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Great Educational Gifts with Frugal Options

The gifts I dearly love to give are both memorable and educational.  They invite activity and learning, fire the imagination, and provide many hours of enjoyment.  The trick is to make sure that they meet present interests; I’ve found that gifts rarely spark a new interest. 

Here’s a list of winning gifts that we’ve given received, heard about, or wished for:

Art and Craft Supplies

  • Art supplies, from crayons to oil paints and easels.
  • Card making and scrapbooking supplies, origami paper, pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks, ribbon and lace, fabric remnants (we once bought a huge bag of satin scraps from a formal-wear dressmaker.  Wow!)
  • Embroidery floss and fabric, yarn, knitting needles, and so on.
  • Flower press.
  • Any kinds of kits, from woodburning to candlemaking.
  • Classes or lessons—see below for some frugal options.

Tools and resources for heritage skills such as wood carving, making bows and arrows (my husband and Miss 11 dream of doing that this winter), tin-smithing, quilting.

Equipment for your child’s latest hobby: photography resources or programs, a welding helmet, whatever is needed to restore that old car, cake icing tips, chocolate molds.

Science kits: You’ll get the best ones are at museums but they are expensive.  (Or you can make your own—see below)

Games:  The best games are, again, often very expensive or available only at specialty shops and museums.  But they can be worth it, providing hours of fun, with learning as a fringe benefit.  (See below for our frugal options.)

Gifts for the imagination:  costumes, props, a puppet theatre, artificial flowers, floppy hats, old shoes, a lace curtain, a Viking helmet, a foam sword (or a real one for teen boys), toy kitchen sets, huge boxes, large pieces of fabric, scraps of wood.

Pets: but think this idea through very carefully.

Sports:  skis, balls, racquets, hockey sticks, a bow and arrow, a pool pass, lessons, a trampoline.

Books:  Make sure you get ones that support your family’s values; read reviews and don’t just wander into a big bookstore and grab what’s available.  I have reviewed much historical fiction and compiled a brief list of living history books.  My children don’t realize they’re learning; they’re just reading great books.  Or check Ambleside Online’s reading lists.  There are also thousands of free books and audiobooks available—see below.  Second-hand bookstores can be treasure troves if you are familiar with older books; I found a beautiful boxed edition of The Hobbit, with Tolkein’s own illustrations, for just a few dollars.

Videos:  Sure there are a lot of fun, popular movies, but why not give something special?  I cannot imagine a better educational children’s video than Katherine’s Farm, and kids absolutely love it.  If your teen is interested in pioneers, for example, why not give a quality video such as Sisters in the Wilderness or Summer on Ross Farm?   Try videos of classics, including Shakespeare, but check ratings carefully.  (Miss 14 loves Jane Austen and has learned so much by comparing the books and the different film versions.) Videos teaching all sorts of crafts, skills, and hobbies are also available.

Tickets to concerts, plays, and other performances. 

Museum passes.

Frugal Options, for when your pocket book is empty but you want to give anyhow.

One year, when we had no money at all, we gave our 6 and 4 year old the gift of a store:  we found a second-hand cash register toy and spent weeks saving grocery containers and collecting them from friends.  We cleaned them, taped the boxes shut, and bought some second-hand plastic fruit and vegetables.  The children’s gift was an old shelf and a huge box full of empty salt containers, juice bottles, egg cartons, margarine tubs, plastic apples, and so on. They immediately started playing store.  That was, probably, the best gift we’ve ever given.

As this example shows, you just need some creativity and time.  Here are some options.

Make your own craft kits.  All sorts of information is available online or at the library.

  • I’ve made many cute pincushion kits complete with supplies and instructions
  • My friend put together all sorts of simple craft kits for little ones—from Christmas ornaments to hair barrettes.  Her trick was to print out clear instructions in a beautiful font, with her own logo on them, and to pack them in small ziplock bags.  (She even sold them.)

Make your own science kits

  • You could begin with a cool experiment book and give it along with a box of supplies.
  • Alternatively, you could choose one of the many dramatic online science experiments and purchase supplies for it.  You might want to try the experiment out yourself, though; unclear instructions could frustrate the recipient.

Put together a baking mix for a special treat.

Give the gift of sheet music.  Free downloads of classical sheet music are available here.  (One year my son gave his sister the complete score of Handel’s Messiah.)   

Give free ebooks.  Check out Project Gutenberg or The Online Books Page for classics, historical fiction, poetry, and much, much more.  These books can be read on a computer as well as on a reader, although Mr. 16 says the Feedbooks versions are nicer to download.  We’ve used the above resources, but here’s a link to many more online book sites that I have not used.     

Give huge boxes, useful for houses, castles, rockets, cars, hide-outs, puppet theatres and so much more.  Ask your appliance-buying neighbors or a store for the boxes.

Give free audiobooks.  We’ve used Librivox, but many other suppliers are listed here, halfway down the page.

Scour second-hand bookstores, garage sales, or homeschool sales.  Some of our best educational games came from our annual used homeschool sale, and our favorite vintage books were obviously also second hand.  (Obviously, giving used gifts will not work for every recipient; use your own discretion.)

Art Instruction:  For pen and ink work, ArtPac 8 is an amazing resource, and much less expensive than kits available in art shops.  Many resources are available online and from libraries, but be careful since much art instruction includes nudes.  A good place to find quality, family-friendly online art lessons is in the homeschooling community, such as these pastel lessons.

Just remember that, as with all giving, you want to suit the gift to the recipient  And of course you want it to be a gift, not a curriculum.  Exercise your creativity, shop outside the box, and enjoy giving gifts that keep on giving.

For more great ideas, see Works For Me Wednesday , Raising Homemakers, No Ordinary Blog Hop, Encourage One Another Wednesday, Women Living Well Wednesdays, Simple Lives Thursday, Thrifty Thursday, and Frugal Friday.


  1. What a wonderful list of ideas and suggestions! I agree so much with “The trick is to make sure that they meet present interests; I’ve found that gifts rarely spark a new interest.” I love the ‘store’ idea for the little ones. Sheet music! free ebooks!

    One more idea I’ll add: my mother gave my girls a ‘cook box’ full of cake mixes, muffin mixes, canned icing, sprinkles a chef hat, simple cookbook and more. She refills it each Christmas. It sparked a wonderful habit (and we often get in lots of living math that way).
    Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Annie Kate says:

      What a lovely gift your mother gave your girls. That’s a wonderful idea!

  2. What a great list! Thanks for sharing! I am going to add a link to this post on the Missional Mama Facebook page.


  3. Anna-Marie says:

    What a great list for people to keep in mind when shopping this season. Thanks for linking up to the NOBH

  4. Great ideas..I’ve done some of them as well. Thanks for linking up to NOBH!

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