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: mix up your own Play-Doh

Get gooey with your kindergartner by making a batch of “play clay” he can dye with food coloring. This project helps your child learn to measure dry and wet ingredients — and how the amounts affect the color composition of the dough. Wrap individual packets of the Play-Doh, and let your child mix and match the colors based on the gift recipient’s preference or the holidays he or she celebrates.

What you’ll need

(Note: This recipe makes about one cup.)

  • 1 cup of flour
  • ½ cup salt
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup water tinted with 17 drops of food coloring (red/green/gold or blue/white)
  • Plastic wrap
  • Ribbons

Make it happen

Ask your child to measure the flour, salt, and vegetable oil carefully into a bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon. Add the colored water, and have your child knead with his hands until the mixture is smooth. If the dough is crumbly, add more oil; if sticky, add flour.

With the next batch, try experimenting with the color. Add fewer (or more) than 17 drops and see what happens. Talk about how the hue changes depending on how much food coloring you add.

Wrap the dough in separate sheets of plastic wrap and seal the packets with a ribbon. Plan on giving two to three small packets of different colors to each recipient. Your child can also mold a small dough animal or figure to tie to each gift.