By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Sometimes the flag of "family gift" is used to justify the purchase of something that one person in the family wants. But that's not exactly the point of a family gift, is it?
When considering a gift for the entire family, the usage should also be considered. A lot of websites that offer such gift ideas really don't take that into account.
We've looked through the best of those ideas and put family-friendly spins on them, so that everyone can enjoy the new present.
Interactive game systems
A video game system, such as an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, can be a pricey investment, once games and controllers are bought for everyone. Fortunately, all of the major systems have options for movement-based gaming.
Xbox 360 has the Kinect controller and Playstation 3 has the Move controller. And the reason Microsoft and Sony made those controllers is because the Nintendo Wii enjoyed a high level of success.
While the uses for those controllers differ between games, they also open up a new world of family-friendly gaming that doesn't rely on precise button mashing or complicated story lines. That means parents can join kids for a few games without having to worry about content or dive through complicated instructions. Each system has a library of games that feature exercises such as dancing, running and more.
Here are some games that are fun and easy to learn: "Dance Central 3" and "Kinect Sports" on Xbox 360, "Book of Spells" and "Sports Champions 2" on Playstation 3 and "Epic Mickey 2" and "Just Dance 4" on Nintendo Wii.
New games average around $60 each and movement controllers can get as high as $100, depending on the system.
Family use: Make sure you play, parents. With modern games' easy learning curves, accessible themes and family-friendly concepts, you have no excuse -- even after a long day of work.
Instead of getting the latest technological wonders, you could go for a true old-school gaming system. For $100, a shopper can fill up a basket with loads of great tabletop games, such as Pass the Pigs, Monopoly, Yahtzee, Sorry, Pictionary, Uno, chess, checkers and a myriad games that can be played with a deck of playing cards.
Family use: With this present comes the promise of a family game night. Also, new board games are generally cheaper than a video game, so when the kids get bored, livening up the game night doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
Digital video camera
Digital photography has made chronicling family living so easy. What once required tapes, converters and lots of shelf space is now simple to keep track of in a handheld recorder and computer.
Prices range based on quality. A cheap camera can be found for under $100, but a durable, near-professional rig can be bought for around $1,000. Whatever you get, make sure it can take both pictures and videos.
Family use: When one person becomes the family photographer, a family present quickly becomes one person's possession. Take turns with the technology. Encourage kids to make their own movies. Get acquainted with the software that helps users make movies, then prepare a big show. (Here's an idea to file away for stuck-in-the-house winter fun: Make your own Hollywood movie. Write the script, get in costume, take the shots and show it that night.)
Groups such as Spiva Center for the Arts and Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center offer photography classes throughout the year. Grab the family and take a class together.
Digital photo frame
These devices hang on walls and show pictures from memory cards. But they can quickly become forgotten.
The benefit is that most of the frames available have multiple slots for memory cards. And because the amount of data that cards can hold keeps growing, more and more photos can be loaded.
Family use: Invest in a good digital picture frame and place it in a prominent position away from the TV. Encourage the whole family to plug a memory card filled with their favorite images. Rotate the pictures weekly, and let each family member choose what images will be shown during the week.
This is an idea that will redefine "family room." Get the whole family involved with a room redecoration project. Costs can range from a simple can of paint to a furniture set.
Family use: Be prepared for compromises and common sense. A young daughter's idea of a full-length mural of Justin Bieber may not fly, but her bold color choice might.
Keep the projects simple for everyone to do, so that everyone gets a hand in the work.
Granted, this is not a decision to take lightly. A new dog or cat, or even a hamster, involves commitment and responsibility from everyone under the roof.
But a new pet can be a great bonding experience, as long as it's done right.
Family use: Most animal shelters and pet stores recommend family visits before picking out a pet. Take advantage of that -- instead of having the pet under the tree, have people unwrap a picture or coupon that promises a pet as a present.
Use that holiday time to plan where the pet will go, and who will be in charge of chores involving that pet.