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 ornaments from crayons

Watch as your child’s favorite writing utensil, the humble crayon, morphs into a colorful keepsake — and a lesson in chemistry. After melting crayons in an oven, you and your preschooler will observe them take on new, holiday-themed shapes. As they cool and harden, your child will witness the effects of temperature change. Discuss the science behind states of matter by explaining the difference between solids and liquids and how the arrangement of particles affects the properties of each.

What you’ll need

  • Old crayons (with the paper labels removed) in seasonal colors like red, green, gold, blue, white, and silver
  • Cookie sheets with holiday-themed shapes such as wreaths, menorahs, and gingerbread men
  • Tissue paper and ribbon for wrapping

Make it happen

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees. Chop the crayons into pea-size pieces, keeping the colors separate. When finished, ask your child to pick different color combinations for the shapes on the cookie sheets. Have her carefully pinch small bits together and place them in each shape.

Bake the crayons for 15 to 20 minutes, or just until the wax melts. Ask your child to turn the oven light on and check on the crayons periodically. Remove the sheets from the oven and let them cool completely before having her scoop out each ornament. (If the crayons stick, place the sheets in the freezer for an hour — the shapes should pop right out.)

Ask your child to touch the newly hardened crayons. Point out the smoothness, the mix of colors, and the change in shape. Talk about the elements that changed their consistency: heat and cool air. Discuss how quickly heat can alter temperature but how much longer it takes to cool something down. This is also a good time to remind your child to never touch a hot oven or cookware.

Wrap the ornaments in tissue paper and tie on a ribbon. These are great for classmate gifts!

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Updated: April 2, 2015