Family, Kids & Relationships

Last-minute homemade gifts that are thoughtful and free

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This year-end holiday season won’t be the same for a lot of families, but that doesn’t mean it has to be less meaningful. One new tradition some families are embracing is the art of the homemade gift. And whether you’re looking to avoid in-person shopping, need to save money, don’t have time to wait for online orders to ship, or just want a soothing project to help you ease into this challenging winter, homemade gifts can be just the solution.

The best part about homemade gifts is that kids can participate in the hands-on fun of making and receiving them, and the whole family can appreciate the hard work and thought that goes into each gift. Plus, they’ll certainly be more personal than something you can find on the shelves of a big-box store.

Here are some ideas for unique and practical DIY gifts that parents and kids can make with materials they’re likely to have around the house.

Coiled newspaper coasters

Make a set of attractive, upcycled coasters or trivets using just newspaper and glue. All it takes is some cutting, folding, and careful rolling—and patience. This video shows all the steps in detail. It takes time, but can be a satisfying hands-on activ8ity for when you need a break from all those Zoom meetings.

A set of greeting cards

Decorate the front of some blank cards, and the recipient can use them to keep in touch with loved ones during the coming year. If you’re not feeling confident in your drawing or painting skills, try a simple collage: Cut strips of colorful paper, (free!) paint chips from the hardware store, old maps, magazines, wrapping paper, or photos. Then glue them onto the card in a pattern of stripes, candles, a rainbow, or any other mosaic design you come up with.

A cheerful banner

Create a banner of pennants or other designs that the recipient can use to cheer up a space—it’ll make for a festive Zoom background too. All you need is string and paper. Cut the paper into triangle pennants, snowflakes, hearts, or any other shape you like. Then use hole punchers, scissors, markers, etc. to embellish them as you wish. Fold and tape your flags or snowflakes onto a long piece of string, leaving extra string at the ends to tie up the banner.

Cinnamon Sugar hand scrub

Using ingredients you probably have at home, you can pamper someone on your gift list with a skin-softening treat. Just mix the following:

  • ¼ C light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ Tbs coconut or olive oil

Wrap it up in a sealed container (put it in the fridge if you want it to last more than a couple weeks). Include a tag with instructions for the recipient, letting them know they should rub about 1 tablespoon of the scrub on wet hands, rinse, and let hands air dry.

Bouquet of memories

Make flowers out of different colors of tissue paper: Fold tissue paper into accordions and cut the ends into points or rounded edges, then wrap the folded end in pipe cleaners or other stiff wire, and fan them back out. (See some instructions here.) Arrange the flowers in a glass bottle or jar—or a plastic one that’s fancied up with paint or paper and weighed down with a few stones at the bottom. To make the bouquet even more special, attach a small note (or “leaf”) with a special memory onto the bottom of each flower. Each memory will be a hidden surprise for whenever the gift recipient needs a pick-me-up!

Wacky craft kit

Spark a kiddo’s creativity by giving them a box of interesting household materials to create something with. On the cover, write a simple, open-ended prompt like “Create a made-up animal” or “What could you build with the stuff in this box?” And then fill the box with supplies that you can gather from around the house. Think: straws, toothpicks, bottle caps, tissue paper, ribbon, felt, fabric, pipe cleaners, plastic forks, cardboard cut into interesting shapes, scraps from greeting cards or wrapping paper, leaves, rubber bands, twist ties, bread-bag clips, stray playing cards or game pieces, or anything else you find.

Send a hug

Who wouldn’t want to receive a real hug in the mail? Just measure your child’s wing span (from wrist to wrist, with arms open wide), then cut a long piece of paper to size. If you don’t have one long piece of paper, you can tape or glue several pieces together end to end. Next, trace and cut out hands from paper and tape or glue them to each end of the long piece. Decorate as desired, and send with a note for the recipient to wrap it around their necks for a paper hug that’s almost as sweet as the real thing.

Unique picture frame

Make your own picture frame using cardboard, popsicle sticks, and other materials. A collage with colorful magazine scraps, old buttons, shells, painted pieces of cardboard, or other materials is one simple way to decorate it. Colorful yarn also does a great job of gussying up a rectangle of cardboard into a very cute frame. 

Decorate a magnet

Everyone can use a fun but functional magnet for the fridge. If you don’t have blank adhesive magnets, you can use an old magnet you don’t care about (like a free “gift” from a real estate agent) and glue your decoration onto it. Embellish your magnet with an inspirational quote, photo, drawing,  or pattern. You can even cut up a large magnetic strip into smaller ones to make a set of magnets—but just test them first to see if they’re still strong enough to hold anything onto the fridge.

Personalized bookmark

This is the perfect gift for the bookworm on your list! Cut a piece of heavy paper or thin cardboard into a rectangle, about 2 inches by 7 inches. Use your imagination to decorate it—try wrapping colorful tape around the edges, using letter cut-outs or stickers to spell the recipient’s name, adding paper flowers, or gluing on stripes of paper. Punch a hole near one of the short ends, thread a few lengths of ribbon, string, or yarn through, and tie them together.

Jazz up a box

If you have an old cardboard box of any size, you can make it into a stylish box that the recipient can use for storing jewelry, mail, keys, pens, knicknacks, and more. Make an old box look new by covering it in an interesting print: perhaps you could use vintage maps, pretty wrapping paper, aluminum foil, magazine or newspaper pages, old photos, or ticket stubs.

Upcycled jump rope

You can make your own jump rope and recycle some plastic bags at the same time. All you need is a stash of plastic bags and duct tape—see the instructions here. With more time and lots of plastic bags, you could also make a braided basket. The best thing about these projects is that they can be done with simple braiding and twisting, no crocheting skills necessary.

Weave a basket

Using commonly found plants like grapevines, ivy, or honeysuckle, you could make a basket using materials from your own backyard. Here are some instructions for a natural basket or plant container that even beginners can accomplish. Then, fill it with homemade muffins, or simply tie a bow on it and let it stand on its own.

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.