Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Craft a Month: 12 Gifts Kids Can Start Making NOW

Get your kids started now on some great homemade gifts for 2014.  

Gifts Made by Hand... with Love

This year marked a year of big changes for many members of our family - new homes, new jobs, new families... And all of us have felt the pinch of an economy that hasn't kept pace with our basic needs and bills.

Many of us scaled back greatly on our holiday expenditures, in response to our precarious times. But what we discovered, when we cut back, was a blessing of gifts that were perfectly matched and perfectly made by the gift-giver. The LOVE made them perfect -- not the price tag:

  • a hand-crocheted "big" scarf...
  • home-made chocolates, in many flavors...
  • stained-glass Christmas cookies...
  • herb-infused cooking oils in beautiful carafes...
  • hand-made pathchouli-scented soaps...
  • bean-soup mix in a decorative canning jar...
  • woolens made from wool from the family farm...
This made me re-dedicate myself to creating hand-made gifts that show more than my ability to pull out a credit card the week before Christmas.

See this post, and more, on List It Tuesday

Handi-crafts and Kids

If you are a homeschooler, and you follow Charlotte Mason, you know that handicrafts are one of the "subjects" she believed all children should study, believing that all children should be able to make beautiful, useful things with their hands. Perhaps you have a scout in your house who is looking for a project or two for a badge. Maybe you just enjoy crafting and are looking for ideas that are more than just the typical kid crafts.

Here is a list of 12 DIY projects and craft ideas that are suitable for kids to create. They can be finished in a month, giving you the possibility of doing all twelve just in time for holiday gift-giving in 2014. I have listed them by month --  but you can do them in any order you'd like.

Click the links to see directions to make these, or see more like them on my Crafts for Kids Pinterest board.

January: Keepsakes from Old Glass Ornaments

Do you have a bunch of old glass ornaments with the colorful coating peeling off? Don't throw them away! If you soak them in warm, soapy water, the remaining coating will come off, leaving a clear glass orb that can be re-purposed into these wonderful keepsakes.

Simply remove the hanger at the top, fill with small objects that remind you of a special time together (beach glass from a vacation, tiny hemlock cones from a hike, blue confetti to celebrate the birth of a baby boy...), return the top, and decorate with a ribbon. For added flair, use a permanent marker to note the special occasion.

Don't have any old ornaments? You can pick up clear ornaments at most craft stores.

Wrap them in bubble wrap and store in shoeboxes until next Christmas.

Alternative: Dribble several drops of oil-based model paint inside the empty globe (metallic-toned gold, silver, red and green look nice for traditional Christmas colors). Put the top back on, and gently turn the ornament over and over to coat the inside with paint swirls. I made these with third-graders one year, to take home as gifts -- they were a hit!

February: Hand-folded Gift Boxes from Greeting Cards

Do you wonder each year what to do with all those Christmas cards you get each year? My ten-year-old gave gifts this year, presented in beautiful boxes that he created from folding old greeting cards.

These are simple enough for even young children to make, with items you already have at home. Do you want a demonstration? Here's a great video to show you how...

You could make a raft of tiny boxes to fill with hand-made food treats, or to give as a gift, themselves. Pack them in a shoe box to keep them safe until next year.

March: Hand-printed Wrapping Paper

(c) 2011 The Firebottle, via Creative Commons License.
Okay. I hate to throw ANYTHING away. Especially if there's a lot of it. Every once in awhile, I receive a package that is stuffed with yards of blank newsprint paper. Sometimes there is so much, I wonder if they realize how much good stuff they are throwing away in the packing materials! My boys always eye it for making huge battle maps, so we flatten it out and roll it onto an empty wrapping paper roll for someday.

You can use a cool iron to remove the wrinkles from this paper, which is now a "canvas" for some great hand-printed wrapping paper.

You can decorate the paper any way you want to, really, depending on the age of your kids: markers, finger paint, stickers, drawings, vegetable prints -- you name it. To make a really wonderful paper with a nice, repeating pattern, get a roller stamp (the kind you use to make a pattern border when you paint a room), and use a yard stick as a guide (I am not great with straight lines!). You can buy craft paint in a zillion colors at any craft store or Wal-Mart -- and get painting!

Hang your paper to dry.

There are endless possibilities to this project... all I can say is check out these Google images of hand-printed gift wrap for ideas.

April: Hand-tied Bows

My first Christmas on my own, I was homesick and poor. I bought the last Charlie Brown Christmas tree available on the only lot that was on my way home from work, and the last stand. And cried because I didn't have any money to buy any ornaments.

