. But you’re guaranteed spectacular surroundings, as well as five miles of bridleways and two arenas. All levels are welcome, all year round.