My Big List of Screen-Free Holiday Gifts

Dr. Delaney Ruston – For me, the giving part of the holidays is rooted in a desire to inspire creativity, connection, and fun. I enjoyed picking out gift ideas to share with you, many of which I will be giving to one family member and one to me. 

We all know tech gifts are a big part of the holiday season, but as always, I offer tech-free ideas today. I am not putting down tech — many wonderful tech gifts will get exchanged this year, but I hope you will find this non-tech list to be a bit helpful.

As the holidays approach us, may we all find ways not to be overly caught up by the frenzy. When the holidays hit, may we all get some quality time with people who mean the world to us in person or via tech if in-person is not possible!


Mushroom Grow Kit

Our family bought a mushroom kit at our local farmers market, and we had fun growing our own batch together. We grew the oyster variety, but there are so many others to choose from. We laughed a lot in the process because the shapes of the growing mushrooms can be quite hilarious. 2 kits I recommend: Back to the Roots and Cascadia Mushrooms.

Cookie Making Kit 

Create a cookie-making kit.  Baking can be a family activity or something a child can explore independently. There are many hip cookie cutters to choose from. Pair the cutters with sprinkles and decorative gift boxes, and may empire your kids to deliver some to friends, teachers, or neighbors come the new year. 

Children’s Cookbooks

The Complete Cookbook for Young Scientists.  This book is for kids around 8 to 12. Through this company, which I very much trust, one can find a variety of cool children’s books. 


One of my favorite gifts last holiday was this cup from my daughter. It is made from recycled paper coffee cups, and I used it so much that just last month, it finally wore out. I am buying a set of two for my holiday gift to myself and for anyone visiting who wants a cup of tea that stays hot! 

How about inspiring creating together a bird bath by gifting this cool Solar Water Pump?


A Plane making kit

balsa wood airplane. It is not an easy toy, but it surely results in a ton of pride once it’s built. It can be helpful to work on this project with your teen.

My husband loved building these as a kid, as did his father. My husband wants another one this year. He got our son into making these some years back. The other day, my son mentioned that while at college, he came upon a group of guys flying small model airplanes and started talking to them. They were a part of an engineering club. Chase told me that all the students were impressed when he mentioned that he had built balsa wood planes as a kid. Who would have guessed? 

Finger Knitting 

Recently, I visited my friend’s home, and she had several super soft blankets in her living room. I learned she finger-knitted them. She purchases unique yarn with pre-formed loops, pulling one loop through the other. And voila! A scarf, a blanket, or whatever else one might be interested in making. My daughter loves learning these types of things, so I plan to get her three spools of this yarn. It takes about seven balls for a blanket and about 3 for a scarf or other small things. Finger knitting is also a fun project because it is slightly more intuitive and easy than learning how to knit with needles.  


I have already ordered one of these Puking Egg Yolk Stress Balls for my kids. 

These wind-up flying butterflies are my cup of tea. I plan to get some for our kids and my mom. 

I adore my 3D playing cards of birds, and they make a lovely little offering. My kids taught me a new, fun game over Thanksgiving called Cabo, and these cards are perfect for it. Cabo also comes as a game with distinct cards as well.


Over Thanksgiving, my son was eager to tell me about CrunchLabs, and he shared an episode with me about an egg drop challenge. CrunchLabs is like MythBusters. While my son is not an engineering major, he digs the videos, and I could see why. I have learned that CrunchLabs has a pretty darn cool Build Box subscription that can come for as many months as you’d like it to. 


Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (order it from your local bookstore) is a light read that explores creativity in a nifty way. I am enjoying reading this book right now, and I plan to buy a copy for one of our kids. (The problem is, I can’t decide which of my kids I should get it for, so I might need two). It is great for teens.

A book about the making of something folks in your family love, i.e., a  TV series or movie. (There are also books on how video games are developed. Some parents might also benefit from this cheat sheet book on Minecraft if they want to sound knowledgeable at the holiday dinner table). 


Consider a bunch of new colored pencils and a little sketch pad so they can sit outside and draw a sunset (OK, am I sounding way too unrealistic about what most kids will do? Yes, but just indulge me).

A family member who loves hanging out outside, even in freezing temperatures, might benefit from the wearable sleeping bag during the winter. Don’t let the cold weather get in the way of their adventures!

Look at Airbnb experiences available in your town. There are so many fun things to do through Airbnb Experience, i.e., learn to make Udon soups, mural tours, and more. 


Alarm Clock I always put an alarm clock on my wishlist. It’s a gift that keeps on giving — every day that a young person does not use the phone as an alarm clock means longer and deeper sleep (research has shown this). This wooden alarm clock is one of my favorites this year (and The New York Times Wirecutter’s). Also, check out my Screenagers’Podcast episode on sleep.

Rosemary Lavender Beeswax Salve I put this on my arms as I get into bed each night. The scent and feel are divine. Consider putting this in a little gift bag along with some bubble bath and a candle. 


A cool homemade knit cap is a great gift for the cold weather. Check out this artist’s beanie. 

A wall hanging with a personalized quote is sentimental and sometimes hilarious. Does your child have a funny or profound line they repeat? Why not have it printed onto a canvas? Here is one place that does this.

How about a gift card from a local or online consignment store where teens buy hip, used clothes for slightly lower prices than at name-brand stores? Also, many teens like to hunt for clothes at Goodwill which offers gift cards.