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It’s that time of the year again. The time where we’re thinking about what to gift our children, it’s almost the end of the year, and those product ads are everywhere but your house is still just as cluttered. 

 Here are some practical gift ideas:


Little people need little things that make life feel possible. Maybe instead of stickers and bubble bottles in their stocking this year, gift them a kid-sized set of utensils to make mealtimes more attractive.

Maybe you used to bake, but haven’t been able too much after having kids. Tell yourself you’ll bake more treats for neighbors and friends, and get that kid-sized hand mixer for your pre-schooler or wooden mixing spoon to inspire your pint-sized patissier.  

Maybe you’ve planned to build a kid chair for a long time, or repair a bird-feeder. If you have a woodshed in your garage, maybe your child is old enough to begin pounding in a few nails to help you put together that new crib for the baby. 

Think about practical life tools that will not only empower your kid as gifts, but also as an opportunity to spend more time together. 


Instead of the latest toy, how about tickets to a musical? Perhaps you have a toddler, how about checking out the Bay Area Children’s Theatre in Berkeley?

Does your kid tap a beat and hum a tune all day long? How about an outing to watch the Berkeley Youth Orchestra, Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra, or even the San Francisco Symphony? 

For the littler ones, maybe a membership to the Oakland Zoo or San Francisco Zoo, maybe the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, Crab Cove Visitor Center in Alameda, or Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont. 

Maybe you have a Friday free and want to share an activity with your kid. Dress for mess and take a trip to the Randall Museum for their Active Art drop-in ($10 per child/ adult pair) for infants and toddlers 14 months to 4 years. And if you’re looking for something longer-term to commit to, check out My First Art Class in San Francisco, where babies and toddlers 18 months to 4 years old get to play with clay, glitter, stickers, paint and more. 



Have you heard of Adventure Playground? If your kid is 3 and above, they’ll love Adventure Playground. Located by the Berkeley Marina, it’s often described as a giant junk yard. But you know what kids love? Junk! It’s their treasure! This is a place where your kids can hammer nails and paint pretty much anything they see. 

You’ll see the older kids making furniture or little things (anything you make you can bring home if you want) out of scrap wood. Yep, scrap wood. Local contractors bring their excess wood here and kids get to hammer, saw, build, destroy, and do whatever their imaginations can conjure. Parents need to stick with the littler ones so they can help them out, and older kids can take a swing on the zipline or climb the wooden structures.  

To earn a tool, one must “find” and turn in five hazardous things or five nails. Not difficult to find if you borrow their homemade metal detector.

Tip: Wear playclothes that you don’t mind getting dirty/ ripped/ paint on and covered shoes. Aprons provided but kids will be kids.  

Sometimes, it’s fun to explore within boundaries. Check out the Teddy Bear Hip Hop classes for 3-year-olds at Destiny Arts Center, or gymnastics for little ones as young as 18 months at Head Over Heels Athletic Arts



With unexpected bills and other surprises, it’s easy to feel like we don’t have much to spare. Here are some ways to gift without spending:

Regifting: As parents and adults, many of us have things stored away that can be regifted. Maybe it’s a cute wallet we always thought we’d use, or a bag we bought at a museum gift shop. Honestly, I could write my daughter’s name on a handkerchief in glitter glue and she would love it. 

Slime’s in: If you have an older child, you could probably tell them that you’re going to make slime with them for their birthday. All you need is white glue, Borax (Sodium Tetraborate), water, some containers and a stirrer. If you don’t have Borax, you can also use baking soda and contact lens solution. For delighted children, add food coloring, glitter, confetti, colored beads, action figures, fragrance oils etc

Picnic: So many of us spend most of our day working, and when we get home, we may decompress with more time with technology. How about a gift of a technology-free day with our children, with a picnic near a playground where everyone helps make snacks from food in the refrigerator beforehand? Make a day of it starting with a Family Picnic Prep where everyone has tasks. Younger children could juice the oranges or gather one toy each they can play with everyone - ball, frisbee, beanbag game. They could mash potatoes or eggs for.a salad or sandwich, or mix the salad. Make it a day to remember.

Free/ cheap events: Living in the Bay also means there are tons of free events to check out. Here are some coming up:

  • November 2: Bay Area Science Festival at Oracle Park, SF

  • November 2: Dia de los Muertos - Day Of The Dead Procession and Festival of Altars, Mission District, San Francisco

  • November 2: East Bay Science Discovery Day, The Academy, 2722 Benvenue Ave, Berkeley

  • November 10: Family Fun Day, Asian Art Museum, SF

  • November 22: building lighting ceremony and Winter fireworks, Embarcadero Center, SF 

  • November 29: Union Square Christmas tree lighting ceremony, 6.40pm

Nia House

A Montessori Toddler & Preschool Program serving Berkeley since 1974