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1. A handmade or vintage tree decoration

Buy your child a single, special Christmas decoration, either a handcrafted piece or a vintage ornament. Sites like Etsy have both varieties in abundance, and your local holiday craft market or vintage store is also likely to turn up a treasure or two. If you’re the talented type you could, of course, also make something yourself — even better! Once you’ve started, give another decoration each year, sticking to a theme or a colorway if you wish to make it a cohesive collection. When your child is eventually ready to leave home, they’ll have a set of seasonal decorations that will be filled with memories of their childhood Christmases.

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2. Make a soft toy

Even if you don’t feel you are that handy with a needle, a simple felt toy or sock monkey is within the ability of most of us and will appeal to younger children who still like to snuggle up to something at night. There are many, many online tutorials that can help guide you through the process. My great-grandmother made me a felt platypus (of all things!) when I was born, and along with my teddy bear it was one of two toys that I kept and treasured into adulthood. If you really don’t feel up to this challenge, Dutch artist Mariken Tetteroo of the Etsy store Trootoys can make a custom soft toy based on one of your child’s own drawings.

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3. A family recipe book

Whether it’s Grandma’s pie crust, Uncle Bob’s famous slaw, or your perfect chocolate cake that never fails to turn out just right, every family has a set of recipes that kids love and associate with special times. For this gift idea, you can either transcribe the recipes into a hardbound blank notebook or recipe book, or type them up and print and bind them. Bonus points on this one for scanning and collating each person’s handwritten recipe, and/or adding photos.

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4. A musical instrument

Music is a gift a child can retain for life. Child-friendly instruments such as a ukulele or harmonica don’t have to cost the Earth, and with online tutorials anyone in the family can grasp the basics and help your youngster to tease out a tune. An instrument also segues nicely into an activity you can all do together, whether it is learning or playing. While instruments come in all price ranges, it’s probably safest to stick to student models in case of disaster. However, when it comes to ukuleles I speak from experience that you do not want to get your child the bottom of the price range versions — no one can make those suckers sound good and you don’t want to regret your gift! My mother would probably also advise you to steer clear of recorders for the same reason.

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5. A dress up box

Encourage your child’s imaginative play with a fully stocked dress up box. Head to a couple of thrift stores and poke around in some of the more neglected sections: you are looking for capes, elaborate hats, big-buckled belts, sparkly shoes, and maybe an old Halloween animal costume or two. The more theatrical, the better! While you are at it, keep an eye out for a cool, old suitcase — something that looks as though it might contain a bit of magic!

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6. Plant a tree

Planting a tree does require you to have long-term access to the land where you plant it, but if you can tick that box then this can be a very meaningful gift. Planting the tree with a grandparent or planting a favorite fruit or nut variety adds to the significance of the gift. Your child will learn to care for a living thing over a period of time, will be able to reap the edible rewards if you choose a food-producing tree, and will always remember the shared experience. Your hardest job will be to not shed too many tears when you see how much the tree and child have both grown.

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7. Start a travel fund

A travel fund begun now will give your child substantial help to see the world when they are ready to do so. Make a point of it being topped up regularly, such as at each Christmas or birthday, and encourage relatives to contribute when they ask you for gift inspiration. For the first year, back this gift up with a more tangible globe of the world or an atlas to get them dreaming about where they might like their adventures to take them.

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8. Out-of-the-box classes

Again, this is an experiential gift that can be reinforced with a tangible element. It makes a great gift for grandparents to give to grandchildren. Has your child developed a bit of a thing for dance routines? How about tap classes and a pair of tap shoes? Are they really into Pirates of the Caribbean? How about fencing lessons and a foil? The chances are if your child is crazy about a popular culture meme, there’s a skill related to it that they can learn that puts them in the center of the action they are imagining.

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9. A copy of a quality pop culture or science magazine from the month of their birth

While this gift may be easier to find for younger children, it will be appreciated more by older kids. Track down a hard copy issue of an authoritative magazine from the month of their birth, something that delves into its subject matter in some depth, such as Time, National Geographic, Rolling Stone or Wired. The magazine will date over time, but as your child grows older it will provide them with a fascinating snapshot of what life, technology and the popular mindset were like when they were born. Contact the magazines directly to inquire about available back issues.

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10. Learn a DIY skill together

If your family are the hands-on type, or even if you’re not but would like to be, a DIY kit that lets you make something together is a fabulous meaningful gift. Currently, I have my eye on these cheesemaking kits — just add milk — but your options are pretty much limitless. Whether it’s knitting, stained glass, chocolate making, ceramic painting or bike assembly, there’s a DIY out there for you on the interwebs, just make sure you have the raw materials to present on the big day.

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11. Color-in t-shirts

If you have a budding artist on your hands, this idea from Sally at the blog Little Hiccups will appeal. Take one of your child’s favorite line drawings and print it onto a white t-shirt. Gift your child the t-shirt, along with some fabric paint or markers to color in their drawing. Sally has screenprinted her t-shirts, but you could also scan the drawing and make iron-on t-shirt transfers to keep the equipment requirements down. Truth be told, your child’s fan club is probably going to want their own t-shirt too, so be sure you save that file somewhere handy!

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12. A set of classic books

You just knew books were going to pop up on this list somewhere, didn’t you? Investing in a set of classic children’s literature will mean your child not only has an instant library, they have a keepsake to treasure always. My brother and I cherish beautifully bound copies of our childhood favorites that belonged to our father in turn. Publishing houses often release reasonably priced suites of classic stories with specially designed, coordinating covers. You can pick and choose from the titles to curate the collection that suits your child’s taste. You could also head to a used book store and find some beautiful vintage copies of classics there for extra gravitas. For younger children, you could opt for a set of Dr. Seuss or Beatrix Potter classics, hardcover if you can find them. A set of classic graphic novels or cartoons, such as The Adventures of Asterix, could also be an option for those in need of more convincing when it comes to reading for leisure.

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Lead image via Shutterstock, (1) suzy spence, (2) Tina D, (3) Michael, (4) Kowit Phothisan, (5) Lance Shields, (6) Alexander Lyubavin, (7) Eren {sea+prairie}, (8) Steven Depolo, (9) greyloch, (10) Urban Cheesecraft on Etsy, (11) Little Hiccups blog, (12) various brennemans, all via Flickr unless otherwise stated.