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Homemade for the Holidays

Get the kids in the crafting spirit with these five custom gifts that are sure to please everyone on your family's list

Has your holiday gift-giving budget shrunk this year (or maybe it's disappeared altogether)? Instead of shopping for that perfect present, invest some time at home creating it with your children. Not only will making gifts help you trim your budget, but you can also get the whole family involved. And don't be surprised when those who receive your gifts prize them over the fruit basket/DVD/board game you got them last year! Here are five keen ideas – two for kids, two for the grownups and one that goes either way.

Craft Dough Play Kit

Make your own version of a Play-Doh play set with items you might already have on hand.

What you'll need: Homemade craft dough, cookie cutters (or other kitchen items you don't use anymore), ribbons, shoebox-sized plastic bin, permanent markers

Make the dough: Many moms love this version: Kool-Aid adds color and, even better, a nice scent. Here's the scoop:

  • Tools on hand: Mixing bowl, large spoon, heavy plastic-seal bag
  • Ingredients: 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup salt, 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, 1 Tbsp. cream of tartar, one Kool-Aid packet, 1/2 cup water
  • Instructions: Add all dry ingredients to bowl. Mix. Slowly pour in the warm water and oil and mix with the spoon until the dough becomes manageable. Knead with your hands or place it in the plastic bag, seal and knead in the bag. For storage, place in an airtight plastic container or plastic bag.
  • Putting it together: Decorate the plastic bin with permanent markers. Write the child's name on a prominent place on the box. Seal your craft dough in a plastic bag and tie with a ribbon. Place kitchen tools next to the dough. Try to find items that can make indentations in the dough. Cookie cutters work well, but look for other odds and ends, too – like measuring spoons and cutting boards.
  • Keep giving: This kit works well for any kid – not just your own. Make several play-kits to give to friends with children.

Dress Up Box

Kids can't get enough of dress up – and they truly don't care whether the costume comes from your closet or the store.

What you'll need: Old clothes, hair bows, scissors, laundry basket, basket or plastic bin

Putting it together: Chances are you have plenty of items lying around that would make for great dress ups. Dust off the old suit coats and go through those old bridesmaids dresses (cut the gowns shorter and use the extra material to make ribbons). Old winter hats, mismatched mittens, robes, outdated shoes and belts make perfect accessory additions.

Keep giving: For family members with preschool-aged children, make an extra box to give to them as gifts, too.

Framed Handprints

Looking for a one-of-a-kind gift for your spouse? Help your kids make these mementoes.

What you'll need: Picture frames (look for ones you already have around the house), inkpad, permanent markers, heavy paper

Putting it together: One at a time, have each of your kids place one hand onto the inkpad and then onto the paper (you can do one or two hands). Practice on another piece of paper first (you'll have mistakes!). Let the image dry. Have your child write his or her name underneath the handprints. Again, make sure to have them practice on another piece of paper beforehand. Frame your work of art. This can become a beautiful annual tradition.

Keep giving: Grandparents especially love receiving a personalized gift from their grandchildren. As long as you're making one, make two or three.

World's Best Mom/Dad Mug

Hey, kids: Remind mom or dad how much you love them while they drink their morning coffee or tea.

What you'll need: Plain mug, permanent markers

Putting it together: Depending on the age of your child, have him write a special message to your spouse, like "World's Best Mom" or "Coolest Dad in Michigan." Place masking tape around the rim of the mug (the marker shouldn't be on any part of the mug that the person's lips will come in contact with). Then let you child draw animals, hearts or whatever else he wants around the mug. Let the mug dry. Remove the tape. The marker design will fade over time if you put it in the dishwasher, so you may want to suggest washing the mug by hand.

Keep giving: For a quick gift for a neighbor or teacher, let your child make a design on the mug and then fill it with a few packaged hot chocolate or apple cider packets. Wrap with clear plastic wrap then tie with a ribbon (you can even add a cinnamon stick to the bow).

Book-in-a-bag

Tuck a favorite book in a hand-painted bag to give your friend something interesting to read over the holidays.

What you'll need: A book, a plain canvas bag (you may already have one at home or find one at your local craft store), fabric paints or permanent markers

Putting it together: Use fabric paints or permanent markers to make designs (or share favorite quotes) on the canvas bag. Add a personal message to the inside cover of the book you're including in the bag – explain why you enjoyed the book. Tie the handles with ribbon or twine.

Keep giving: Make a book bag for grandparents or for your each of your kids as their library bag.

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