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: Create a custom-made calendar

Since December is a standout month for most little ones, why not commemorate it with a sparkly decoration? This gift is excellent for helping first-graders work on their numbers and dates and a great jumping-off point for discussing holidays in various religions.

What you’ll need

  • Large sheet of construction paper
  • Pens, crayons, paints, glitter, and holiday-themed stickers
  • Printout of a calendar month with days but without dates (Microsoft Word and iCal have blank calendars)
  • Glue stick
  • Single-hole punch or scissors

Make it happen

Print out a blank calendar month (8 x 10 inches), and ask your first-grader to write “December” at the top. With a pencil, write the first and the final day of the month in the appropriate boxes. Have your child fill in the rest in his own style: big block numbers or thin curlicue ones, using crayons or pens.

Turn the construction paper so that it’s vertical and paste the calendar month at the bottom, leaving lots of space at the top of the sheet. Pick a theme — a snowy scene, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or anything seasonal — and have your child illustrate the calendar with related images. If you choose a religious holiday theme, have your child highlight the eight days of Hanukkah, or Christmas Day, or the seven days of Kwanzaa, etc.

Punch or cut a single hole at the top so you can hang up the calendar.