When temperatures are at their lowest each year and the holidays are right around the corner, tensions between parents and their children often run high. Kids may be thrilled about being out of school for winter break, but their elation subsides quickly if it’s too cold to play outside. And that’s when moms and dads have to start scrambling for creative ways to keep their tots occupied and simultaneously get their houses decorated and their presents wrapped.
Baking Christmas cookies may be a great way to kill a few hours, but the aftermath—as your sugar-saturated helpers gobble icing straight off the spatula and chase each other around the kitchen—can be punishing enough to make you want to hang up your baking sheets forever. This winter, instead of relying on corn syrup to energize your children, consider stimulating them with these fun, easy, and inexpensive art projects. Cutting, painting, and gluing will keep them occupied for hours and brighten up your home at the same time. And isn’t multitasking what the holidays are all about?
1. Dough Ornaments
Making dough ornaments is just as entertaining for kids as baking cookies is—and it doesn’t cause that frenetic sugar high. With just a few ingredients, your little ones can design sentimental decorations that have more character than any store-bought items and will last for years to come.
1/2 cup salt
1 cup flour
1/2 cup water
Acrylic paints; glitter glue or glitter paint; ribbon
Preheat the oven to 250º F.
Mix together the salt, flour, and water until a dough forms, then knead it on a floured surface until it’s smooth and elastic.
Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness.
Use cookie cutters to make shapes (stars, hearts, Christmas trees, and so on), dipping cutters in flour between each use.
Poke a toothpick through the top of the shape, then widen the hole by a few millimeters by rotating the toothpick.
Place all shapes on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for two hours in the preheated oven. Cool completely on wire racks.
Once the dough has cooled, decorate it with acrylic paint or glitter and insert a ribbon through the hole to make a loop for hanging the ornament.
2. Pinecone Ornaments
If you’re lucky enough to live in a place where real pine trees grow, pinecone ornaments are a beautiful addition to Christmas trees and table centerpieces. Best of all, even very young children will have fun painting them.
Real or plastic pinecones
Gold or silver craft paint
Pipe cleaners (one per ornament)
Spread newspaper on the floor below the area where you plan to hang the ornament to dry (a towel rack is ideal).
Glue one end of the pipe cleaner to the real pinecone, or loop one end through the hole of the plastic ornament.
Paint the pinecone, making sure to cover each scale; then, while the paint is still wet, hold the ornament over the newspaper and dust it with glitter.
Loop the ornament around the handle of the towel rack and let it dry overnight. Once it’s dry, remove it from the rack and re-create the loop to hang the pinecone on your Christmas tree.
3. Styrofoam Snowman
These homemade dolls are fun for tots any time of the year, but especially so during winters when a lack of snow on the ground prevents them from making the real thing.
Three Styrofoam balls in incremental sizes (for example: one two-inch ball, one three-inch ball, and one four-inch ball)
Black miniature pom-poms
One orange pipe cleaner
One small piece of felt or other fabric
Use a kitchen knife to flatten the bottom of the largest Styrofoam ball, then stand it on a flat surface. Insert one toothpick halfway into the top of the largest ball. Slide the medium-size ball onto the large ball; repeat the process with another toothpick and the smallest ball (which will be the snowman’s face).
Cut a short length of pipe cleaner for the snowman’s nose; insert it into the center of the smallest ball.
Glue pom-poms on to make the snowman’s eyes, mouth, and buttons.
Fashion a scarf by cutting a short length of felt; wrap it around the snowman’s neck and secure with glue.
Insert the two remaining toothpicks into the sides of the middle Styrofoam ball to make the snowman’s arms.
4. Reindeer Puppet
Your kids won’t be awake when Santa’s sleigh arrives at your house, but these easy-to-make puppets will make them feel like they’re in on the big event.
Brown paper bag without handles
Red construction paper
Markers or crayons
Tape and glue
Using the marker, have your child trace an outline of his or her two hands on the construction paper, then cut them out to make the reindeer’s antlers.
