Some holiday gifts fit neatly into a box that’s ready to wrap — but if your child has a passion bigger than any packaging, try an “experience" gift. This is a present that will get youngsters out of the house and in a place where they can flex their muscles, use their brains and build toward being the best at what they love.
GO TO NINJA SCHOOL
Bolstered by the rise of shows like NBC's “American Ninja Warrior,” several local gyms and athletic centers now have challenging obstacle courses that involve lots of climbing. At Obstacle Athletics in Deer Park, for example, a ninja skills class for ages seven and older tests balance, agility, jumping, grip strength and hanging obstacles — and all levels of experience are welcome. Gift-givers can get a gift certificate good for a single drop-in class ($20-$25) up to a month of unlimited sessions ($150, 631-627-8253, obstacleathletics.com). That way, says owner Kevin LaPlatney, kids will "also stop jumping all over the furniture at home.”
TRY AN ART OR CRAFT CLASS
For some kids, the desire to create is a true passion, be that by drawing, coloring, sketching or crafting. Art museums on Long Island not only feature pieces to see and visit, but offer instructional opportunities as well.
“Artmaking is a tactile learning experience that encourages critical thinking, personal choice and exploration,” notes Katie Aragon, an educator at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn (516-484-9338, nassaumuseum.org). A gift certificate can cover museum admission or a program ticket— $85 covers a full year of access for a family of two adults and up to four children/grandchildren. “Through our family programs and classes, we’ve seen how children become more confident in their choices as an artist and how to speak about the art they see and create,” Aragon says.
The Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill offers art workshops for kids ages 6 and up over February winter breaks — they're $40 per session. A pottery workshop series starts in March for ages 7 and older ($120, 631-283-2118, parrishart.org). "Kids actually work at the potter’s wheel," says Jillian Bock, assistant director of education, “It’s all in a relaxed, fun atmosphere, and unlike the pressures of school, there are not right or wrong answers."
She sees great benefit in gifting opportunities like these to young people: “Little children can’t always express themselves verbally, but there are no limits to their creative expression," she says.
TAKE A COOKING LESSON
"The Baking Coach" Lisa Basini counts teaching kids to create in the kitchen as one of her life joys. "The look on their faces after they create a yummy treat is priceless … there are few things in this world that is instant gratification and baking is one of them," says Basini, who has locations in Amityville and Huntington (631-543-8608, bakingcoach.com). Baking is also a sneaky way to teach kids on how concentrate " “because you must focus on what is in front of you, so it helps you block out the world until the recipe is finished,” she says.
Children of all ages of children are permitted to take part in some classes, but anyone younger than 12 must be accompanied by a parent. Prices vary, but most workshops are $70. Upcoming classes include cupcake decorating and baking bootcamps that introduce participants to various types of doughs, plus opportunities to make muffins, cookies, soups and scones, among other edibles.
In Lynbrook, A la Carte Cooking School runs kids-only classes for those at least 8 years old or parent-child classes that can handle wannabe chefs as young as four (prices start around $65; 516-599-2922, alacartecs.com). “Every life skill is involved in cooking,” says owner Polly Talbott. “They learn math, science, reading, team work, how to read and follow directions."
PRIVATE SPORTS SKILL SESSIONS
Athletic-minded kids can hone their skills beyond basic offense and defense with the gift of a workshop or private lesson.
At Frozen Ropes in Syosset, kids as young as 5 can be coached through 30-minute baseball and softball lessons for $55. Group classes start after the new year — a six-week session is $180 (516-364-7673, frozenropes.com/syosset). Co-owner Jon Clateman says gifting this experience is a “great way to either introduce someone to the game or help a kid already involved get more involved and dig a little deeper.”
At Matt Guiliano's Play Like a Pro in Hauppauge, gift a burgeoning slugger 25 rounds of pitches in the batting cage for $50 or a 6-pack of lessons for $300-$420 (631-342-9033, playlikeaprobaseball.com)
LET THEM ROCK
"What we really sell is self-confidence and self-esteem to the kids,” says Ed Shouslon principal owner of The Rock Underground, which has locations in Bellmore, Commack and Massapequa. “What could be cooler for a kid then playing in a rock band?” Private lessons there range from $175-$320 a month (rockundergroundmusic.com).
Joel Camp, who owns School of Rock Farmingdale, suggests gifting a child lessons in increments of one or two months ($130-$330; 631-425-5191, schoolofrock.com). “Children not only learn music, improvisation, theory and songs, but learn how to put the songs into a live show,” he says.
That kind of experience collaborating with others, owners say, is a life skill.
“Learning to be a musician is more than plucking a string or hitting a drum.” says John Ortenberg, an owner of Musicology Performance Center in Smithtown. Children ages 7-12 can try "Kid Rock" classes to learn how to play with a band while teens might enjoy a "Hit The Lights" program that involves performing live onstage ($245-$340 a month; 631-352-5535, musicologyperformance.com).
“Most gifts, whether clothing or electronics, have a very limited shelf life. Kids get bored," Ortenberg says. "But experiences are different. They stay with kids."