There’s no better gift for the holidays than a handcrafted creation — and not just because it doesn’t involve a frenzied trip to the mall. Having kids make gifts from scratch not only shows them the value of giving but also the brain-boosting benefits of taking up a hobby.

Hand-making a present involves more than gluing and coloring — it’s a great opportunity to learn a thing or two. A simple project like creating wax ornaments offers a lesson in beginning chemistry, and making gooey “play dough” helps math basics stick in youngsters’ brains. For older kids, designing a December-themed calendar teaches them the meaning (and math) behind the month and building a story-based diorama brings holiday literature to life.

The project: Fashion salt dough jewelry

Remember the dough ornaments that decorated many a Christmas tree way back when? Baked and painted to glossy perfection (well, maybe they had a few imperfections) and a staple at every school crafting event? They’re made of salt dough, which can be easily whipped up in your kitchen. Instead of churning out snowmen or angels, update the project by attaching lapel pins to the ornaments. A great gift sure to find a welcome spot on Dad’s suit or Grandma’s cardigan.

What you’ll need

(Note: This recipe makes about 20 small ornaments.)

  • ½ cup of salt
  • 1 cup of flour
  • ½ cup of water
  • Rolling pin
  • Cookie sheet
  • Miniature cookie cutters in holiday shapes (for example, stars, bells, wreaths, or snowmen)
  • Acrylic paints in various colors
  • Glitter glue or glitter paint
  • Lapel pins (found at craft stores)

Make it happen

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Ask your child to measure out the salt, flour, and water and mix them together until the dough is formed. Have her sprinkle flour on a clean countertop, and show her how to knead the dough until it’s elastic and smooth. (Tell her to pretend she’s a cat while she kneads.) If the dough is too gooey, sprinkle small amounts of flour until the stickiness is gone. Dust the rolling pin with flour and roll out the dough until it’s about a quarter-inch thick. Set your child to work with the cookie cutters, using as many shapes as she likes.

Put the dough cutouts on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake them for two hours. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool completely. Once the ornaments have cooled, ask your child to paint each one — encourage her to include such details as ornaments on a tree or buttons on a snowman. After the paint has dried, she can use glitter glue to add a sparkly coating. Finally, have her glue a lapel pin on the back.