Hand-tied bows and hand-painted ornaments (c) A Child's Garden, 2013.
BUT I did have a crafty mom, and her crafty genes passes along to me. So I headed to a local department store, and rummaged through the remnants of the fabric department for wide ribbon. A few simple twists, and I made a whole tree full of hand-tied boys, with two partial rolls of ribbon. Here you can see them, along with another hand-made ornament (courtesy of Little Man)...

If your child can tie, he or she can make these bows. I used wide ribbon - 2" wide. Don't until these to store them -- simply stuff the loops with rolled up paper, and put a set of them in a shoe box for gift-giving next year.

Martha Stewart has excellent directions for four different kinds of hand-tied bows, for ornaments or gift-wrapping.

May: Commemorate a Special Event with Photos in Hand-made Frames

We always give those studio photos of our kids that you take at department stores and school photo fundraisers. This Christmas, I handed out envelopes with Little Man's photos to the adult children, and the Nurseryman thought out loud, "I always wonder what to do with the old photos." I didn't have an answer for him. But it made me think about all the money we spend on those photo packages, and some of the photos I've found MOST wonderful, that DIDN'T ever grow "old."

When my parents lived in New York still, we would all gather on the Cape for two weeks -- a kind of an "open house," where people stopped in and stayed for however long they could stay, then left when they needed to leave. While we were there, my mom would snap photos of all the kids and grands doing all those fun beach-y things: body surfing, sand-castle building, eating corn on the cob, playing beach volleyball... She would also collect buckets full of tiny shells -- whole bunches of them.

Back at home, she would craft simple frames from craft sticks and thin sheets of clear plastic, hot glue the sea shells to the frame, and glue the photos to the back, and mailed them out to all of us at the holidays.

What a great way to remember a happy (and warmer!) time! Just imagine the conversations you'll have with your kids as they select photos and talk about the good times they had. Fun for both the giver and the receiver!

Decorate smooth stones for garden art or table decoration.

June: Garden Stones

This is NOT a gift I've made (yet) but it is on my list for this year! I love garden ornaments, and calligraphy. And what kid doesn't like smooth stones?

Here is a photograph that I found on Pinterest -- unfortunately, one of those that is no longer attached to its original website. Fineline permanent markers and imagination are all that are required (and a kid to forage for smooth stones). I would spray them with a water-repellant sealer (Modge Podge makes an acrylic sealer that I spray over my paper beads when they are finished - that would work).

July: Bath Baskets

My family knows that I love bath items, especially if they are uniquely scented, or matched together. Call it one of my quirks.

And kids love to assemble gift baskets -- there's something about a collection of little objects that go together that is appealing to children. And this adult, by the way.

When my older kids were little, I used to send away for samples of fancy bath items (the kind you see advertised in the backs of health and gardening magazines -- the ones with herbs in them and interesting wrappers...). We would comb drug stores for travel sizes of organic bath products and add them to the collection all year. Then, at holiday time, we would find decorative baskets and bags, and assemble our gift baskets, including a few full-size products and things like loofahs or bath mitts to round them out.

If you want to check out a line of hand-made, all-natural bath items, see my Squidoo lens on Hugo and Debra Naturals -- mmmm.... so nice.

Hugo and Debra Naturals Soap, $4.99 on Amazon.

August: Hand-packed Sofrito

I had a bumper crop of hot peppers this summer. And there are only so many that you can eat by themselves.

So I began making home-made sofrito -- a staple seasoning in Spanish and Latino cooking. There are many recipes for sofrito, but all are easy to make, right in your blender. And kids love food projects, especially if you are making something that they planted, grew, cared for and then picked, themselves. That's a lot of learning and a lot of love, packed into that gift!

Look at tag sales for fancy jars (I have a few of the old Mason-style jars with glass lids -- perfect for this). You will also need some plastic gloves for handling the cut peppers. Find a recipe for sofrito that you like (I have recommended a few that we like, from the Posh Latin Cook, below), get your blender ready, and start chopping!

Because you will likely be making this in late summer or early fall, when you are harvesting your veggies, you can freeze your sofrito in ice cube trays, then pop the cubes into Ziploc bags to store in the freezer until you are ready to pack your gift. Simply thaw the cubes, fill your jars, label and dress up with a bow!

September: Herb-infused Dipping Oils

Here is an easy gift to make in the fall, when your herbs are at their best. Even the tiniest hands can help prepare these. My daughter-in-law made these as gifts for us this year and I can't wait to try her Tuscany Blend on a loaf of crusty Italian bread!

