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Easy holiday gifts kids can make

Whether it's a family photo book or a batch of freshly baked cookies, a homemade gift truly comes from the heart. Try these simple and fun projects with your child.

By GreatSchools Staff

'Tis the season when children make their holiday wish lists and check them twice. An important part of the season is experiencing the joy of giving as well as receiving. What better way to teach that lesson than by helping your child make his own gift? With these gift projects, he'll be doing something creative and productive with his free time during the holiday season while practicing his math and writing skills, too. Friends and relatives will no doubt appreciate these homemade, heartfelt gifts.

Hot chocolate in a jar

When your child makes this gift, she'll be using math and writing skills to measure the hot chocolate, measure and cut a fabric scrap, and write a personal holiday message.

What you'll need:

  • Small glass jar (baby food size)
  • 1 serving of hot cocoa mix
  • About 1/4 cup of small marshmallows
  • 4-inch or larger fabric scrap (depending on the size of your jar)
  • 18" length of ribbon
  • Glue
  • Hershey Kiss candy
  • Small wrapped candy cane
  • Holiday card

How to make it:

Clean the jar and dry it well. Measure a one-cup serving of the hot cocoa mix into the jar. Fill the jar to the top with small marshmallows. Count them to see how many you used. Cut the fabric scrap into a circle. Center the fabric circle on top of the jar lid. Tie the ribbon around the edge. Glue the Hershey Kiss on top of the fabric cover. Glue the candy cane to the side of the jar. Write a personal note and draw a candy cane or other holiday symbol on the card. Include simple directions like the following: "Here's a little gift to warm you up on a cold afternoon. Simply pour this jar of cocoa mix into a mug filled with 6 to 8 oz. of hot water. Top with marshmallows and drop in the Hershey Kiss. Stir with the candy cane and enjoy!"

Cinnamon roll Christmas tree

Thanks to a GreatSchools member who sent this easy and festive holiday recipe.

What you'll need:

Two cans (small size) refrigerator biscuits
cinnamon sugar (add ½ tsp. cinnamon to ¼ cup sugar)
¼ cup margarine (or softened butter)
1/2 cup raisins or dried cherries (if desired)
¼ cup melted margarine or butter
rolling pin
cookie sheet
non-stick spray

How to make it:

Preheat the oven according to the package directions. Bring both cans of biscuit dough to room temperature (makes rolling the dough easier). Form each batch of dough into a ball. (Try not to knead the dough too much as it will make it tough.)

On a lightly floured board, roll each ball of dough out flat, about a 1/4 inch thick, into a rectangle. Spread a little margarine (or softened butter) and lightly sprinkle some or all of the cinnamon sugar (depending on your taste) all over the biscuit dough. Top with the raisins (or other dried fruit). Start at one end and roll the filled dough jelly-roll style into a log and pinch to seal the seam. Cut each filled roll into 8 cinnamon rolls and lay them on the cookie sheet.

Brush a little melted margarine (or butter) on top of each roll. Bake according to package directions. After the rolls have cooled, shape them into a Christmas tree and put colored plastic wrap over them.

Family photo book

Here's a very personal gift that is fun to assemble. You might gather photos related to a special family gathering or holiday theme. What better present for special friends or relatives to remind them of shared memories?

What you'll need:

  • 2 pieces of cardboard or 4-ply rag board (sold at craft or art supply stores) for covers
  • Scissors or craft knife
  • A hole punch
  • Several pieces of 2-ply rag board for inside pages
  • Several sheets of colored paper
  • Glue stick
  • 1 or 2 pieces of 8-1/2-by-11-inch white paper
  • Assorted photos
  • Ribbon

How to make it:

Decide what size to make the book and measure two pieces of cardboard or 4-ply rag board for the front and back of the book. (A good size to accommodate one photo per page is 5 by 6 1/2 inches.) Cut covers with a craft knife or scissors. Evenly space two holes, using the hole punch, on one edge of the cardboard. Use the 2-ply rag board for the inside pages. Cut these the same size as the outside cover or make them a little smaller. Cut smaller rectangles of colored paper to use as borders for the photos. Glue the colored paper on the rag board and then glue the photos on the colored paper. With the hole punch, make two holes in each page that line up with the holes on the cover. Write captions for the photos on strips of white paper and glue on to the rag board pages. Be sure to identify the people in the photos and put the date on the front or back cover. Thread the ribbon through the holes and make a bow to tie the book together.

