Thursday, November 12, 2009

I'm Still Here! And With a Compilation of a Few of My Favorite Beautiful Thrifty Christmas Gift Ideas!

Didja miss me? Well, with my newest little arrival, many things have gotten put on the backburner, and this blog is one of them. To tell you the truth, I shouldn't even be writing on here now! I have many other more pressing things to do! But I just wanted to help out all my frugal friends by re-posting some FREE (or almost free) Christmas gift ideas. It's getting to be about that time, and we need to start putting on our elf hats and getting started in the workshop! So here are a few ideas to get you started, all from my Twelve Days of Christmas posts from last year. For more inexpensive ideas, check out my Christmas Gifts, Handmade Gifts, and 14 Days of Valentines sections.

1. Folder Games!

First of all, I must say that I can't take credit for this idea- my good friend Brooke is the one who was generous enough to share her family's collection of folder games with me (she is such an awesome mom!). Her little ones get very excited when it's time to do folder games. What is a folder game, you ask? Read on and you shall find out...

Brooke has this magic file box filled with over 60 file folders. Upon taking out a folder, attached to the inside you will find instructions for that particular folder game, along with all the materials/objects needed to play the game. Some of the games are more elaborate than others, but some are as simple as this one:

String Fun (pictured above)- Folder contains strings of different lengths and colors and the following instructions:
Ask the child,
a. Which string is longest?
b. Which string is shortest?
c. Put the string on the floor in a line
i. Walk forward on the line
ii. Walk backward on the line
iii. Jump over the line
d. Put the string on the floor in a circle
i. Hop around outside the circle
ii. Walk on tiptoes around the circle
iii. Walk on heels around the circle
iv. Jump inside and outside the circle

This may seem pretty silly to you, but trust me- to a toddler or preschooler, this is a roaring good time! (Seriously, I did it with my 4-year-old son this afternoon, and he just loved it!) Not to mention that it helps develop their motor skills and helps teach them their shapes, body parts, and directions.

It would take hardly any time at all to put together a set of 3-5 (or more) of these sorts of games and give them as a gift to a family with young children (or even to your own children!). For older children, you could do more complicated games involving math and reading. You could even continue to give additional folder games for future birthdays and Christmases and eventually give your recipient an entire collection!

I was at Wal-Mart today, and they have a box of 100 file folders for $3.88. However, they were not great quality, so I picked up a box of 24 (higher quality = will last longer) for $4.88, along with a cool little vinyl zipper pouch big enough for files for $1.88. For $2.69 you could give someone 4 folder games in a zipper storage pouch (not counting any supplies, like felt, stickers, or fabric that you might not have on hand).
As a mom, I know that sometimes I am just at a loss for things to do with my little ones. These games are an easy, fun, and educational way to interact with your kids and share some special time together.

Here are a few more of my favorites:

Concentration Stickers- Folder contains cards with stickers on them, 2 of each sticker
a. Place cards on table with sticker-side face down. Pick up two cards. If the stickers match, you keep them and pick two more cards. If the stickers do not match, you put the cards back and it’s your opponent’s turn.
b. Keep playing until all cards are matched.

Mailman- Folder contains brown paper “mail bag” and 5 envelopes with names and addresses, along with a bag containing 5 different colored and numbered houses (ex: envelope reads: Princess Alice, 16 Castle Road, London England; match with small castle cutout with number 16 on it); other houses: igloo, teepee, hut, regular house
a. Place houses around a room or in different rooms in the house. Have the child place the envelopes in the appropriate locations (matching the numbers on the envelopes to those on the houses).
Counting Apple Trees- Folder contains 10 numbered cards with felt trees on them, 12 circular red felt “apples” (you could even just make one tree attached to the inside of the folder, and have cards with numbers on them for the child to pick)
a. Place the correct number of apples on each tree

Get Rich- Folder contains bag with paper coins, each marked with amount (1, 5, 10, 25 cents), each amount a different color
a. Roll die. Calculate money amount according to chart and withdraw that amount. At the end of the time or number of turns, player who is richest wins.
b. Chart for die rolls:
i. 1 = 1 cent
ii. 2 = 5 cents
iii. 3 = 10 cents
iv. 4 = 20 cents
v. 5 = 25 cents
vi. 6 = 50 cents

Just Suppose- Folder has bag containing cutout images of different animals (kangaroo, cat, elephant, whale, owl, frog)
a. Just suppose you were a _______. How would you walk, talk, eat, run, crawl, sing, laugh, cry, etc.?

