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Give Inexpensive Gifts an Enhanced Perceived Value


Has gift giving gotten out of control in your family? Set up a new scenario for children's Christmas gifts that includes more laughter than dollars. In our family, we focus on creating many special times together doing holiday activities during the month of December. The memories made in that way are worth more than any gifts you can buy. (There are ideas for some of these activities on web pages listed to the left.)


We talked about gifts as our children were growing and they understood that their "Santa lists" should list just a few items that were really important to them at the time. We did our best to make sure that the most important items were purchased. (For years, our youngest son supplied us with coupons, links for best prices for items on-line and comparisons so we could get the best price on his "Santa List" items!) Even today, in our family, a "big" gift item is usually somewhere between $25-50, not hundreds or more. We filled-in with lots of smaller items and our children always felt satisfied and excited, often saying that "this was the best Christmas ever!"


We put together our own gift packages for our children, and now our grandchildren, and build them around each child's current interests. Then we wrap things in as many individual packages as possible. We also use games (see column to the right) to make gift opening a lengthy and always fun event. There are "rules". Only one gift is opened at a time so that everyone can enjoy what everyone else receives too. We take turns opening gifts so that no one has to be terribly patient. At the end, jumping in the wrapping paper pile is always encouraged. Even though we spend very little on gifts, the opening process takes several hours and includes lots of laughter. By the time the kids are done opening everything, they have had quite a good time and it "feels" like they have received much more than the dollar amount of the gifts. We never get complaints and always get appreciation for what they received.


Wrapping gifts is an art in our family, although not necessarily an art of the beautiful sort. We put small items in large boxes and add cans of food, stacks of magazines or books, etc. to make the boxes heavy. Those are put under the tree to keep kids guessing. We also add noisemakers to some boxes. Jingle bells, and things that rattle or go "thump" when a box is shaken, are often found wrapped up with "quiet" gifts of clothing. We also wrap things in a series of boxes. This is always a favorite. (Everyone knows they will get at least one of these.) What looks like a large gift might be a small but valuable one or it might be a small "joke" gift, but either way, opening three or four boxes to get it is always fun. You can never trust what the box says in our house. We recycle boxes and you really need to open a gift completely to know what really is inside any box. If a gift contains many parts, each part is often wrapped individually. It makes for more gifts to open and the laughter level is always high. (With the older children, groans were sometimes included, but all in good fun.) We also found interesting ways to wrap items. There are usually some in cans or canisters, some in fabric and a few find their way into a red flannel drawstring "Santa Bag" that I made. I have even wrapped small things inside a ball of yarn or tucked an item inside a loaf of Italian bread. There are always many surprises.


Not all gifts are placed under the tree. Gifts from one another go under the tree as they were wrapped. (And many of these are wrapped in "deceptive" ways to keep the kids guessing. We have also been known to supply hints to throw them off track; by making comments such as, "Don't tip that box, it might leak." The anticipation is wonderful!! Gifts from Santa show up in the morning. Some of these are wrapped in different paper than the other gifts and some of Santa's gifts are not wrapped at all but simply appear in all their glory on Christmas morning.


Gratitude, and not disappointment rules the day. The memories are priceless!











Angel Gifts

Gift Directory


Nativity Activities

Written, Illustrated and Photographed by

Kas Winters

The Mother of Family Ideas™


160 pages Holiday Family Fun



11" x 8 1/2", Perfect Bound

Black and White pages with Full Color Cover

Usually shipped within 48 hours


$20.00 for printed book




(Electronic downloadable

flipbook file)


$9.99 for electronic flipbook


Make Opening Packages an Annual Game with Lots of Fun


Earning a gift by demonstrating the use of mistletoe.


At least half the fun of getting a gift can be the process of "earning" it by following clues or going through silly antics.


Here are some suggestions for hunting and seeking games that prolong the gift opening time and make it much more fun.


If you have one major gift that has accessories or parts to go with it, wrap each part or accessory separately and give the receiver a note with seek and find instructions. This leads to a small gift that is part of the series and another clue to finding the next gift. Eventually, the clues and small gifts lead to the larger gift and provide ideas as to what that might be. This also works well if the large gift is too large to wrap easily. Clues can lead to a closet or even a garage where the gift can be hidden without wrapping. Examples of series of gifts are: doll house furniture, dollhouse dolls, and dollhouse miniature accessories which all lead to a doll house as the major gift. Another example would be an assortment of camping gear leading to a tent, sleeping bag or hiking backpack.


Original clues can be handed to the person looking, but in our family, clues can be found in a number of places. Each family member has an embroidered bag that holds an original note. (Okay, so sometimes we hide the bags too.) Notes are also in a needlepoint basket and a angel ornament that opens to hold things. These are both hidden on the tree and must be found (along with a pickle and a candy chocolate kiss holder.) You can also place clues in plastic eggs and hide them around the room. (Of course this works for Easter too.) Clues can be hidden in balloons which must be popped to retrieve the information. (Always watch young children around balloons which are a choking hazard.) Treasure maps can be drawn for locating gifts. Treasure maps or clues can also be written on paper which is then cut apart and must be reassembled as a puzzle to obtain the information. You can even wrap a series of boxes (made heavy and noisy) and have the first note to a search in the smallest box inside. Part of the hilarity of the clues in our family is that we write them late on Christmas Eve when our brains are numb and our eyes are half open. We also write them in rhyming verse which is always terrible but funny nonetheless. The kids enjoy seeing what we come up with each year. (And yes, even though our "children" are now 21, 31 and 34, they still have to earn and search for their gifts and wouldn't have it any other way!)


