top of page

Real Mom Talk: Gifts!

Hi! I'm Anna Richardella, mom of 2 boys under 2 and board certified behavior analyst. I've been working with children for as long as I can remember and began working with children on the autism spectrum when I was in high school as a babysitter. Needless to say, I pride myself on being knowledgeable in the "kids toys" realm. Before I became a mom myself, I loved finding the best and most fun gifts for children in my family and friend groups, and often I got great feedback that their kids loved that gift the most! But when I had my older son and his first Christmas came around, I was already sick of the overload of toys we had that went mostly unused. I had decided that I wanted to start the tradition of gifting (and receiving) experiences rather than "things".

The concept of gifting experiences proved somewhat difficult for some of our family who just wanted to see the kids' eyes light up when they opened a new toy, so I doubled down and started looking into the best experience gifts. Now, if you decide to adopt this concept in your family, be prepared that not everyone is going to be on board, but it will drastically reduce the number of "things" you get that get thrown in a closet or donated after only a couple of months. I would love to share with you some of our favorite experience gifts that we have both given and received; and for my local New Jersey readers, I'll include some specific spots for you to check out!

To date, my favorite experience was when my family gifted us swimming lessons for my son. We began when he was 5 months old and continued lessons for 3 months. We used Goldfish Swim School and loved their "Mini" class. This was an amazing opportunity for my husband and I to get involved in the lesson and take turns swimming with our son and spending time connecting with him. Luca loved swim lessons, as evidenced by his big old grin while we waited our turn and smiles and giggles throughout the lesson.

Next up is my favorite gift to give: a trip to the aquarium! We love Jenkinson's in Point Pleasant, NJ especially for younger children, and the Adventure Aquarium in Camden is a great day trip. What I especially love about gifting a trip to the aquarium is that you can make it a special day to spend together. We have used this gift for so many cousins and friends with children age 0-8, but to be honest, I think the adults have even more fun than the kids. Be aware that most aquariums force you to exit through the gift shop! Since the whole point of this post is experiences, not things, I'd like to give you some tips as to how you can get your child through the gift shop with little-to-no hassle!

  1. If your child sees a toy/item they want but you do not want to purchase, offer to take a picture of it and keep it as a memory of their trip. Offer for your child to take the picture. Make sure you sound excited and talk about how great it will be that your child can always remember this fun trip when they look at the picture they took.

  2. Let your child play with some of the items a little (if appropriate). They may get bored fairly quickly and move on.

  3. Plan your trip around a meal (i.e., before lunch) so that you can use this as leverage to move on. You can say, "Hey, I know this gift shop looks super fun, but I bet you're hungry! Let's go get lunch, I know they have your favorite!" Just be sure to not let your child get hangry if you plan to use this option! Meltdowns in public places are no fun for you or your child.

Similarly, the zoo is a fun experience gift. Cape May Zoo has always been my favorite, but I have heard great things about Popcorn Park Zoo as well! If you're ever in East Texas, we had a great experience at Caldwell Zoo in Tyler and have been visiting that zoo for over 15 years when we are in town. The zoo (and aquarium) are great places to work on a variety of developmental skills, while having fun too! Label animals, have your child point to animals that are brown, ask "which animal is your favorite?" You can even work on recalling when it's time to leave.

Children's museums are fun, interactive learning experiences that will help to make so many core memories! Since my boys are both still fairly young, we haven't done these ourselves but I have accompanied clients on trips to various children's museums. The Please Touch Museum and Liberty Science Center are my favorites!

Of course, a list of experience gifts wouldn't be complete without indoor play places. Recently, we attended a birthday party at Jungle Jim and Jane in Atlantic Highlands and I was blown away by the cleanliness, organization, and how welcoming the staff were. Often, play places will provide single play sessions or packages, open play, or scheduled class times. There are places that are run by therapists like occupational or speech therapists too!

Additional experience gifts include tickets to amusement parks, tuition for summer camps or enrichment classes. I also like to include swing sets, slides, water tables and other outdoor activities in experience gifts! They are great for a wide range of ages, abilities, and help to make memories too.

I hope that this has helped you come up with some gift ideas for your child or someone you know! Please make sure to follow along on social media for the most up-to-date events and information!

23 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page