pipe cleaner knight

By Kathy Kuhl

Our kids are restless with the holidays are upon us. In a world of advertisements, how to do we help our kids grow more generous, and less greedy? One way is to let them make gifts this season. But if you’re like me, you’re busy and a bit tired, and time and money are at a premium. So my personal rules are:

  • Christmas gift projects must be free or cheap.
  • We only try making gifts when everyone’s in a decent mood—Mom included—especially if we are baking.
  • Crafts are a great way to practice fine motor skills. For holiday gifts, we only try that I am sure the child can do. Today is probably not the day to begin teaching a child how to crotchet, sew, or decoupage.
  • We don’t do these in a hurry or before we are heading out.
  • I focus on my purpose: to teach my child to be generous, to teach my child that Christmas is not chiefly about getting gifts, to nurture creativity, and to have fun.

Our favorite things:

  1. Sculpey: an inexpensive modeling clay that bakes in the oven to set. My kids have made made figurines, Christmas ornaments, even recipe card holders with this stuff.
  2. Other Christmas ornaments: origami, felt, or even paper snowflakes. (Here are patterns for some cool Star Wars snowflakes.)
  3. Pipe cleaner figures are also fun to make and give. See the photo of St. George, above, about to rescue me.
  4. Stress balls made by pushing a ballon inside a balloon, then filling the inner balloon with rice or flour. (Hint: rice is easier to vacuum.) I like these ninja stress balls, but if that’s too much work, stick with the basic model, which require no scissors skills. You can draw a face on the balloon afterwards, and even add yarn hair.

If your child can sew a fairly straight line by hand or with a sewing machine, he or she can:

  •  Simple microwavable heating pad: you need raw rice or dried beans, a new sock, and about two feet of rope. Cut the rope in two and  knot each piece to make two loops for handles. Fold the toe of the sock over the knot, and sew the toe down with a sewing machine. Fill the sock with raw rice or dried beans, and fold down the cuff of the sock over the knot on the second rope loop. Thoroughly sew down the cuff.
  • Make a simple stuffed animal beanbag. A snake is the simplest animal: just a long, narrow rectangle with a ribbon forked tongue and two button eyes.
  • Simpler yet: make a few beanbags in colorful fabric and cut a whole in a box for a target.

Food:

  • Peanut brittle and almond bark can be made in the microwave. My son’s scout masters and swim instructor loved this peanut brittle recipe my son made many years, with minimal help from me. (Obviously, these should only go to homes with no nut allergies.)
  • Apple butter (We like the recipe in Felicity’s Cookbook.)
  • Cookies (Only bake with a child if you have plenty of time and if you and he or she are in a good mood.)

Out of time? Some of my favorite gifts from kids have been coupons, like this one.

I can't bring myself to cash in some of these gift coupons my daughter gave me, as sweet as her excellent scones.

I can’t bring myself to cash in some of these gift coupons my daughter gave me years ago, like this one for 12 and 00/100 scones.

Did having the kids make gifts work? My kids probably would have been generous, anyway, so I can’t be sure, but we had fun and pleased people. My adult children still like to come over to bake cookies.

What gifts have your children enjoyed making during the holidays? Please answer in the comment section below.