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5 Non-Toy Gift Ideas for the Military Family in Your Life

It’s that time of year again, friends; the Christmas shopping season is upon us.

In every store we enter, expertly executed displays will entice us. Festive tunes will coax us.  Children will thumb through toy catalogs, eagerly selecting dozens of this year’s most proficiently marketed baubles … it’s practically a rite of passage.

And at their core, there’s nothing wrong with toys; they’re part of the fabric of childhood. Many toys foster critical thinking skills, spatial awareness, and dexterity – all important developmental milestones. For many families, my own included, giving a gift in love is a foundational representation of why we celebrate Christmas. There comes a point, though, where things start feeling a little less like Toy Story and a little more like Toy Soldiers.

The “things” begin to take over.

Collectively, it seems that America is taking notice. Tiny houses, capsule wardrobes, and the KonMari method are now a part of our corporate language and national identity. People are no longer willing to allow things to run their lives. For military families, this sentiment can be particularly poignant. Along with weight allowances and ever-changing floor plans, one of the major stresses of the military lifestyle is how to get ALL OF THAT STUFF from point A to point B. And once it’s there, you have to unpack it.  

So, this year consider gifting the military kiddos in your life a few non-toy gift items that are sure to fill their hearts and leave their closet space untouched. Their parents and future movers will thank you 😉


Paying for lessons is a fantastic way to enhance the lives of those you love without creating any extra clutter in their home. Not only will kids have the chance to explore new hobbies, but they also will have the opportunity to hone valuable and life-long skills. Voice, piano, and guitar lessons are a great place to start, and visual arts classes like painting, sculpting, and photography make for a unique broadening experience. Horseback riding and swimming also are perennial favorites. 


We’ve all spent the occasional weekend at home when nothing much was going on, or money was tight, wishing we had something to get us out of the house. Paying for a pass to the local skating rink, ski slopes, pool, or trampoline park  provides a great opportunity for kids to burn off some of that extra weekend energy. Passes to a local zoo or museum keep kids’ minds sharp and are great venues for the whole family. Maybe there’s a Renaissance fair in the area, or even a rodeo or amusement park. Tickets to the local movie theater or a gift card to the local fro-yo place foster a more low-key outing.

For an indoor activity sure to please the little book lover in your life, consider Book Boxes which help to make literature come alive. Whichever activity you choose, you’ll be helping to create lifelong memories for those you love.


 Most public schools offer several avenues to become involved in team sports. However, unless the school is on the larger side, more individualized sports are often not available. Providing a child’s gymnastics, karate, swimming, dance, archery, or golf sessions is a wonderful way to help a child build confidence and meet new people. If you’re feeling extra generous, chip in for the leotard, Speedo, slippers or clubs to go along with your chosen sport. An added bonus to these sports is that the necessary equipment is generally minimal and typically has excellent resale value.


Due to the vastly different climates military families vacillate between, they are often lacking in necessary gear specific to their area. Your mil-fam in The Great White North would probably love some child-sized snow shovels, cross-country skis, snowshoes, or any winter weather clothing item required to survive until their next assignment down south. Speaking of those Southerners, maybe they could use a CamelBak or new water bottle to stay hydrated. Lightweight baseball caps with their favorite character or team will help to keep the sun out of their eyes, and hiking sticks can help them pick their way through the swamps.  

Those lucky enough to be on OCONUS assignments may appreciate a great new stroller or baby/toddler carrier for all those weekends abroad. The beauty of duty-station-specific gear is that when the family is ready to move, they’ll easily be able to sell what they no longer need before they leave. We military families love a good yard sale!

Hobbies and Handicrafts

Learning a new hobby is a great way to spend the remainder of Christmas break, and it will continue to provide entertainment and stimulation long after the last of the wrapping paper is tossed out. Whittling, crocheting, knitting, origami, chess, and hand sewing or embroidery are inexpensive and interesting ways for kids to work with both their head and their hands. A fun bonus for the gift giver is that the child just may make you something next year if the hobby turns out to be a hit! 

Things To Keep in Mind

  • The key to selecting lovable non-toy gift items is simple: communication. If you’re unsure whether or not your gift idea will be a hit, just ask!
  • Use the location to your advantage! Help the military families in your life experience each location they live in to its fullest.
  • Be sure that the benefactor of your gifts will be able to use the items you select, or be sure that there is a return policy. No one needs two sets of passes to the zoo.

I guarantee that your loved ones will be more than happy to communicate with you about some of the non-toy gift items on this list. You’ll be providing them with opportunities to make enduring memories and gain new and exciting skills. 

One final word on gift giving … If someone has taken the time and effort and spent the money to provide your child with a gift, accept it enthusiastically and graciously. Even if it isn’t what you envisioned. Even if it isn’t what you would have chosen. Giving should always be met with gratitude.

How blessed are we to live at a time and in a place where our gifts are so plentiful that we have begun to run out of room for them?

My goodness. Blessed indeed. 

Will you make non-toy gift items one of your new family traditions?

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