Dear Umbra,

I’ve read Grist’s gift guide, but I didn’t see very many ideas for youths and young children. On the other hand, I did like the idea of giving The Lorax, which was mentioned in one of your other responses. Do you have any other eco-friendly gift suggestions for my nieces and nephews for this Christmas? I want to encourage them to appreciate our natural environment, and besides, I figured it couldn’t hurt if they thought Santa was environmentally conscientious as well.

Jennifer Guyton
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Dearest Jennifer,

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© Dr. Seuss Enterprises

The Lorax! I’m a gift genius!

Before we commence with my opportunity to expand upon the gift guide, let’s review the excellent kid-friendly ideas already therein (I wasn’t asked to participate, since I’ve gotten my chance to weigh in on gift ideas for weddings, how to show love, and eco-gift wrap). The dress-up clothes Kendra put together for her nieces and nephews, tickets to shows, adopting a beloved endangered animal, wildlife guides to same, and chocolate are all kid winners.

But it’s easy to grow up in the U.S. and learn that gifts mean buying and getting stuff. In terms of encouraging kids (and grown-ups, for that matter) to appreciate our natural environment, or be generally environmentally conscious, you can’t do better than showing them that great gifts are not necessarily Things. Experiences are great gifts for kids. After all, they can’t do much on their own until they are teens, the world is their oyster, and time with adult friends is incredibly special to children of all ages.

Here are a few ideas off the top of my head:

Encourage animal-related interests. Take an owl fanatic on an evening owl watch. Go on a pony ride. Set up a worm bin with a kid who loves squirmy, crawly creatures. A young child who loves your dog would probably love a date to wash your dog — experiences can be very simple.

If you know the kid likes you, make special time for the two of you, such as dress-up tea at a fancy hotel or your house just with you, or mini-golf, or lessons in something you know how to do that would interest them. Which of your interests is cool to the kid and would make a good activity — baking a cake? Working with clay? Burning CDs from your collection? Playing computer games? Sewing Goth patches onto clothing? Knitting a funky scarf? Shooting a movie? Playing basketball? You could put together an experience from scratch for them, such as a treasure or scavenger hunt. To meet your goals, the hunt could have an appreciate-the-outdoors theme, or at least a we-are-outdoors theme.

If you must buy things, how about equipment that would encourage their outdoor interests and maybe expeditions to use that equipment, such as sleds, inner tubes, snorkels and goggles, boogie boards, in-line skates. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to buy a cookbook and call it an eco-gift. Encouraging the cooking of food from scratch will probably lead to ecological consciousness in the chef. Right? Am I kidding myself?

You get my point. Don’t wait for the Eco Gift Council’s approval, and don’t be fooled by ecological organizations into buying objects with their imprimatur — they are still objects (sorry, boss). Your instincts are probably right on, and you’ll do better providing an object or an experience that your particular giftees will like than one that says “GREAT ECO GIFT FOR KIDS” and is likely to be thrown out.