Some of us find that balancing everyday chores with providing meaningful experiences for our children is one of the more challenging parts of parenting. This is especially true this time of year as task lists grow and calendars fill with holiday activities.

Before you opt to buy “make it easy” gifts, however, you may want to consider our list of simple hand crafted gifts. Not only does it provide an opportunity to teach children the true value of gift giving but working on the projects becomes meaningful time spent together.

Framed Artwork
Children create a lot of artwork throughout the year. If you’re not up to creating a project with your child at home to give as a gift, grab one of your child’s designs made at school and frame it.

Inexpensive frames and even mats are found at superstores and craft stores. If the drawing or painting is an odd size, purchase a slightly larger frame, use the insert paper that comes in the frame, turn it over to hide the words, tape your child’s picture and assemble as usual. You can even take your child’s masterpiece to a professional framer, though the cost will be considerably higher than if you do it yourself.

If you’re up to the challenge, give your child a piece of paper already cut to fit the frame you will be using. Ask your child to create a picture using watercolors, crayons or markers. If your child needs a little help beginning the project, try these imagination starters, “Draw a picture of your favorite part of the holiday season.” “What’s your favorite part about visiting your aunt?” “Draw a picture of you and grandma doing something fun together.”

Audio or Video Recordings
Have your child sing a song, read a poem or just chat into an audio recorder or video camera The recordings don’t have to be professional, but keep them short. Everyone, even parents, can tire of watching what seems like hours of video of children, no matter how much we love them.

Make sure the person you are sending the recording to has the means and ability to play it. Save your video to a DVD and have your child make a decorative sleeve. If you record an audio of your child, you can always give digital recorder complete with batteries already installed (available at office supplie stores). Put a small sticker on the play button and a little instruction note that says push the “star,” or whatever sticker you use, “to hear a holiday greeting.”

Every-Year Gifts
Whether you make it or buy it, children enjoy creating a tradition of giving the same gift each season. A traditional gift could be an ornament each year; an addition to a collection of gingerbread figures, bells, or special books; or a photograph taken in the same place each year at the same time to show how your child has grown over the years.

There are lots of inexpensive, pre-made ornaments you can purchase for your child to paint or decorate, or use one of the projects that comes home from school to box and wrap for a special gift.

Note Cards
Voicemail and e-mail can’t take the place of a handwritten note. Stationery and note cards are always a good gift. There are several computer programs you can use to create personal greeting cards.

For younger children, you can scan a picture or photo and print them on a set of blank cards you buy to create a gift of note cards. For the most simple approach, just cut and fold some paper to fit envelopes you have. Let your child draw a picture or scribble on the front of each card, and assemble with a bow. The gift card can read, “Created especially for you by Katie, six months.” You can also put this on the back of each card.

Create “Gift Wrap”
For those of us who aren’t ready for homemade gifts, try making handmade wrapping paper. Purchase rolls of brown or white butcher paper at your office supply store. Have your children decorate the paper using sponge shapes dipped in paint. You can free-cut the sponges or use cookie cutters for tracing. Or follow these instructions for making marbelized wrapping paper. All ages of children enjoy this project. Make sure the paint is washable, and you have an area to place the paper to dry.

Even infants can lend a hand or footprint for this gift idea. If you have a large area in your home or outside that you don’t mind getting a bit messy, cover the floor with paper, place a little paint on your toddler’s feet, and let her go. (Too much paint can be slippery and dangerous.) Keep a warm bath nearby for easy clean up.

Take pictures of your child making the wrapping paper creation to use as a name tag for the final wrapped gift. Seeing the process will make every gift receiver smile. You can even fold or roll the paper and give that as your gift.

Back and Forth Gifts
A great tradition to start is giving a “back and forth gift” each year. You can purchase a bear or other stuffed animal for your child to take along on a family trip. After the excursion, you or your child can write his dictation about the journey. Give the animal along with the story as a gift. Ask the recipient to take the animal on a trip during the next year and give him back to you the next holiday season. A picture of the animal on vacation is always fun to include.

Buy a special food container, fill it with goodies you and your child bake together and give it as a gift. Ask the person you give it to to pass the container on to another person with their favorite goodies next year, or to return it to you for another refill.

“Let Me Help You” Coupons
Little coupons are great gifts for family and friends. Children can make the coupons by hand writing them or making them on the computer. Little ones can offer, “Will go to bed without any fuss,” or “I’ll put my toys away.”

Older children can get quite creative from “Promise to clean out the garage,” to “Help with an extra kitchen clean-up.” Children usually enjoy making these coupons. It’s the redeeming process that can be tough when it comes to helping mom or dad. But the good news is that children are usually excited to help friends and neighbors.

Whether you purchase gifts with your children to give to others, or make them, don’t let any inner pressure to create the “perfect” holiday cloud the realities of your life, including economic and time constraints. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find or create just the right special gift for someone. Just spending time with your child may be the best gift you and your child give and receive this holiday season.

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