Hard to believe we are in the midst of December. To me, it feels like summer just ended and we’re just getting started with school season. Although this may be an annoyingly common sentiment, the feeling that time is flying past us without our full participation is also a very true reality for many of us, and busy homeschool moms are no exception. As I stare at the date, buy tickets to visit family for the holidays and realize that ski season is around the corner, it dawns on me that I need to start gathering ideas for the kids to make Christmas/ Hannukah/ Solstice presents- we are a multi-denominational family!
Making, rather than buying, presents, has been a tradition in our family since the kids were old enough to scribble on a note card and have it framed. The adults generally purchase presents, though I have been known to create such things as homemade soap baskets and felted bags in my better years (or poorer years, depending on how you look at it). Like many things in the arts and crafts department, finding projects for the kids to make as presents seems to get harder each year. The fact that they can do a lot more (in theory) than they could a few years ago seems like it should make things easier- and in some ways, it does. There are (theoretically) many more options open to them- they can handle tricky tools like glass cutters and hot glue guns, and they have at least a bit more of an attention span for more complex projects.
In spite of those facts, however, getting my twin boys, now 12, to follow through on making gifts feels harder each year, probably because they have been doing it since they were small, and , s anyone with middle schoolers or teens know, the novelty tends to wear off of many things around this age. Its not that they can’t get excited about an art or craft project- they often do (and reward me with very “kid like” giggles and exclamations)- but the project has to be just the right one. It has to be somewhat novel-they’ve done tile mosaics and finger knitting enough to last through adulthood, I’m told. It has to be challenging, but not too challenging, novel but not entirely foreign, unique but not weird,etc etc. Additionally, they keep getting busier with afterschool activities and increasingly demanding school work, and although not officially teens yet , I already see the tell tale signs of hormonal changes coming on, causing them to complain about tiredness and lack of motivation more often.
In spite of all that, I’m determined to keep the tradition of crafting alive for all of us, as I still see them light up when they’ve engaged in and accomplished something new. Also, the truth is that we can’t afford to buy presents for them to hand out to all the relatives! Conversely, family members truly enjoy the novels and creative gifts they have made over the years, even more so as their skills grow. So while we search for something new for them to make (but not too new!), I have compiled a list of a few of our tried and true projects from recent years. They should all be appropriate from age 9-10 to teens.
Finger Knitting a Blanket or Place Mat
When my boys were 5, we were fortunate enough to have a friend who taught them how to finger knit. Being a simpler process (coordination wise) than needle knitting, they were able to pick it up almost immediately, and once they did, they were completely obsessed. It became the favorite pastime for quiet moments at home (though rare) and road trips alike. I remember a long train ride we took shortly afterwards, when they challenged each other to see who could knit a cord the entire length of the train car!
If you are unfamiliar with the technique, I have provided a couple of introductory videos to check out. The first one is for “one finger” knitting, in which you only make one line of interlocking loops. This is the simplest version but obviously creates a narrow cord , thus having limited applications (though my boys have made scarves, plant hangers, and even place mats using this technique). The second video is for four finger knitting, which creates a bit of a wider product.
At first we were unsure what to do with the endless feet of knitted cord the boys were producing, until we discovered that they can be connected by weaving or sewing to make blankets or other flat objects.( I suppose it’s possible to make round items such as hats or sweaters with finger knitting, but that’s a frontier we haven’t explored!) Several years ago they created a round place mat (which was originally intended to be a blanket but came out a lot smaller than expected!) for my parents, which they still use as a centerpiece for flowers or other decorations). After gaining confidence, they decided to create a blanket for their new baby brother the following year. This was certainly a more ambitious project, and took a good deal of perseverance to finish, but the result was profoundly satisfying and worthwhile.
There are various ways to connect the stands of finger knitting. We chose to create a simple loom and simply weave the various pieces together.
Other options are to sew them together with a tapestry needle or to connect them while knitting, a slightly more advanced but not overly complex system. Either way you’ll want to use a similar weight of yarn for all the strands, and calculate for shrinkage when estimating how much yarn you need. Colors and widths can be mixed together at whim, and the kids are likely to have a ton of fun with this rewarding project.
Tile Mosaic Bird House
The first year we created a tile mosaic birdhouse, it was for my partner’s parents. However, my mom was so jealous that we ended up making another one for her the following year! If you have ever worked with tile, the process is fairly straightforward, especially if you start out with a pre-made structure. If your kids like woodworking, of course, you can always build your own (or any other wooden structure that would carry a tile design). We like to use broken tiles if we have them available from other projects or from broken plates (which we habitually store). But full pieces work fine too, and are definitely easier to work with. The link should include instruction on which kinds of grout work best for outdoor use- this is important for weather proofing, especially if it will be in an area that freezes and thaws frequently. If you use broken tiles, I definitely recommend laying the tiles out at first at least in a rough design- once you start spreading the grout, there’s not much time to figure it out- and we did end up with a few awkward sections last time we skipped that step!
Stay Tuned for Part 2!