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7 "Last Minute" Homemade Gifts for Kids

20 December 2011

I love seeing all of the wonderful homemade gifts that people make this time of year. I admire the projects and even pin them, but I know that I have little chance of ever making them. The truth is that even though I like making things, I'm just not very crafty.

I did make some homemade gifts this year. However, all of these gifts require little time, no "crafty abilities," and cost little to no money (depending upon what you have around the house and which parts of the gifts you decide to use.) Incidentally, this is not an advertisement for Dollar Tree- but it should be!

*One last note: I have made PDFs of all labels/ artwork/ and recipes used in these gifts, however, most of the files are too big for Google Docs. I would love any suggestions for how to share these, but in the meantime, e-mail me at: info (at), and I'll send you the PDFs for any or all of the kits.

Mancala- Cost: $0-$1 Time:15 minutes or less Skill level: None!

This one is the simplest, easiest, and cheapest, but can provide hours of fun for anyone 5-95!

Mancala is a game of strategy that is fun for all ages. I taught my 5 and 6 year old and sometimes they can even beat me. It doesn't take very long to play a single game, but is fun enough to play over and over.

To make a Mancala game, all you need is an egg carton and 36 of either stones (mine were $1 at Dollar Tree), beads, or dried beans.

Mancala Rules: The goal of the game is to collect more stones than your opponent. Start with 3 stones in each bowl. You own the six bowls on your side of the board and the “pit” to the right of the board. (The pit is either the ground or table, or an added bowl for collecting stones.) On your turn, pick up the three stones from any of your bowls and drop one stone in each of the bowls to the right of that bowl. If you get to the end of the board, one stone is dropped in the “pit.”
You may then continue dropping the rest of the stones on the other side of the board. If your last stone lands in the pit, you get to take another turn. If your last stone drops in an empty bowl on your side of the board, take that stone and any in your opponents bowl opposite that bowl, and add those stones to your pit. When one player’s bows are empty, the game is over and the remaining player may move all remaining stones to his or her pit. The winner is the player with the most stones at the end of the game.      

Cookie Baking Kit- Cost: $0- $4, Time: 30 minutes Skill Level: Minimal (due to glue gun designs!)

This one was inspired by this felt cookie kit posted on Pink and Green Momma. I loved her kit, but sadly, I don't sew, so I came up with my own "low craft" version.

I made three batches of homemade play dough: Sugar Cookie, Chocolate, and Cinnamon.  I put them in little round containers (I splurged and bought these at Michaels, but you can buy similar ones 3/$1 at Dollar Tree, or you can use ziplock bags) and then I added labels.

I filled an empty sprinkle container with pony beads, added a cookie cutter and made design "rolling pins," using a wrapping paper tube and hot glue. I also bought a small cookie sheet at Dollar Tree for, $1.

Monster Dough Kit- Cost: $0-$2, Time: 15 minutes, Skill Level: None!

Also inspired by Pink and Green Momma...

I used some extra dough from when I made my cookie kit (one is made with ginger, and one is made with blueberry tea, and although it's not blue, it smells like blueberry muffins.) Both of them are somewhat strange in color- perfect for monsters!  In the second container I put large and small googlie eyes, feathers, pipe cleaners, and pony beads. 

Rainbow Dough Kit- Cost: $0-$1 Time: 20 minutes   Skill Level: None!

This was inspired by Cameron Homemade. I loved the brightly colored dough she made and how great it looked in the cute little containers ($1 for 10 at Dollar Tree.) I started by adapting her recipe to make smaller batches since I was using so many colors. I also used unsweetened Koolaid instead of food coloring so that I would get fun scents along with fun colors.

After 2 batches I ran out of cream of tartar. I actually don't usually even have cream of tartar in the house which has prevented me from making baked play dough before. After some google searches which suggested you *might* be able to substitute baking soda and baking powder, and lots of experimentation with ratios, I came up with this recipe: Rainbow Dough Recipe and Ideas I love that it's even more frugal since it doesn't require the pricier cream of tartar!!

Sensory Lentil Bucket- Cost: $0-$10, Time: 5 minutes (plus shopping), Skill level: None!

When my oldest was around 2, I was going to make a sensory bucket using rice, but had a moment of inspiration at the store and bough lentils instead. Lentils make a wonderful sensory play medium; they are small, but non-toxic and not a choking hazard. They are also smooth and soft and make a great noise when they are shaken or poured.

I put the lentils in an empty Parmesan cheese container; this makes a great storage and play container! I then bought a bucket, scoop, set of funnels, slotted spoon, set of salad tongs, measuring cups, and measuring spoons. (Again, ALL from Dollar Tree!)

