From the bean of Green Bean.
As the holiday season draws close, nearly every blog I visit is abuzz with handmade gift ideas. Eco-awareness and a rough economy have collided to bring us back to what really matters during the holiday season - meaningful gifts created with love.
Many gift ideas for children are things we can make them. While those are important - to judge from the contents of my knitting basket, very important - they are just one way we can give to our children this holiday season. Another is to involve our children in the hand-making process, both by teaching them what we know and by giving them gifts that transform them into the crafters of tomorrow.
PASSING ON OUR SKILLS
- Inaugurate a Knitter: The first step to knitting for kids doesn't involve needles and requires nothing more than a sturdy index finger and a ball of leftover yarn. Follow these easy directions to teach your kids how to finger knit. Their creations can become garland for the Christmas tree, a belt, headband or bracelet to wear, bookmarks for gifts, or hair for that rag doll you've wanted to make for your child ever since reading Little House in the Big Woods. Once, they've mastered finger knitting, kids can learn knitting with needles or crocheting.
- Sew Kiddo Sew: Sew Mama Sew has a fantastic roundup of first sewing projects for kids. Last weekend, the boys and I made a pennant with scraps (e.g., pants and pajamas with too many holes to patch), thrifted embroidery floss and my great grandmother's pinking shears.
- Build a Builder: We're getting chickens!! But this post is not about that. It's about the two weeks my husband spent building the chicken coop . . . and teaching the boys to use a hammer, and identify what is a square (it's some sort of tool), and tell the difference between a phillips and flathead screwdriver. The end result - two very nice chicken coops. Bet you cannot tell which one was built by the six year old. :)
- Awaken the Artist: The Creative Home by blogger extraordinaire, Soule Mama, is a fantastic collection of tips and ideas for fostering creativity in young children. (Thank you, Jess, for lending it to me! You might never get it back.) Ms. Soule focuses on eco-art ideas such as repurposing items, reusing things headed for the landfill, incorporating things found in nature, and filling the cart at the thrift store or garage sale to stock the art cupboard. Other ideas we've picked up over the years is keeping supplies organized, making it easy for kids to clean up, and providing a work space where they can let the artistic juices flow.
- A sewing kit: Instead of more toys my kids don't need, my mom is putting together sewing kits for them. She's using fabric scraps, thrifted buttons, extra thread, my grandmother's thimbles and needles, and my leftover yarn. Containers can include secondhand baskets or sturdy boxes, decorated oatmeal containers or coffee cans. Imagination is the only limit.
- A basket for knitting/crocheting: Kids' first needles or a large crochet hook (G or H) along with some colorful yarn. I've managed to pick up most of my crochet hooks at garage sales and thrift stores. Ditto for some of my knitting needles. Our local thrift store usually has bagged yarn for a bargain and more baskets than you can shake a needle at.
- Tools and tool box: Depending on age, you can start with a few tools or fill a box. When our boys were very very young, we gave them each a tool box. Each year, we buy one additional, high quality tool for them. First, it was a screwdriver, then a measuring tape, next a hammer. I'll have to ask my husband what it will be this year. Perhaps that "square" tool thing? Doing tools one at a time or buying second hand tools at garage sales, flea markets or estate sales is a great way to save resources - financial and natural.
- First pocket knife: For older children, a pocket knife can lead to a world of self sufficiency.
- A child-size desk or table to use for art: It can be extremely inexpensive to outfit your budding artist with some creative space. Both of my boys have some dedicated art space in their rooms. One has a sturdy wooden picnic table covered in oil cloth and discovered at a local thrift store for $25. The other is enjoying a new to him desk purchased at an antique faire for $35 (it included the chair!). A desk or table can be free too if you've got something sitting in the attic, at grandma's house or even on the roadside that can be converted.
- Handmade lacing cards: For the younger set, The Creative Home has instructions on how to make wonderful lacing cards (Sorry, cannot find any photos online. You'll have to check the book out at the library.) All that is required is some very minimal drawing talent, cardstock, a hole punch and some yarn. Frugal and creative!
- Framing the masterpieces: Via maya*made, I came across the coolest - and cheapest - way to help my little artists show off their creations. It involves a used FedEx overnight box, some stamps and a craft knife.
- Art supplies: Last year, my son got a (now well used) easel, recycled paper, and a variety of art supplies. True, some art supplies do need to be purchased new but you'd be surprised what you might find lying around the house or at thrift stores and yard sales. A jar full of interesting buttons, saved from new clothes, from clothes beyond repair or purchased from an estate sale or antique faire is a fun gift and opens up endless opportunities. Counting, sorting, sewing, gluing. We've nabbed sets of colored pencils, small canvases, chalk pastels, fabric, paintbrushes, and bagged pompoms second hand. My ribbon box - stuffed with ribbons from packages past - has been employed to create hot air balloons, hang gliders, leashes, and belts. Open access to it delights my kids more than a new Lego set.
- Dress up gear: If you are handy with a sewing machine, you can whip up an infinite number of dress items for your kid. If you, like me, are not so handy, NOW is the time to get out there and pick up some second (or third hand) costumes. In October, our thrift stores bulge at the seams with cool costumes. If your loved little one already has some dress up gear, you need only sift through your closet and the closets of friends and family to find old costume jewelry, scarves, larger swathes of fabric, shoes, hats, purses and shawls to contribute. Another nice gift along these lines is something to corral the clothes. We currently hang ours in the closet but have used baskets, buckets, chests and so on in the past. In The Creative Family, SouleMama suggested using vintage suitcases, of which our thrift stores have plenty!
- A cookbook and supplies: An older child who has shown some interest in recipes might enjoy a cookbook - great ones are available used - but the greatest one has been neatly copied by hand and is full of family favorites. A wooden spoon, an apron or a set of mixing bowls round out the gift.
- A gardening set: A thrifted trowel or second hand shovel and some saved or purchased seeds are great for gardeners of all ages.
- Give handmade: Gifts made by a family member are so meaningful. A knitted teddy bear (Wish me luck!), a handsewn stuffie, a knitted hat (These are easy!! Great and funny tutorial here.) or a sewn truck shaped pillow. My husband plans to carve something small for each of the boys. The Simple Green Frugal Co-op has some nice ideas here. If made by you isn't in the picture, though, it is easy to support others who hand-make beautiful and environmentally friendly items. Our school hosts a craft faire in November and similar faires abound during the holiday season. Finally, of course, there's Etsy, the over-flowing website of handmade goodness. By giving our children handmade, we teach them to appreciate the unique beauty of something that is not exactly like anything else.