As the malls begin to teem with desperate parents trying to get their hands on the hottest toys, parenting experts are encouraging families to explore a different route this holiday season by giving the gift of experiences.

Parenting expert Alyson Schafer says most children probably have more toys than they actually need. Instead, she said giving experiences, such as outings or activities, will provide them with more lasting enjoyment.

“What becomes the real joy in giving experiences is that when we give a child an experience, there’s a longer time frame,” Schafer told in a telephone interview from Toronto. “There’s the anticipation, there’s the entire time you’re doing the experience, and then there’s all the memories.

“It’s sort of like the gift that keeps on giving.”

Schafer also said families that participate in new experiences together are more likely to forge closer bonds with each other.

“It helps to not only build up the relationship, but also whatever the experience is, tends to also shape them in some way,” she said. “I think there’s an enrichment quality that comes from those life-shaping experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t have.”

Julie Romanowski, a Vancouver-based parenting coach and consultant, agrees that experiences can prolong the delight in receiving a gift. Experiences can offer families other benefits, she said, including the flexibility to schedule activities at times that work for them, the ability to customize it for different ages and groups, and the opportunity to teach children new things.

“It also has the added benefit of being financially-flexible and schedule-friendly. These activities can be scheduled together all in one day or one of them done over a period of time,” she said.

Experience gifts can also help to draw children’s attention away from addictive screens, which are often incorporated in toys these days, said Doone Estey, an educator for the Parenting Network.

“They can reinforce creativity, exploration, learning,” she said. “[It also] gives kids a sense of contribution, purpose, or empowerment.”

Alyson Schafer’s top experience gifts:

  1. Theatre tickets
  2. Outdoor activity (such as snowmobiling or ice skating)
  3. High tea at a fancy hotel
  4. Museum or art gallery
  5. Indoor playground or trampoline gym

Julie Romanowski’s top themed experiences:

  1. British theme: This themed experience could include horseback riding, high tea, and a visit to a book store.
  2. Korean theme: For a Korean theme, Romanowski suggests a trip to a spa and then cooking food together at a Korean barbecue restaurant.
  3. Italian theme: Making pizza or eating at an Italian restaurant and then taking in an opera or theatre show is a must for an Italian-themed day.
  4. South Asian theme: Families can start the day having their hands painted in Mehndi art and then take a Bhangra dance lesson or meditation or yoga class, Romanowski said.
  5. Spanish theme: A Spanish-themed outing could include visiting a tapas restaurant, taking Spanish lessons, or joining a class that teaches the tango or Flamenco style of dancing.

Doone Estey’s top experience gifts:

  1. Plan a day trip together (set out parameters, such as distance, cost, and timing)
  2. Indoor activity, such as bowling, laser tag, rock climbing, or judo
  3. Plan a party for the child and their friends, such as a dance party, ice cream party, or popcorn party
  4. One or 10 chore-free days
  5. Family time, such as pizza and a movie, board games, or going out for dinner