Give innovative experiences for the holidays

The big day is a week away. It's usually a time of heart palpitations for gift-givers as well as recipients of the tiny sort. All that excitement from the youngsters prompts parents and grandparents to go beyond their planned budget and get "just...

The big day is a week away. It’s usually a time of heart palpitations for gift-givers as well as recipients of the tiny sort. All that excitement from the youngsters prompts parents and grandparents to go beyond their planned budget and get "just one or two more things." But the extra stuff may mask the really important gifts during this season: a gift of time and love.

People sometimes equate gift quantity with love, but if the giver has been paying attention to the youngster, there will be messages that reveal some less-expensive gifts that involve more time than money.

Imagination, for wee ones, is just getting started. They want to try everything, whether dangerous or not. They just want to do anything they’ve seen a parent do. They are basically walking parrots trying out their wings at any kind of flight.

Little ones, if walking, are running and crawling into and over everything, pulling down whatever they can reach, and getting bumps and "owies" daily. There is a saying that a puppy or kitten would rather have a box their big treats came in, than the treats themselves. Same goes for the toddler. A big, sturdy box, painted and made to look like a fort or playhouse works as well as a plastic facsimile of the same structure. And when that small destructive force rolls it into some unrecognizable shape, it can be discarded in the trash or taken to the recycling center, instead of trying to find some other toddler wanting a bulky plastic play fort that occupies half its bedroom…and worse, one that’s already battered and worn.

Washing machine boxes are great for making into a fort, castle or playhouse. Cutting windows and doors out of the walls makes it a fun place to enter and leave. Some water-based markers can also be used for the child to create his/her own decorations and ideal play space. Making it with the child gives them an education in how to do something creative with a simple box. Be sure, however that you use cutting tools that are age-appropriate for the child, or else cut the opening when the child is not around. Doing something with the child is a far greater gift than making something perfect in an adult’s eyes (or buying an expensive item), then giving it to them. A gift does not register as "from" someone unless it is from Santa. A gift is a gift, is a gift to a youngster. Making something "with" becomes a memory. What is made matters far less than the experience. As for perfection? Well, what is perfect in a toddler’s eyes will never be the same as seen by an adult. Just go with that tiny one’s vision, and have fun.


Older children can benefit from an experience they have to research before doing. Elementary school kids usually enjoy dress-up and role-playing. Making armor and play gowns would be a great grandparent/grandchild pairing during the holidays. Getting measured for a chest plate is one thing. Making chain mail or painting a cardboard shield (for a kid) is an experience. Doing it with an adult is even more fun. Assigning a grandchild the task of drawing the family crest or even making up one that will be used for a battle gives great fun-time connections. If at first they get "bored" at the thought, just start the project without them, while being in their way. If it is interesting enough, it’s a great means of provoking curiosity and involvement, especially if you can involve other kids.

Life is not just electronics and sports. Creativity and interaction while making something stimulates new ideas, new thinking strategies, and even helps with school work.

Anyone can research how to make chain mail online. It’s as easy as five rings times many dozen sets of five. Looping four rings on one and connecting those groups together (with one ring between each set) is all that’s necessary to make chain mail. Wooden sign stakes can be bought at most hardware stores and made to look like a battle sword. But because they are not sharp, they’re as safe as a wooden yard stick. A little paint and the youngster has made a practice sword. A trip to the thrift store for napkins, scarves or kitchen towels will give them a flag if stapled to an old broom handle. A favorite battering ram is a piece of conduit inside a floating "noodle" wrapped with duct tape. A pair of them makes for great fun, and an exciting battle.

Crowns are easily made using cardboard or aluminum tubes, cut (using a cup to make the negative curved points) and painted to look like a king or princess’ crown. Some fake jewels and glue gives them that finishing touch. Puff paint can add dimension to skirts that are reworked to look like royalty regalia and a can of spray paint will convert those shoes to Cinderella’s. Royal jewels can be made with chain mail using smaller rings and adding some pieces of thrift-store costume jewelry. Then, all you need is the story book or even a chapter book for the older kids…I have yet to find a kid who doesn’t enjoy being read to…especially if everyone is in costume appropriate for the reading.

One of the University of Jamestown’s education faculty used to describe how she’d hand out a dollar to each student and take them to the thrift store to buy certain items they’d remake with youngsters as they learned to handle a classroom of elementary students. It’s also a great way to engage kids of any age. They like the money, and usually will try to maximize their shopping experience, especially if there’s more than one same-aged kid with them for competition. A gift of time never stops giving. It will be remembered long after toys are gone.

If anyone has an item for this column, please send to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.

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