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Teaching Children to Make Holiday Gifts

Local art experts offer crafty gift ideas.

Glass jars can be recycled into candleholders with a stained glass effect.

Glass jars can be recycled into candleholders with a stained glass effect. Photo courtesy of Art at the Center

Gifting your child’s teacher, grandparents or other family members with holiday cheer doesn’t have to add another line item to your budget. Homemade gifts from children are among the most cherished, say experts, and creating them can be as memorable for the child as the recipient.

"I think that making gifts is a very important thing to teach children because they’ve created it themselves rather than just buying it," said Alexandria resident Chris Tucker Haggerty, a professor of fine and applied arts at Marymount University in Arlington. "They’re giving you part of themselves and saying ‘this is the best that I can give you because I made it myself.’"

Alexandria resident Maria Cuzzocrea Burke, an art teacher at Oakridge Elementary School in Arlington said that although "holiday crafts are not done in the art classroom anymore, as they don’t meet to the standards of learning in Virginia and out of respect to [the] multicultural [and] multidenominational community that we live in, there is nothing better than [giving] a homemade gift during the holiday season and spending quality time with your child."

"I think that making gifts is a very important thing to teach children because they’ve created it themselves rather than just buying it. They’re giving you part of themselves and saying ‘this is the best that I can give you because I made it myself.’"

— Chris Tucker Haggerty, Marymount University

Kathryn Horn Coneway, of Art at the Center in Mount Vernon, notes that a variety of holiday traditions focus on light during the months of November and December.

"For school-aged children, glass jars can be recycled into beautiful candle holders with a stained glass effect," said Coneway. "Soak glass jars to remove labels. Cut or tear tissue paper into one to two pieces. Mix white school glue with equal parts water until it will flow and paint easily with a brush. Brush watered down glue on the glass and place tissue paper over the glue. Cover with another coat to seal. Colors will overlap and mix. When dry, place a tea light inside the glass jar and enjoy the colorful glow."

Framing a painting or drawing by your child can make a sentimental gift for a loved one. You can also "encourage your children to make homemade cards and thank you notes for relatives who live far away; a great way to use art and writing skills," said Coneway.

For younger children, Coneway said, "This is a great opportunity to work big on large paper. Purchase blank white or brown wrapping paper and let kids paint, draw or stamp on the large surface. They can work on a tabletop, wall or hard-surface floor. Big, colorful designs are fun to create and make great wrapping paper. Very young toddlers can even get in on the action by … making hand and footprints. Washable paints make clean up easy."

Burke says that while making artistic gifts with your child can be an enjoyable experience, there are certain safety precautions to take. "[Ensure] the art materials you are using are nontoxic and safe for children’s use," said Burke. "For example, when sewing, make sure the needle has a blunt nose so that they won’t hurt themselves. Choose scissors that are appropriate for their age levels. Stay away from toxic glues. Please read the labels."

She said that children should not use hot glue guns without adult supervision. In addition, "make sure your paint is child-friendly. Temperas and watercolors are great."

Haggerty said having children make gifts for others reinforces a sense of generosity and strengthens a parent-child bond. "I think anytime that you can spend actually participating in an activity with a child is golden to the child."