Holiday gift guide: Choosing to give memories

Experiential gifts can be more memorable than the latest tech gadgets. iStock.

Every year since she turned 9, my daughter has asked for an iPhone for Christmas.

There are other items on her list, ranging from a dress she spotted at Target to an art set or a new tennis bag. This isn’t unexpected, but it does push our family to consider what we want our daughter to value.

Would we rather our children stockpile things or treasure experiences?

Parents tend to cave when it comes to fulfilling their children’s wish lists. Consumers plan to spend $715 on holiday shopping this year, according to consumer and retail analyst the NPD Group. We have personally resisted succumbing to every request and have decided to make a conscientious effort to emphasize the value of experiences all year.

RELATED: Does your child want a smartphone for Christmas? Here’s what to consider

One of the easiest ways to do this is to enjoy nature as a family. I often ask my daughter to ride her bike while I go for a jog, and we may stop to admire a particular flower or a monarch butterfly. Nandini immediately wants to photograph her surroundings. She gazes at the picture for a second and says, “Isn’t this cool, Mom?”

My husband and daughter spend at least one night a week playing tennis together. Edging away from purchasing things as she moves toward her tween years hasn’t always been an easy shift, but we’re learning to educate my daughter on the intangibles that come from connecting with family and friends.

We also let family members know that holiday traditions, rather than items, are more important throughout the year and during Christmas. When my daughter was young, my mother would gift a sum of money for a toy she coveted. Now during the holidays, Nandini and my mom have an As You Wish pottery date. They spend hours together picking out pottery, painting and comparing their art pieces. My daughter associates the pottery studio with happy memories with her grandmother.

Rather than forking over hundreds of dollars on a new electronic gadget, here are some ideas for fostering a love of experiences (and togetherness) over objects:

Take a field trip. Consider gifting your children a field trip to a place that you haven’t explored together. This might mean a visit to a museum, an amusement park, a hiking a trail you haven’t conquered or even taking a day trip to Flagstaff to go skiing.

Plan a vacation. Have kids discuss a travel destination they would like to visit. Make the trip about them, and let them know they can have a new experience on a trip of their choosing.

Plan a creative pursuit. Another inexpensive option is signing up the whole family for a painting or cooking class. There is a built-in guarantee that your kids will be talking about this experience, usually starting with the words, “Remember when we . . .”

Attend a play or concert. Plan to attend a concert or live performance with your child. Several Broadway productions also visit greater Phoenix.

Volunteer together. Volunteering during the holidays can be an important reminder for kids and adults about gratitude. Food banks and shelters are always needing canned goods, people to serve meals and donations. This is an easy way to show your kids that giving back is a way to connect with community. Families Giving Back also offers fun ways to volunteer as a family and to help local charities.

Host a craft party. Hosting a gingerbread house craft party with a few of your children’s friends can also help them connect with their peers. For a few hours, decorating these houses, sampling some of the goodies and admiring their creations will offer memories they can cherish.

There won’t be an iPhone waiting by the Christmas tree this year for our daughter, but I know she won’t be disappointed with the unexpected experiences she will get. The best gifts are memories that will resonate beyond her childhood.