Sink or Float- When open, folder has sink image on left side, float image on right
a. Open folder and stand it up in front of child. Place a bowl of water between the child and the folder. Let the child drop items from around the house into the bowl one at a time. Have the child retrieve the objects and place them in front of the appropriate side of the folder.

Feel the Fabric Game- Folder contains 5 matching pairs of scrap material with distinct textures
a. There are 5 pairs of scrap material. Spread the pairs on the table and divide the pairs into 2 areas.
b. Close your eyes and move the scraps around in each area. With your eyes still closed, match the scraps by feeling them with your hands only. Stack the pairs in front of you.

As far as additional recommendations, just try to use games that are age-appropriate, don't hesitate to get creative and make up your own games, and for added durability you canuse lamination on all or parts of each game. Ziplock bags also work well when stapled inside the folder to hold small game pieces.

Can you think of a good folder game?

2. Club Memberships

A couple of years ago, my husband and I decided that we should each give one another a "love present," with the caveat that it should not cost a lot (if any) money. As I thought of what to give him, I started remembering all the times he had been looking through a magazine or a cookbook (he gets bored sometimes while I'm cooking) and he had come across a recipe for some decadent dessert and started drooling, saying, "Mmmmm...that looks should really make that sometime!" And so I decided to enroll him in his own personal "Dessert of the Month Club". I gave him a fancy looking scroll stating the terms of his enrollment (dessert must be requested by the 5th of the month, etc) along with a few potential dessert recipes I had cut from magazines. Needless to say, it hit the sweet tooth right on the crown. ;-)

For friends- you could try a "Dinner of the Month" club, in which you could have a set day of the month (like the 2nd Sunday) that they would come to your house for dinner. It gives them a break from cooking, and allows you to strengthen bonds of friendship on a regular basis. You could do a 6-month, 12-month, or whatever other enrollment period works best for your family. For extra fun, fasten the "enrollment certificate" to a plate, then wrap it like a normal gift.

For ladies from their man- enroll your wife or girlfriend in a "Car Care Club" and wash and vacuum out her car for her once a month. (Sweetie, are you reading this?) ;-) For a fun presentation, attach the certificate to a sponge.

For kids- Give them coupons for things like, "Get out of cleaning your room", "Pick your own dinner menu", or "Special date with Mom." Decorate a box or an envelope for them to keep their coupons in.

For friends with kids- give them a gift certificate for 6 months of free babysitting, planning one night a month they can leave the kids with you and have a date (this is also a great baby shower gift!). Attach the certificate to a rattle or another baby toy.

The other nice thing about these "gifts that keep on giving" is that it spreads the time and expense out over the course of several months to a year. The only thing I would recommend is to, if at all possible, plan the dates for service in advance and put them on your calendar, otherwise they can be easily forgotten.

Just have fun with it, make it something thoughtful and useful, and be sure to follow through!

3. Handprint Poems

This is just a quick example of what it might look like- I just traced my daughter's hand print and colored it in, and it's not framed- yours will look much prettier!

I made these a few years ago for all 3 sets of our parents (all the kids' grandparents). I simply used finger paints to get the kids' hand prints on a sheet of white cardstock, then I printed outthis poem on another piece of cardstock. I matted the poem and the hand print side by side on a darker color piece of cardstock along with the child's name, date, and age, then purchased a $5 frame from Wal-Mart and framed the whole thing. The grandparents all loved them, and still have them hanging in their homes.

You can get more creative with this if you want, and use patterned paper and embellishments to dress it up. My main recommendation is to actually brush the paint on the kids' fingers(rather than letting them dip their hands in the paint) because it doesn't waste as much paint and it makes for a much cleaner handprint.