Family calendar

With digital photos or your child's drawings, you can make a calendar that will bring joy year-round.

What you'll need:

  • 24 pieces of 8 1/2" by 11" colored paper or card stock
  • A drawing or photo to illustrate each month
  • Printable calendar pages from Microsoft Word or a specialized calendar software program. You can also find free downloadable calendar templates online. Try Time and Date.com or Free printable calendar templates from About.com.
  • a hole punch
  • colored yarn
  • glue stick
  • ruler

How to make it:

  1. Select a favorite photo or drawing to illustrate each month.
  2. Have your child glue the drawing or photo on to the colored paper or card stock
  3. Mount the calendar page for each month on to a piece of colored paper or card stock
  4. For each month, you can highlight important family dates, such as birthdays and anniversaries, as well as holidays.
  5. With a ruler, measure two inches from each edge at the top of the paper and mark with your pencil.
  6. With a hole punch, make two holes, each one at the two inch mark, as described above.
  7. With the yarn, tie your calendar pages together.

If you have more sophisticated computer-users in your house, and you don't mind spending a small amount of money, you can make a more professional looking calendar by using a calendar program and imported digital photos, such as one of those available through Cottage Arts. You can add your own captions for the photos, too. You can make multiple editions by taking your calendar on CD to a local copy shop.

Thumb-print cookies

Children love making these classic cookies. Sticking their thumbs into warm cookie dough and then filling their thumbprints with sweet fillings is almost as thrilling as sharing (or eating) the finished product! If you use a variety of fillings, such as ruby red strawberry jam, sapphire berry preserve, bronze pumpkin pie filling or golden lemon curd, these cookies will make an impressive collection for a gift box. In shaping and squishing the dough and assembling the "jewel"-encrusted cookies, your child will practice the valuable math and reading skills of measuring ingredients and following step-by-step instructions.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

What you'll need:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • a variety of fillings: strawberry jam, blueberry preserves, pumpkin pie filling and/or lemon curd

How to make them:

  1. Smash the sugar and butter together with a fork
  2. Beat in the vanilla, eggs, flour, baking powder and salt
  3. Roll the dough into a ball
  4. Chill the dough for 1/2 hour
  5. Pinch off pieces of dough and roll into 1-inch balls
  6. Place the dough balls on a lightly greased and floured cookie sheet
  7. Bake for 5 minutes
  8. Remove the cookies from the oven, let cool briefly, then make a thumbprint in each one
  9. Put the cookies back in the oven and continue baking until done, about 8 minutes
  10. When the cookies are cool, fill the pits with a bit of jelly, jam, pumpkin pie filling or lemon curd.
  11. Put them in a gift box or a basket with a festive holiday napkin for gift giving.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

12/21/2009:
"UHm yes great idea s i LUV it but how bout non food gifts Hmmmmm!!!"
01/2/2009:
"These are great idea's and im a kid aswell and think they easy as pie!!!"
12/23/2008:
"wow the hot chocolate is a great idea. and also i am a kid and even i find it easy to make. thats a very good thing. keep up the good work. Happy Holidays! Anonymous :0)"
12/7/2006:
"I thought this artice was great. I printed several different gift/crafts for our two youngsters to make. thanks a bunch and we will have fun making them,"
11/14/2005:
"I think it is wonderful that these ideas have been shared with us. I have a first grader who loves to create things and give them to loved ones. Lori A."
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