Christmas Gifts Start Crafting Early

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One of the most enjoyable things about homeschooling is teaching your kids the power of gifting.  There’s nothing quite like the feeling of doing something nice for someone else.  We call them “random acts of kindness”.  At Christmas it can be a gift for someone who ordinarily doesn’t expect it.  Here are some great ideas for making Christmas gifts this season.

Homemade Playing Cards

Homemade playing cards are a blast for anyone from age 3 to 103.  I had a great uncle who used to play cards with me all the time.  I loved it.  Sometimes we played “go fish” and sometimes we played “penny poker”.  When I was older we sometimes played “hearts”.

The basics of making playing cards are this:

  1. Choose an old deck of playing cards with all 52 cards (or at least the number you need).  This will be the paper for each card.  (Or you can cut 52 pieces of cardstock the same size as a regular playing card.)
  2. Glue family photos, pictures from magazines, or hand drawn pictures on the face of each card.  If you are going to play regular cards, you will need four of each kind.  If you are going to make an Old Maid deck you’ll also need an Old Maid.  Make sure it’s labeled.  If you’re making Go Fish then you’ll need four of each animal.
  3. Once you’ve glued the face to each new card, you’ll need to seal it.  You can buy some clear Contact shelf liner paper (sold in most Target stores and grocery stores) or you can take your cards to the nearest Lakeshore Learning Store and laminate them.  Lakeshore gives discounts to homeschooling parents and the lamination is really cheap.

A few tricks:

  • Most kids will get smart if they’re using the playing cards they made.  They will notice distinctive markings on the back of each card and eventually recognize them.  It’s okay.  These are gifts and meant to be fun.  If it improves your child’s memory that’s even better.
  • Playing card boxes will not fit these cards because they’ve been laminated.  Nice presentation boxes include tea tins from Starbucks, clear cosmetic cases, repurposed macaroni boxes, index card holders, and an old book with the center cut out (like a hideaway box).
  • This is a great gift for grandparents every year with the kids’ photos.  They’ll see how they change over the years and have a permanent collection of their grandkids’ photos that are portable.

I Spy Jar

My kids love the board books I Spy.  If you’ve never read one, they’re picture books with hidden objects in each picture.  You have a list of objects to find on each page and locate them.  If you prefer to find people, then check out the Where’s Waldo books.  Waldo is a goofy looking guy who wears red and white striped shirts and blue pants and he’s always getting lost.  😉

Here’s how:

  1. Clean an old glass mayonnaise or Miracle Whip jar.  We often get the smaller bottle because it’s the only one our local grocery store has in glass.  We save these and use them for all kinds of things, including mixing dressings.
  2. Assemble a collection of small objects that are less than an inch long.  Make a list of them because that will be what you give the giftee to find.
  3. Pour about an inch of inexpensive bird seed, add about two or three objects, pour another inch, add another two or three objects, and repeat until you are about an inch from the top of the jar.

Rules of the game are this:

  1. The giftee has a list of objects that are in the jar and that he or she is to find.
  2. Set a timer for 30 minutes (optional).
  3. Begin shaking or turning the jar around, looking for objects, and marking them off the list.

When the giftee is bored with the game (after a few months), they can remove the objects and give the bird seed to the birds.  So the gift has a double purpose.

Ides for objects to put in the jar:

  • an eraser
  • a penny
  • a dime
  • a nickel
  • a plastic leaf
  • a thimble
  • miniature plastic animals from the craft store
  • a mini lipstick
  • a mini nail polish
  • a nail
  • a thumbtack
  • a sticker
  • a stamp
  • a paper clip
  • a dice
  • a button
  • a needle
  • a pin
  • a safety pin
  • a key
  • a zipper pull
  • the eraser top from a pencil
  • a thread bobbin
  • a miniature lock
  • a puzzle piece
  • a shell
  • a barrette
  • a ponytail holder
  • a bobby pin
  • a Lego block
  • a pony bead
  • a screw
  • a bolt
  • a washer
  • a superball
  • a jack (as in the game of jacks)
  • a dried kidney bean
  • a push pin
  • a jingle bell
  • a spring
  • a chain link
  • a fishing lure with the hook removed
  • a fishing float/bobber (those red and white things that float)
  • a marble
  • a Monopoly game player piece
  • a piece of crayon
  • a miniature compass
  • a key chain

If the giftee is too young to read, then take photos of the objects and that will be your list.

Summer in December

In December the snow is falling or at the very least the temperature is low and we’re all really cold.  Kids feel this more than we do.  December is the perfect time to celebrate the beach and what better way than with a sand box?

The two biggest problems with maintaining sand boxes are keeping it out of the rain and bad weather and clean-up.  The easiest solution to both of those problems is choosing a portable container that can be put away until it’s needed again.

If you have several kids, you’ll need a larger sandbox, say trunk size.  At Christmas time stores usually sell the big trunk boxes that go at the foot of your bed, kind of like the old military trunks.  They open, they close, and they even lock if you’re worried your little ones will make a mess while you’re not looking.

Another idea is to use a wheelbarrow.  You can fill it with sand and store it in the garage or workroom.  Wheel it into the backyard, sun room, or back porch when the kids are ready to play with it.  Wheel it back to its hiding place when you’re done.  I’ve known homeschoolers who have tried the wheelbarrow.  I like the trunk better.  Less mess.

Toys ‘R’ Us is the best place to get sandbox sand.  If you fail there, try the garden nursery.  Make sure the sand doesn’t have a lot of dust.  You don’t to give your kids asthma for Christmas.

If your children are allergic to sand or sensitive to it, there are alternatives to sand:

  • Rice
  • Dried lentils or beans
  • Aquarium gravel (which comes in beautiful colors)

I don’t recommend bird seed since it attracts bugs.

Cookies in a Jar

For the friend who loves cookies, this has always been my favorite gift.  My kids have made various versions of this old favorite–chipper cookies (with M&Ms), peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, butterscotch cookies, and even brownies in a jar (which is harder to do).

Find a recipe that you love with plenty of dry ingredients and fewer wet ingredients (we like the Nestle Toll House cookie recipe).  Make layers of the dry ingredients in a clean glass mayonnaise or Miracle Whip jar so the different ingredients are obvious and visually appealing.  Do NOT include the wet ingredients (e.g. butter, eggs, oil).  Seal the top of the jar and attach a recipe card with directions for use.  It should say something like, “Add 1 c. butter, 1 tsp vanilla, and 2 eggs to ingredients in jar.  Drop by teaspoonfuls onto baking stone.  Bake 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees F.”

Here’s the Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe which you can find on the back of any package of Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups (12-oz) Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped nuts

Combine flour, soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl, combine butter, sugars, vanilla, and eggs.  Mix well.  Add flour mixture to butter mixture a little at a time until blended.  Mix in chocolate and nuts.  Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheet (baking stones work way better).  Bake at 375 degrees F for 10-12 minutes.

If you are using a baking stone, the first batch will take about two minutes longer because the stone is heating up for the first time.  Each successive batch will take less time so keep an eye out.

These are a few of our favorite Christmas gifts.  From our home to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

nestle toll house cookies Copy

Originally published on November 23, 2013.

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