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children painting ornaments

I can’t be the only one feeling a bit blindsided by the holidays this year: The late Thanksgiving meant a ridiculously short season. (My family celebrates Christmas; those of you celebrating Hanukkah this week had an even tougher time, I’m sure, though at least it wasn’t stacked with Thanksgiving, like last year!) My four-year-old son has developed a sudden interest in crafts this fall, so I’ve been thinking about projects we can do to produce decorations for the house as well as gifts for his teachers and our neighbors and friends. A few minutes on Pinterest can lead to total craft-overload, so I did the head-scratching and narrowing-down for you: Here are a few simple craft projects that you can actually enjoy with your kids—most with supplies you probably already have lying around the house.

1. Simple necklaces

An upgrade from the usual string of beads, these adorable pendants are a great way to use up the oddball assortment of beads, buttons, and trim you’ve stowed away in a drawer or box. In the tutorial, a little face drawn on with permanent marker transforms random beads into bumblebees or jolly little clowns. You could build elves, snowmen, gnomes, or funny people just as easily.

(Want to make a more grown-up gift for adults? I love these painted wooden bead key fobs, though I'd swap out nail polish for non-toxic paint!)

2. Peppermint candy ornaments

Candy canes and peppermint stripes are undeniably festive, and I couldn’t believe how easy and clever this idea is. I’m dying to try it this weekend! Basically, you put cookie cutters on parchment paper (to prevent sticking), lay round peppermint candies in the cutters, and bake until they melt together. Obviously you’ll be the one handling the hot pans, but even young preschoolers will love putting the candies in the molds and stringing cords through the finished product to make ornaments.

3. Cardboard yarn ornaments

I remember doing this as a kid: Cut circles of cardboard and make slits around the sides, then wrap yarn around to make geometric patterns. Depending on the colors of yarn you use, you can make them as seasonal as you like—non holiday colors would produce a decoration that can be left up all year. Since the finished ornament is fairly sturdy, these would be great as gift-toppers or to slip into cards you’re sending to distant relatives.

4. Dough ornaments

Everyone made these, right? I have an incredibly strong memory of making cinnamon dough ornaments with my Brownie troop when I was seven or eight. 

Cinnamon Dough:

These smell incredible, so make sure the toddlers don’t try to take a nibble! Martha Stewart’s recipe calls for 1 cup cinnamon, 1/2 cup applesauce, and 1/2 cup craft glue —she proceeds to create gorgeous but complicated glittered-covered birds, but you can just cut out stars, hearts, or other shapes with cookie cutters and leave them plain after baking, or let the kids go wild with glitter and sequins.

Salt Dough:

Similarly simple and non-edible, but the pale color makes the ornaments easier to paint, if you have a budding artist on your hands. Use one part flour to one part salt, and up to one part of water, adding it gradually until the dough stays together but isn’t too sticky. (If it gets sticky add more salt and flour in equal amounts.) One cup of each will produce a decent amount of dough to start with. Roll and cut with cookie cutters, and use stamps (if you have them) to press patterns into the dough. (I used snowflake stamps on circles last year and they were adorable.) Make a hole with a straw so you can string a ribbon through once they’re baked, then bake on a parchment- or foiled-lined tray at about 215 degrees Fahrenheit for a couple hours, until they are hard. When the ornaments are cool, paint with craft paints, decorate with glitter, or just leave them plain.

5. Finally, how about letting the kids make your wrapping paper? I use a lot of the big painted papers my kids bring home from preschool (we save our favorites, but the sheer volume means recycling is a must), but I cracked up when I saw this PBS Kids video about using toy cars to drive paint onto butcher paper! It could get messy, but it would be so fun, and if you limit the paint to white, the results are remarkably sophisticated.

Happy holidays and happy crafting!

Kate Flaim, Writer

Kate is a freelance writer and mother of two based in Cambridge, Mass, though she’s never quite stopped missing her native Oregon. When she’s not caring for her preschoolers or figuring out what to cook for dinner, she’s usually thinking about food, books, or renovations. She also blogs (very sporadically) at