In addition to clues, we also run string or yarn around the house and children must follow the string path to find a gift. Different colors are used for different children, and yes, they do get tangled! The funny thing is that our children, who are now all adults, have a great time with payback. A couple of years ago, my three children and I pitched in to buy dad a guitar for Christmas and the kids had him follow and entire skein of red yarn all through the house, outdoors and around the house several times and finally into the garage where the gift was hidden. Along the way, our youngest son serenaded him with music from his clarinet!  Older kids can also make up games for younger siblings to play and they all enjoy them. Talk about truly delightful memories!


Sometimes the children (and now grandchildren) have to earn their gifts by doing something silly before they are given the location of a gift to open. Silly antics can be specific to the receiver or they can be on slips of paper which are drawn from a bowl or basket. Here are just a few of the antics required in our family. have fun thinking of some of your own as well.

+Name all of Santa's reindeer.

+Jump up and down on one food while singing "Jingle Bells".

+Demonstrate the use of mistletoe.

+Sing "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" with silly sound effects.

+Scoop snowballs (cotton balls) with a spatula and put them into a container.

+Wrap a package while wearing gloves.

+Tie a bow behind your back.

+Tell about your favorite Christmas gift.

+"Ho Ho Ho" like Santa.

+Read the nativity from the Bible.

+Tell what you would five Jesus as a birthday gift.

+Share your most meaningful Christmas memory.

+Dance like the sugarplum fairy in "The Nutcracker".

+Lead the family in singing "Silent Night",

+Describe the most unusual gift your ever received (or gave).

+Demonstrate how to make a snow angel.

+Demonstrate how to build a snowman.

Put the FUN in Parenting!

Mother Lode

The Ultimate Collection of Ideas for Keeping Kids Busy

Over 5,000 Ideas for Tots through Teens

By Kas Winters 

USD $30.00



Kids' Craft of the Month

Simple Gift Ideas


Kids like gifts that make them feel special and special doesn't come with a price tag. Here are some of the simple items that have been popular in our family over the years.


Family photos with mirror in the  middle


+Photographs: I've made collages of favorites, collections from special events, and made calendars for my grandchildren which feature photos of the children, and their mother when she was their age, doing activities keyed to each month of the year. (Of course the calendar includes family birthdays and special events too.) I took a bunch of old family photos and made a collage where the photos are the frame (about 3" wide) for a small mirror in the center. (When you look at yourself in the mirror, you are surrounded by ancestors.) Choose special frames or make frames suited to photos. You can also frame children's artwork in a special way. Put photos in an album or special scrapbook. For more ideas for photo gifts, click the following link: Things to do with old photographs


Printed Gift Items: With the use of computers, these can be done simply and quickly. Make personalized stationery for family members. Even young children like having notepads with their name on them. Use clip art or photographs. If you do the art in black only, you can duplicate pages inexpensively using colored paper and make notepads of 50 sheets at a local quick printer. If you make 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" pads you can print them for two people at once, or even place three designs on one sheet for list-style pads. Calendars (as mentioned above) can be personalized to fit any family member's interests. If a child loves horses, you can make a horse calendar using clip-art photos and a little on-line research will likely yield some special horse-related calendar days. Make up blank books for children or special journals for the "big kids". Print family recipes to give to family members who might not remember how to make grandma's special meals. If you divide an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of index card weight paper into quarters it is just right for recipe cards. Tie them together with a ribbon. Print up pretend forms for children to play restaurant, office or school. Write a short story for your child or children and create it on the computer. Print out a copy and print the cover on heavier paper. Fold and staple it into book form. Draw your own illustrations or leave blank spaces for a child to illustrate your story. Click here for more information on creating a book.



Hand-crafted toys: If you have time and talent, there are countless gifts you can make for children. The photo above shows a wooden box that we called "The Magic Box". My husband built it and it has a wide variety of latches and little doors that open, a steering wheel, old telephone parts and other mechanical things attached to it. It sits on casters and has room inside to store things. This toy was played with for more hours than I can count and lasted for many, many years. It became everything from a space ship to an inventor's workshop. It was a very creative toy and provided both fun and learning.


Over the years we have made many toys. Roger made a simple dollhouse by building a roof for a set of shelves. It's not fancy, but it gets hours of use and there are no parts that break easily. We've made rocking horses, stick horses, teddy bears, handmade dolls, and lots of puppets and marionettes.


Everyone has different skills. If some of yours can be used to make a special toy, chances are it will be played with and valued rather than being tossed aside and broken. It will also make a child feel special. I have a step-daughter who is 40 years old and still fondly remembers the doll I made for her when she was 7. She kept it and played with it for many years.


Playset Gifts: These are fun because they can feature a particular interest of a child and help them to develop that interest and learn while playing. Some of these are available in toy stores, but we always created our own and used "real" components. Some examples:


+A Kitchen playset that includes a cookbook, apron, wooden spoons, measuring cups and spoons, a bowl and some simple recipes that the child can make.


+Restaurant playset that includes menus (Use take-out menus from local restaurants or ask for permission to take a regular one. Some said "yes".), a pad and pencil for taking orders, plastic dishes, and utensils, a tablecloth. We also included pretend tickets for a "show" after dinner and similar things.


+Inventor playset includes wires, pieces of wood, hardware, straws, pipe cleaners, washers. springs, string, electrical tape and/or duct tape and other odd materials. Fill a plastic tackle box or other container with "stuff". This was a big hit with both of our sons.


+Other themes: Craft materials, building /engineering sets; art supplies, animals/horses; medieval times; gardening, play office, wild west, outer space, dress-up of all sorts, etc.


You get the idea. Kids like playing with "real stuff" that doesn't have a prewritten "agenda" and allows for creativity. Combine things that match a child's interests and take time to teach where needed. Always lookout for a child's safety, matching tools and materials to their age and abilities. A bonus: most of the time the cost was much less than the toy store varieties.

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