When your child's care provider or teacher plans a gift exchange between kids...what should you do and how much should you spend? The key is to think small and special. You don't have to spend much to give a memorable present for each child in the class or playgroup. Just use your thinking cap. Here are some quick and budget-minded ideas--all under $1 or much less!
1. Smile! Photos Are A Sure HitIf you can take a few minutes and have a digital camera, you can create special photo memories for children. From fun foam, create a simple shape (star, tree, heart, sun), then cut out middle for where photo will go. Using only glitter glue, sequins, beads, feathers, or ribbon, create a special keepsake featuring each child's photo in the center. Be sure to create a loop for hanging. This isn't just for Christmas; make a heart shape for Valentine's Day, egg for Easter, etc. Be creative!
2. Craft A Friendship BraceletThis season, have your child craft friendship bracelets. Cost is, in a word, "cheap," but kids will love their special gift from your kid. Purchase stretch bead elastic from any craft store and knot one end. Slip on inexpensive beads (consider school colors, holiday themes pastels for springtime, bright neon tones, or even use alphabet beads to spell out a name). Girls aren't the only ones who like jewelry. Young boys may like one with a shell or guitar or sports-oriented.
3. Create Simple Pantyhose/Tights Choker NecklaceIt's all the rage with girls, and the cost is just pennies per necklace. Buy some colorful tights or hose. Don't use flesh-colored hose--those are boring! Cut a piece of pantyhose from the leg area about 1 inch thick, so that it is a complete, closed circle after cutting. The piece should roll up by itself so that it is thin; if not, use your fingers to roll it. That's it! The stretchy fabric is worn as a simple choker. Girls sometimes like to wear more than one (think pink and green) or similar. You can even attach a simple charm if you like. The stretchiness prevents the choker from being too tight.
4. Make Balloon ArtYou don't have to be a trained clown to create some simple and fun balloon art. Instructions to create simple balloon hats or kid-friendly swords often come with balloons. Make sure ahead of times that balloons are allowed (balloons of any kind are sometimes not allowed at places) and make sure the kids you are creating these for are past choking hazards, then volunteer to create balloon art for the occasion. Be sure to practice ahead of time so you are confident in your creations! Balloon art is a sure hit with kids and cheap to make. Take a group photo of tots with their creations!
5. Have An Ice Cream or Treat On MePurchase books of gift certificates for kid-friendly restaurants (McDonald's and Sonic are always popular options), then give each child one certificate (valued at $1) along with a special note signed from your child. Say, have an ice cream or slush on me this holiday season. Attach a mini-candy treat, and you're done!
6. Plan an Autograph PartyAsk for a special "dress up" or "theme" day and take a creative group photo of your child's class. Make a print of the photo for every child. Then, cut poster board to create a wide matte border around the photo and use cute lettering to write the name of child, school and year on the front. Set up an "autograph party" time where kids can sign their names on everyone's photo and add simple art (like hearts, smiles, peace signs, etc.).
7. Bells Rock!Create a jingle-bell necklace in a blink of an eye with this easy craft. Buy cord (gift wrap cord will work just fine). String a large bell in the center and then string festive beads on each side for accent. Don't get carried away in beading the entire cord. A few accent beads on each side, and perhaps one special one that stands out on each side, will do just fine! Write a clever message and you're set! This works for any holiday, especially when you use colors or shapes that match the occasion!
8. Craft Customized Books For KidsCreate a custom storybook for each child, and no, you don't need to be an author. Simply know each child's name and a few details, and create a simple storyline that will be treasured long after the gift-exchange is over. A favorite is to make the setting in the teacher's classroom or daycare, and add all kid names throughout.
9. Special "Food" Offers Glitz and GrinsMake reindeer food to give to each kid to put out on their lawn on Christmas eve. How? You can customize the recipe as desired, but the simplest one calls for oats sprinkled with magic, sparkling glitter. Include directions that the magic reindeer food should be put out just before a child goes to bed so that the reindeer will have enough energy to complete their route on this one busy night each year. You can alter theme to include "goblin food" for Halloween, bunny treats at Easter or leprechaun goodies for St. Patrick's day.
10. Encourage Group Giving To OthersAsk your child's teacher or provider if a gift for charity can be exchanged this year instead of toys. Gifts should be selected to benefit a child in need. Whether it is adopting an angel from the Salvation Army Angel Tree, collecting canned goods, or requesting new socks and underwear, let your child shop with you. Have a "giving party" in which all the items collecting are displayed and kids are treated to a special party. Now, that's the spirit!
11. Chinese Auctions Are A Great Kid ChoiceIt's called many names, but most are familiar with its concept: everyone brings a $1 wrapped gift with a certain theme (i.e. something edible, nail polish or Hot Wheel car), then numbers are drawn and guests get to pick either an unknown present or "take" one that is already opened. Regardless of how it is played, the concept works because everyone leaves with a present, only one gift has to be purchased, and the game is fun and is entertaining (good for hosts).
12. Craft A ShirtAn inexpensive shirt in a color of choice and permanent markers, fabric glitter pens, beads and scissors is all you need to create a memory that will last way past the party. The most inexpensive way is to have parents provide a shirt (it can be a plain one already in their child's closet). Kids can autograph each others' shirts (youngsters can trace hands or create simple drawings such as a smiley face), then glitz it up with fabric glitter pens and more. Cut 4-inch vertical strips on T-shirts at the hemline, slide on a few colorful beads, and knot it underneath for some extra style.
These are just a few of many inexpensive gift exchange ideas between kids, and I'm sure you have your favorites. If you're willing to share, please add your own ideas of what works, what is popular with kids, and even what isn't!