Fold the bag at the crease just above the base on one side of the bag so that the base collapses on that side, then turn the bag upside down. (The collapsed edge of the base will be the reindeer’s mouth.)
Tape the antlers to the back of the bag.
Draw eyes on the bag with a marker or make cutout eyes from construction paper and glue them on. Create a nose from red construction paper or a red pom-pom and affix it below the eyes. Draw a mouth on the collapsed edge of the bag’s base.
Your child can now insert one arm into the upside-down bag and use his or her hands to open and close the reindeer’s mouth.
5. Cranberry-and-Popcorn Strings
These perishable decorations won’t last for more than a week, but while they’re fresh, they make eye-catching garlands that look festive draped across a mantel, wrapped around a banister, or strung up in a Christmas tree. Children old enough to use needles will love crafting these colorful strands.
One batch air-popped popcorn or one package prepared plain (not butter-flavored) microwave popcorn
One or two 16-ounce bags of fresh cranberries
Sewing needle and heavy-duty thread or unwaxed dental floss
Sort through cranberries, discarding discolored or overly soft ones.
Measure the diameter of your tree or the length of your mantel or banister. Cut a piece of thread or dental floss twice that length, then thread it through the needle, pulling it through until doubled. Thread one cranberry down to two inches above the ends of the thread, then tie the ends in a knot around the berry.
Taking care not to break the popcorn or the berries, thread them one after the other (or in whatever pattern you choose) until the thread is full. Secure the other end with a knot around a cranberry. Hang in your chosen location.
6. Popsicle Stick Star of David
With a big pile of these stars to glue together and decorate, your little tykes and their friends will be all business. Hang them in your windows or tie them to Hanukkah presents.
Six Popsicle sticks per star
Acrylic paint; glitter glue; stickers
White or wood glue
Before assembly, paint each Popsicle stick on one side. Let sticks dry, then flip over and repeat.
Dot the ends of three sticks with glue, then affix them to each other in a triangle shape. Repeat the process with three more sticks, then glue one triangle facing up to another triangle facing down. Add glitter and sticker details. Hang or attach to presents with ribbon.
7. Milk Carton Dreidel
Tell your kids not to throw away the milk cartons from their school lunches—they can be repurposed as large dreidels to deck out your home for Hanukkah.
Small milk cartons
Seal milk cartons shut with tape or glue.
Mix paint with a small amount of glue so it will adhere to the milk cartons’ surfaces, then paint each side of the cartons, drawing Hebrew letters on each side if desired.
Poke a sharpened pencil through the bottom of the box until the point hits the other side.
8. Baby Food Jar Menorah
Invite your children to participate in your nightly Hanukkah celebration by helping them craft this simple menorah.
Clean, empty baby food jars (eight small, one large)
Hanukkah stickers; sequins; other sparkly adornments
Mod Podge craft glue
One cotton swab
Hot glue gun and glue sticks
Nine Hanukkah candles
Use hot glue to adhere all nine jars to the board, positioning the large jar in the center with four small jars on either side.
Decorate the outside of each jar with stickers; if you’re using sequins, use a cotton swab to dab a tiny bit of Mod Podge on the jar, then affix a sequin to the spot of glue. Use glitter glue to create additional designs or write a message on the glass. Let glue dry.
Form nine small balls with modeling clay; insert one ball into each jar. Gently press one Hanukkah candle into each ball of clay until it’s stabilized.
The Web site Kaboose is a comprehensive source of kids’ craft ideas for any occasion, including some of these Christmas and Hanukkah projects. But these suggestions are only a starting point; as you and your children spend more time in your home art studio, you might discover that you have your own unique ideas about how to transform everyday objects into keepsakes that commemorate many happy holiday seasons. By stocking your home with construction paper, paint, glitter, and ribbon this winter, you’ll ensure that your kids’ imaginations stay active and their hands stay out of the cookie jar.
Updated December 7, 2010