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Getting Crafty, by Lisa Von Drasek

Greet the holiday season by creating homemade gifts with your students

With the winter holidays around the corner, this is a good time to highlight crafting and how-to books. This roundup focuses on books that emphasize creating crafts that can be given as gifts.

Classroom concoctions
One of my favorite resources for the early childhood classroom is Lotions, Potions, and Slime: Mudpies and More by Nancy Blakey (Tricycle Press, 1996). Most of the gifts are created out of inexpensive materials. Students can whip up a batch of homemade bath salts using baking soda, food coloring and an essential oil. They can then decorate plain white envelopes to package this soothing gift. This volume contains over 80 creative activities involving science, art, cooking and concocting.

Kids can craft
The "Kids Can Do It" series from Kids Can Press consistently provides age-appropriate projects with step-by-step directions and photographs of the finished product, as well as additional clarifying drawings.

  • I am always on the lookout for simple knitting and crocheting books. Quick Knits by Judy Ann Sadler (Kids Can Press, 2006) offers delightful handmade gift ideas. The author provides the basics like casting on, knitting and purling, casting off and fixing mistakes. Students will be able to make a simple fluffy scarf by just knitting, or a charming roll-rim hat by knitting and purling with a simple decrease.

  • Not new but an old favorite of mine for holiday giving is Gifts to Make and Eat written by Elizabeth MacLeod (Kids Can Press, 2001). This book contains directions for 30 easy-to-make recipes from the more obvious gingerbread people to a tasty, healthy granola. The author includes directions for appealing packaging for gift-giving for family and friends.

  • The coolest craft book this year is Stuff to Hold Your Stuff by Ellen Warwick (Kids Can Press, 2006). Attractively produced in a hidden spiral binding, these crafts are suited to middle-schoolers as some require the use of a glue gun and a utility knife. Although many of the projects would be easier to make with a sewing machine, they can be made by hand sewing. I can't wait to raid my husband's closet in order to make the funky "All Tied Up Tote" that is created out of 10 men's ties. The yoga enthusiasts in your students' lives will really appreciate the "Yoga a-Go-Go Tote" for carrying their yoga mats. The coolest project is the "Stick It to 'em Wallet." No sewing skills are necessary; it's made of duct tape! Second coolest: the "Take-out Lunch Bag," which is made of craft foam and strung together with an elastic cord.

All-ages creating
Looking for fun, creative gifts that children of all ages can make? Here are two great guides.

  • Clea Hantman, the author of I Wanna Make Gifts (Aladdin, 2006), states that all you need to make the projects in this book are resourcefulness, an open heart, a great friend and a few bits and pieces.

    My favorite deceptively simple project is a personalized coloring book. This project can be adapted for all ages. The only supplies needed are tracing paper, a permanent black marker, plain white paper and a stapler. The author suggests that the artistically talented among us can draw simple black-and-white line drawings, but that there is no shame in tracing. For a friend who loves horses, trace horse pictures. The tracings can then be photocopied onto white paper. Card stock can be used as the book's cover. For an extra-special gift, add a small package of inexpensive crayons.

  • For our teen crafters, there's Knitgrrl: Learn to Knit with 15 Fun and Funky Projects by Shannon Okey (Watson Guptill, 2005). The author's tone is breezy and fun. She starts with the basics and each technique is illustrated with step-by-step photographs. (Full disclosure – I made the leg warmers on page 58 without the embroidery for the nieces and they were a big hit!)

Library how-to titles
Many libraries buy a series of titles for holiday craft projects.

  • Enslow Publishers presents "Fun Holiday Crafts Kids Can Do!" Each title contains a short profile of the holiday along with easy-to-create crafts accompanied by color photographs, fun facts and suggestions for further reading. Titles include Christmas Crafts by Fay Robinson (2004); Hanukkah Crafts by Karen E. Bledsoe (2004) and Kwanzaa Crafts by Carol Gnojewski (2004).

  • A new Enslow series is "Multicultural Crafts Kids Can Do!" Titles include African-American Crafts Kids Can Do! by Carol Gnojewski (2006) and Hispanic-American Crafts Kids Can Do! by Fay Robinson (2006). These titles provide age-appropriate and culturally diverse projects for early-elementary students.

  • The "Crafts" series from Snap Books, an imprint of Capstone Press, includes a title that's particularly useful for the winter holiday season: Greeting Card Making: Send Your Personal Message by Deborah Hufford (2006). Hufford's directions are clear and the lay-out is just right for elementary students to follow on their own. Students can create cards with simple folds or with more complex pop-ups. The series also includes volumes on how to make candles, handmade books, scrapbooks, stamp art and origami.

So, don't break the bank this holiday season. Guide your students in creating imaginative gifts while also making your own presents for the ones you love.

Lisa Von Drasek is Children's Librarian at the Bank Street College of Education in New York, NY.