I loved making Christmas decorations with my mum when I was little and our tree was full of the resulting egg carton bells and cotton wool sheep for years. So as soon as my son was old enough to hold a glue stick, I excitedly started to continue the Christmas crafts tradition. I’ll be honest; It was hit and miss (the misses include a particularly dodgy toilet roll angel and an elf with a face straight off of a Wanted poster). A lot of his creations fell apart, and some were just… well… not very good.
To save you a lot of trial and error, here are six children’s Christmas crafts that cost pennies, look pretty and should stand the test of time. Glitter glue at the ready, everybody:
Salt dough tree ornaments
You will need: flour, salt, water, poster paints, glitter or similar, string or ribbon.
If your child loves playdough, these are perfect. All you need to do is whip up a batch of salt dough (very easy, honestly). Roll the dough out and cut out Christmassy shapes with cookie cutters: stars, bells, angels or gingerbread men are a good bet, but you could cut out any shapes you like. Festive rabbit anyone? Remember to add a small hole in each shape so you can hang them from the Christmas tree.
Put the shapes on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and bake them in the oven on the coolest setting until solid (about 3 hours). When they’ve cooled down, you can paint the shapes and decorate them with shiny stuff (glitter, beads, sequins). Be sure not to store these anywhere damp or they can start to disintegrate. An airtight tin and layers of baking parchment to separate the decorations can help.
‘Stained glass’ tealight holders
You will need: a plain glass tealight holder or any other clear glass container that could hold a tealight, tissue paper in various colours, PVA glue, a tealight candle.
You know that giant cupboard stash of glass ramekin dishes left over from those posh chocolatey puddings that you keep eating? Now is their chance to shine! Take a small glass container or tealight holder (careful now – lots of supervision needed), ask your child to choose three colours of tissue paper, then rip the paper into small pieces – anything from roughly 1-3 square centimetres is fine and the more irregular the shapes and raggedy the edges are the better. Coat the glass container in a layer of PVA glue and stick the pieces of tissue paper on. Put another layer of glue over the top, then add another layer of tissue paper. Overlap the pieces so that there are no empty spots. You might need another layer after this, so use your own judgement, then cover the final layer of tissue paper with glue and leave to dry. When you put a tealight (battery powered ones are available if you want to remove the fire risk) in the container it will glow and give the impression of stained glass.
You will need: An empty glass or clear plastic jar with a tightly fitting lid, fine glitter, glycerine (optional), waterproof glue, small plastic Christmas cake decorations or toys.
Ask your child to choose some small Christmas cake decorations or toys to go in the base of the snow globe. Arrange them on the inside of the lid and use the glue to stick them down. Allow the glue to dry thoroughly. Fill the glass jar nearly to the top with water and add a few pinches of glitter and a little glycerine. You can use just water on its own, but the glycerine slows down the way the glitter moves in the water which is pretty to watch. Screw the lid on tightly, shake and watch it snow.
Note: Don’t be tempted to use rice for the snow instead of glitter. My Year 4 teacher did this when I was at school and it turns out that rice left in water for a couple of weeks goes bad and starts to emit the smell of your nightmares through the glass jar. (Vomit. It smells of vomit). She had to evacuate the classroom and decontaminate the reading corner. Stick with the glitter.
You will need: a plain medium or large bauble, white poster paint, fine felt tip pens.
Ask your child to dip their hand in a dish of white paint. Make a handprint on the bauble with the palm on the underside of the bauble and the fingers extending up the sides. Leave until the paint dries, then turn the fingerprints into snowmen by asking your child to drawn on features like eyes, a nose, a hat, scarf and buttons. These are a lovely reminder of how tiny their hands once were but tasteful enough to adorn the most discerning parent’s Christmas tree.
You will need: A pinecone, red paint, scraps of orange and brown felt, googly eyes
These are particularly good to make because you can go on a lovely long walk disguised as a pinecone hunt first, then settle down to make the decorations later. Paint a large circle on the front of a pinecone to represent the robin’s ‘red breast’. Stick on googly eyes, a triangle of orange felt for the beak, orange felt shapes for the feet and brown felt ovals for the wings. Hang from the tree with string or ribbon and admire. If you’re feeling ambitious you could also attempt a reindeer with pipe cleaners for antlers.
Family handprint Christmas tree
You will need: A large piece of sturdy fabric in a pale colour - linen or hessian would work well, poster paint or fabric paint in various colours (especially green).
This is a lovely idea from my friend Sally who did this when her three children were small. Take a large piece of fabric create a Christmas tree on it by asking each family member (kids, parents, grandparents or any other family members that you are close to) to hand print a row of ‘branches’ – biggest hand prints at the bottom, gradually getting smaller towards the top. You could then print decorations on it and paint a big star on top. This can be hung on a door year after year and you can compare the hand sizes every time to see how much the children have grown. It can also be a poignant reminder of any family members who pass away over the years.
So go ahead and get Christmas crafting! But don’t get too hung up on being tasteful or making something perfect. Let children have as much control over the creative process as possible and see where it takes them (you can make your own decoration to satisfy your perfectionist urges if you must). Lovely though pretty handmade decorations are, the funny craft fails are often the decorations that we can’t wait to get out each year – and every Christmas tree needs a homicidal-looking bog roll Santa.