And here's a bonus art project for the kids if you want another idea for a fun grandparents' gift- last year I bought an 8x10 photo mat, and I had the kids paint it however they wanted. While they were painting, I took a photo of them doing it. Then I had the photo blown up to an 8x10 size and used the mat they painted to frame it. It really captured the moment, not only with the finished product but with the photo showing the fun they had creating it.

4. Family Memory Game

This was one of my favorite Christmas gifts so far. My husband has a large family (he is one of 10 children, and most of his brothers and sisters are married with children), and they are spread out all over the country, from Boston to Kansas to California and a few places in between. Needless to say, we don't get to see each other all that often. So one year I made these family match games for all of my nieces and nephews.

A month or two before Christmas, I sent out an e-mail calling for family unit photos- the whole family, if there were kids, or just the couple if there were no kids, or just the person if they were unmarried. I then had several wallet-sized copies of each photo made (very easily done through and began making sets of cards, each set containing two copies of each family's photo.

Once I had the photos, I used scrapbook paper and glued the pictures to the white side using a glue stick specifically for photos. I found that the best way to do this was to glue the photos down prior to cutting them. Then I used my trusty paper cutter and trimmed each photo to the edges. Then I used my corner rounder (available at any craft store) and rounded each corner.

While it may seem like it took a long time to make 10 sets of these, it actually didn't take very long at all once I got the hang of it. I also included a slip of paper with each one listing ideas for games that could be played using the cards:

- Guess who? Go through the cards and try to remember each person's name.
- Remember When? Take turns choosing a photo and say something you like about someone in the picture, or say something fun you remember doing with them.
- Memory- Lay out the cards face down, then take turns trying to find a match.
- Story Time- Take turns picking out a card, and then make up a story starring you and the person whose photo you picked.

I also made a little "bonus gift" with the photos by matting them and attaching them to a pretty piece of patterned paper, which I then framed with the family name and date and presented to my husband's parents. It's hard to get a whole-family photo these days, so that was the next best thing.

I got a great response from doing these cards- they were simple, fun, and they helped to strengthen family bonds even across the country. Now when the cousins get together, they feel like they know each other a little better, because they've been "playing together" all year! I also appreciated the fact that these were very inexpensive to mail to the more distant family members.

Even if you don't have a large family, you could do these cards simply with individual photos. You could even include photos from different events (Halloween, birthdays, vacations, etc.) and have fun remembering the activities you did together. This is a great way to spread a little family love at Christmastime.

5. Where I'm From poem

Think you're not a poet? Think again! With this template you can write a poem that will touch the hearts of your family members. Here's a little sampling of mine:

Where I'm From

I am from the Morgans and Lees of Virginia. I am from the white-blossomed dogwood tree, the ruby red cardinal, and the quiet rushing of the Shenandoah River. I am from the horse farm, the house in the desert, and the “double-wide” on the mountain at the turn in the long dirt road.

I am from wood shavings and alfalfa hay, the creosote fence, the salt blocks in the field and the squeaky metal swingset. I am from the fallen willow, the daffodils by the stream, the gravel driveway, and the most loyal and sweet floppy-eared Doberman in the whole world.

I am from cuddle bears, Legos, barbies, the marble chess set, the furry mustard-yellow bedspread, and mom’s cast bronze horse with the little chain reins that I wasn’t supposed to play with but always did...

This would be a beautiful and thoughtful gift, especially for your parents or siblings. And all it takes is your heart and memories.

6. Pop-up Dollhouse

The crayon isn't a fixture. It's just for scale.

This idea came from the Small Notebook, and it is almost more fun to make than to give! It would be a delightful gift for any little girl. Using old home decorating magazines (check your local library to see if they're getting rid of any that you could use if you don't subscribe to them) cut out various items to decorate your room. Cut slits in the fold of the folder to make parts of the scene "pop out", then glue your images on to create a beautiful miniature room. Give a whole set to your favorite little girl, along with paper dolls to scale. So fun!

Again, if you want more ideas for inexpensive/free Christmas gifts, be sure to check out other areas of my blog. Remember- Christmas is about giving love, not about emptying your bank account! Hopefully I'll be back to blogging consistently again soon!

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