Scour tag sales for decorative bottles, or check craft stores and the Christmas Tree Shoppes. These oils are best used after the herbs have steeped in the oil for a few months, so September is a great time to prepare them. Just sit them in a dark cool cupboard into you are ready to give them.

The Naptime Chef gives a great basic recipe for dipping oil that she made in 15 minutes.

October: No-Cook Fudge

Oh, my! We also received three (three!) kinds of no-cook fudge this Christmas. I had to hide it from my husband who, although not a chocolate lover, found them irresistible.

There are so many recipes for no-cook fudge available. Make one (or more!) and freeze it in a tightly covered plastic container. Thaw when you are ready to pack it in December, and place the pieces in holiday-patterned plastic bags (most grocery stores carry these in December), tied with a bow.

Check out this quick search of Pinterest for no-bake fudge recipes.

November: All-in-One Soup Mixes

The kitchen-savvy daughter-in-law who treated us to homemade fudge also created soup mixes packaged cutely in canning jars. What a nice way to practice measurement and volume with your homeschoolers!

All you need is a recipe that is based on dry ingredients (ours was a bean soup recipe, that included dehydrated onions and other dried goods). Measure the dry goods into canning jars, adding each new ingredient to create pretty, colorful layers. Screw on the canning jar lid (don't seal), and add a piece of colorful fabric (fastened with a bow or rubber band) to decorate. Hang the recipe on a pretty recipe card, from the bow.

Alternative: I once received a hot chocolate mix presented this way, with cocoa powder, non-fat dry milk, sugar and spices layered into canning jars. For a tinier alternative, create single-serve mulled cider mixes in little jelly jars. Pretty and fun to make.

December: Stained Glass Cookies

Stained Glass Cookies - fun and oh-so-tasty!
I used to make these cookies when my youngest brother (who is ten years my junior) was a little boy. It was one of those "big sister" moments he enjoyed. This winter, I re-introduced the  tradition with my youngest son.

These cookies are so easy to make, and they didn't last long at all! (I think some of us even ate them as a breakfast food. Shh...). Use your favorite sugar cookie recipe, a cookie cutter shape in two sizes (we made stars, but two different diameter glasses would work to make wreaths, too), a few packages of Life Saver candies, and the decoration of your choice.

Roll out and cut your sugar cookie dough, as usual, then use the smaller cutter to cut out the center of the cookie, to leave a hole. Place the candy in the center, and bake -- the hard candy will melt quickly and fill in the space left in the center, creating a "stained glass effect" once the cookie is completely cooled. You can make a few dozen of these in an afternoon -- great for those vacation days right before Christmas, or a surprise snow day earlier in December. I always make sure to have plenty of flour, sugar and butter on hand for impromptu baking in November and December. Add a bag or two of hard candy to this and you'll be all set for these cookies!

After making these many times, I have decided on a few tricks that make the best-looking cookies:

  •  Wreaths made using two different sized glasses are the easiest for kids to make, and bake up nicely.
  • Many recipes tell you to crush up the candies, but the "glass" will be cloudy if you do -- better to just plop the whole candy in the center of the cookie and let it melt on its own.
  • You can use any flavor candies, but cloudy candies (like the "tropical" flavor lifesavers, or lemon drops) will make cloudy "glass." The really best "glass" comes from clear candies (regular Life Savers or Jolly Ranchers). My absolute favorite: hard, clear cinnamon candies. Now I'm drooling...
  • We tried to decorate our cookies using a "convenient" spray tube of frosting with different attachments. No bueno. It is hard for kids (and adults!) to control the flow, and my son was disappointed in his efforts (so we just spread it out like icing). Use a pastry bag or spread the frosting with a plastic butter knife, or just serve them plain.
After they cool completely, pile them onto holiday-themed paper plates, wrap with colored cellophane wrapper, and tie with a bow. Hand them to your guests as they arrive on Christmas Day!

Craft On, My Friends...

These are only a tiny fraction of the possibilities for monthly craft projects that you can do with your children, to create really nice gifts for the holiday season. Besides teaching them how to make beautiful things with their hands, you will also be teaching them stewardship by showing them how to re-purpose items that might normally be discarded, and showing them that the value of a gift comes from the love, time and thought put into it, not the dollar amount on the price tag. You will also be building memories with the time you spend together -- something that is beyond priceless.

Happy Holidays to All! (c) A Child's Garden, 2014.