For many years I struggled with the idea of a gift exchange. It always seemed that some children were not happy with their gift, or already had it, or the gifts were much different in value. I tried a book exchange – still had many of the same problems. I considered dropping the whole gift thing but then found a fun idea that solved the problems for me.
I asked each family, if they were interested in contributing (totally voluntary) to send in identical small items for each child in the class. They might send in 25 small Santa erasers, little pads of paper, small containers of Play-do, etc. The items could be wrapped or unwrapped. I loved this idea because every family could decide how much to spend – they could get a pack of stickers at a dollar store and cut them apart for 25 gifts, or give each child one marker from a set; or they could spend more if they chose – but every child would receive exactly the same things.
I bought plain unbleached muslin – usually about 99 cents a yard, and had a parent volunteer sew small drawstring bags for each child. At school we decorated them by stamping a reindeer shape and adding pompoms, jiggly eyes, etc. You could use a generic decoration if you have children who do not celebrate Christmas. You could easily use lunch bags – they come in colors at Target – and let the kids decorate those too.
Then I took the donations and divided them up into the bags. It was a lot of fun seeing what the parents sent in, the children loved it. It did not matter whether every child brought in a donation or not – no one knew who donated each item. I added a request that parents do NOT send in food or candy because of allergies – and because a friend who tried this got mostly candy instead of little toys.
Here is a letter I sent home explaining this to the parents:
I hope you are all enjoying this special – but hectic – time of year!