We could see from across the family room that a layer of dust had settled on top of the Legos. We had picked up at least a dozen Nerf guns scattered throughout the house. And we had found parking spaces for all eight Barbie cars.
We were done with toys. And, based on the volume of disregarded playthings in our house, so were the kids. So, last Christmas, we shocked the system and did something different. We didn’t buy a single toy. Instead, we wrapped experiences.
We didn’t need batteries or gift receipts for returns, and we had nothing to clean up. What the kids came away with were lasting memories of adventures — something that isn’t available in any store.
We did wrap a few things: Each child got a hydration pack stocked with binoculars, a compass, a personalized passport of upcoming excursions and a headlamp. Then, each unwrapped a clue to his or her own adventure, accompanied by a related item like a survival bracelet, a scarf or a beach towel.
Consider what’s possible:
Tiger feeding and zip-lining
At Out of Africa Wildlife Park, you can choose either a one-time zip or the multi-platform zip, and swing over the Camp Verde park’s wild animals, including lions and tigers. We could actually hear a lion roaring from one of the platforms, which was pretty sweet. And, while we were there, we gave one of kids the chance to feed a tiger — which initially sounded terrifying to him, until he saw the fence that separated him from the big cat.
Visits to national parks
We did a few this year, with kids and without, including Zion and Arches in Utah and Pinnacles and Channel Islands in California. We also purchased an annual pass so we can visit all the national parks still on our wish list. One of the coolest programs is Every Kid in a Park, which gives families of fourth graders an annual pass to encourage engagement with the outdoors. nps.gov
Learning to shoot
We didn’t get a Red Ryder BB gun like the one Ralphie wanted in “A Christmas Story,” but we did get a Daisy, and taught them all how to use it — girls included. They also know how to shoot a bow. With an emphasis on safety, we let them practice in the backyard, at the range and at events sponsored by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Through a series of birthdays, we’ve been doling out snorkel sets, making it easier to find critters and shells on the coast. We arranged for an educational encounter for our two oldest girls at Dolphinaris at OdySea in the Desert near Scottsdale, which prompted us to swear off plastic straws for good. And, we jumped in with the four oldest for a scuba-type adventure at OdySea Aquarium next door, where they got to feed fish underwater, walk around with stingrays and marvel at being in a tank with a (non-aggressive) shark.
Of course, adventures don’t necessarily require admission. It could mean an easy trip to a nearby lake to fish. It could be a cannonball into a swimming hole, a sunset in the mountains or an atlas-guided road trip, batteries not included, which is just fine.
The best part? Now they’re asking for adventures, instead of things.
Lisa Van Loo is a freelance journalist. Ron Abelar is an avid outdoorsman and photographer. Together, they are parenting five children in Gilbert. Follow them on Instagram @RaisingOutdoorKids.