Puffs and Pipe Cleaners- Cost: $0-$4   Time: 10 Minutes plus shopping   Skill Level: None

Inspired by a busy bag we received through our busy bag swap, and another idea I also saw on Kidlet Occupation...

This is made using an empty oatmeal container which I covered with a colorful label. I punctured the lid using a corkscrew and then widened some of the holes just slightly with the tip of a knife (for threading pipe cleaners) and other holes I made a bit larger using scissors (for "popping" puffs).

Inside the container are puffs, pipe cleaners of different lengths, two pairs of plastic tongs and clear plastic shot glasses. (Once again, these can all be purchased at Dollar Tree.) My boys have been known to play for a very long time with the puffs, tongs and cups!

Artist Trading Card Binder- Cost: $0-$15 Time: 5 minutes plus shopping Skill Level: None!

This idea was inspired by an article in Family Fun Magazine about the new "fad" of creating and trading small works of art.

If you are a couponer, you could possibly create this gift for free using items you have around the house because one of the pricier items is 9 pocket page protector sheets.  The only necessities are a binder, trading card protector sheets, small pieces of paper, and art supplies.  I also added a zip pouch for the art supplies, a folder, and some store bought "official" blank artist trading cards from Michaels. (These are not necessary. For my own kid's binders, I just cut pieces of paper to size.)  

I also included a copy of the article to help explain the concept and provide ideas for how to create different kinds of art.

Looking for even more last minute inspiration? Check out my new post 7 (More) Last Minute Homemade Gifts for Kids!

What easy homemade gifts have you made? 
I'd love for you to share your ideas or links in the comments! 

Disclosure: The links to Amazon are my affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I receive an advertising fee.

This post is linked up to: Thrifty Thursday and Christmas Presents for Kids Roundup


  1. These are great ideas. I am a big Dollar Tree fan. Sometimes they have some really and truly smashing things there for a mere $1!
    I've made many homemade gifts this year but they are decidedly more involved and include sewing.
    I'm pinning this because I really love the mancala and various play dough kits!

  2. Thanks Amanda! It's funny because I didn't plan to buy everything at Dollar Tree, but as I wrote the post, I realized that I had basically found everything there!

  3. What great gifts! I love simple homemade things, I bet your children will love them.

  4. These are fabulous!! Thanks for sharing at Shine on Friday!

  5. I love the monster dough kit! It would be a perfect little gift from a preschool teacher to all her students :)

  6. Love your ad lib recipe for the play dough! I'll have to try it - my kids would love the fun scents kool aid adds! Thanks for linking to me :)

  7. Neat ideas! I love mancala! Thanks for linking to Shine on Fridays!!

  8. While reading your blog it seems that you research on this topic very much. I must tell you that your blog is very informative and it helps other also.
    handmade gifts

  9. LOVE rhe Mancala! I Pinned it and shared on my Facebook page! This whole post is just AWESOME!! I am your newest follower on GFC. I am SO glad you linked up at Thirfty Thursday...your blog looks AMAZING!

  10. Thanks so much Katie! When I taught middle school I made a ton of the homemade mancala sets- the kids loved playing it, and I loved watching them think strategically and interact with each other (including kids they normally may not have.) I taught my 5 and 6 year old to play this year and it reminded me about the homemade sets... Thanks so much for your kind words about my blog!

  11. Great idea! I'm loving all of them :) thanks for sharing! warm regards from Indonesia..

    1. Thanks Elga! I had so much fun making them all and they all really are quite simple!

  12. Nice post! You have worked hard on jotting down the essential information. Keep sharing the good work in future too.everybody will like it
    gifts for kids

    1. Thank you! I'm glad that you liked the ideas I shared.

  13. Nice homemade gift ideas. Thanx for sharing these nice ideas of homemade gifts.

  14. So many great ideas for gifts and crafts to do. Thanks for sharing all of your wonderful ideas.

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  17. Do you have some more collection of home made gifts?

  18. These are all such great ideas and homemade gifts are always the best way to go. I used to love playing Mancala. How fun to see it in an egg carton. Thanks for sharing and for linking up to Thrifty Thursday.

    1. Thanks Ruth! Mancala is my favorite game because kids can compete with adults and actually win! I love watching them devise strategies… At 6 years old, my daughter went through a phase of being completely unbeatable! I came up with the idea of using egg cartons when I taught middle school and needed enough games for my whole class.

  19. Thanks for linking these ideas up to Fabulously Frugal Thursday. I'm saving the mancala idea for my kids who love board games.

    FYI - I have a Christmas Gifts for Kids Linky, too, open until 12/24. You can find it here:

    1. Thanks Barb… the mancala game is my favorite because we love to play it and it is so easy to make! I'll check up your other linky. Thanks for letting me know.


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