The festive season has well and truly  arrived and we are hurtling full pelt through the most wonderful (see: most hectic) time of year, trying to enjoy the cool weather whilst frantically decorating, shopping and attempting to catch our breath before we have to catch a flight home to see the extended family. With all this going on it seems like a gold-medal-worthy achievement just to tick a few things off the little ones’ wish lists in time for the big day.

But as the dust settles it can be disheartening how quickly the toys we trawled Dubai Mall for at 11.pm on a Thursday night lose their novelty, how soon they get added to an ever-growing pile of ex-Christmas presents that don’t keep the kids occupied for long.

Less frustrating is choosing a present with all the fun and excitement of the latest flashing, whirring craze that nonetheless has a longer lasting impact: gifts that teach a new skill or an activity you can do as a family.

With this in mind we’ve compiled a run-down of some unique, creative gift ideas they’ll love – without a toy in sight! And an added bonus of many of these is that they won’t leave you desperately calculating luggage weight when making the trip back to granny and grandad’s house – having to choose between your hair straighteners and your kids’ Christmas presents is a harrowing experience best avoided. 

1. A personalised storybook 

It’s common knowledge that children who read – and are read to – on a daily basis excel later on in life, but whether your kids can’t wait for story time or keeping them engaged is a struggle, a personalised book could be the ideal gift. Enthusiastic readers will love a tale tailored specially to them, while the more reluctant little ones will definitely have their interest piqued when they realise that they’re taking part in the story in a very literal way.

Check out Story For Me for picture books that can be customised for your child from their name to their interests, including stories set in the Middle East with diverse characters.

For slightly older kids we also love the look of this Willy Wonka inspired book from Wonderbly:

2. A DIY Craft Kit 

Often the simplest ideas are the best and kids love to be given free rein to create. As well as developing fine motor skills and neural pathways, art allows children to express themselves, learn problem solving and (perhaps most importantly) keeps them quietly, safely occupied for decent periods of time. Putting together a fun box of craft supplies opens up a world of possibilities and is as easy as a quick trip to the store.

Creative Minds is a temple for people looking to get crafty, while Daiso offers plenty of budget friendly items.   

Read more Easy, educational kids’ craft ideas you can do at home  

3. Adopt an animal

Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you start installing a cat flap in your home just yet! But it’s never too early to get kids passionate about the world around them and most little ones have a favourite animal before they can even spell it out. A symbolic adoption of an exotic or endangered animal can really spark a child’s imagination as you explain to them that their gift is helping to look after a living, breathing creature somewhere in the world. WWF (World Wildlife Foundation) has a brilliant list of animal species to choose from and while they don’t ship physical adoption packs to the UAE digital packs are available to download and print out. 

Smaller organisations like WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation) have a tighter focus on particular animals, but for this reason they often have great add-ons, like the ability to pick a specific pre-named animal out of a list with lots of lovely information about their history and personality, and a whale or dolphin plush toy to be included in a physical adoption pack shipped to your UAE address.

4. Theme park tickets 

If you haven’t hit one of the UAE’s amazing theme parks as a family yet Christmas could be the perfect opportunity to splash out on a pass. LEGOLAND now includes a water park and a Duplo section designed for toddlers while IMG Worlds of Adventure have a specific Cartoon Network zone geared towards a younger audience. It’ll be a day of thrills for everyone and is a fab way to spend time together as a group.  

Read more Step inside the new Lego House - in pictures

5. Kids' classes/activities

If you’re gifting your child an experience for Christmas its best to focus on ones that encourage lots of energy-burning activity that ensure they’ll have plenty of fun. Bounce in Dubai runs specific Mini Bounce sessions safe for kids between three and five, My Gym offers classes for kids even younger, focusing on age groups from six weeks up and finally Sima Performing Arts centre runs regular parent and baby/parent and toddler dance workshops.     

6. Cooking kit 

A win-win for kids and adults alike as everyone gets to enjoy the spoils. Giving kids their own baking kit or cupcake-decorating set is a lovely promise of fun days to come where you can spend time together. Plus, as with so much on this list, inviting little ones into the cooking process has added benefits to their development. Cooking helps children learn time management, fine motor skills and teaches them about how to stay safe from potential hazards in the kitchen in a safe, supervised way.

Check out these sets from Sprii and Tavola.

Read more Four kid-friendly ways to serve potatoes (that aren't mash)

7. A subscription box

Do you remember how exciting it was to receive something in the post as a child? Christmas needn’t end in December when a kid-focused subscription service can be the gift that keeps on giving every month, delivered right to your door. The Happy Box is a home-grown example of subscription boxes, which sees fun, engaging kids’ activities sent to you each month with a focus on natural materials and educational tasks. The activities are customised for your child’s age ranging from three to eleven years. The Little Passports subscription is another great service, with travel- and science-themed packages that teach kids more about the world, starting with boxes appropriate for ages three to five.  

8. Bedding

Disguising homewares as presents for the little ones is a sure-fire way to get them more excited for bed time. Keep sleep fun with bedding covered in their favourite characters, from unicorns and dinosaurs to superheroes. Pottery Barn Kids is a great place to start for awesome bedding, while we love the Snurk series that allows kids to dress up even in their dreams.  

9. A grow-your-own kit

Forget nature vs. nurture, this gift teaches children about both. A grow kit is a wonderful way to instil patience in little ones and they’ll be amazed when they see their hard work pay off, transforming into their own blooming flowers or tasty vegetables. A low-effort, ongoing activity that’s safe and easy to oversee, they’ll have green thumbs in no time. My Green Chapter has this easy chillies and tomatoes kit as well as other urban farming ideas while Dubai Garden Centre offers this kid-friendly sunflower set. 

Read more 7 ways to get your kids closer to nature in the UAE  

10. A money box 

According to Forbes, age three to five is an ideal time to start teaching kids about money in a casual way. More specifically, the principle of delaying gratification in order to get something you want later on. Life skills like saving needn’t be hard won and a gift like a money box can become a fun game that rewards little ones in the long term with a favourite treat. If they’re still young consider introducing coupons that they can save in the box and cash in for watching a favourite movie for example. This will set them up well for making sensible decisions when and if you introduce a proper allowance.  We love this cute robot money box from MarMarland and this space monkey one from Mumzworld.

Images by Shutterstock and Ben White at Unsplash