Fads and friendships may lead children to clamor for the latest toys and games on their birthdays, but homemade presents make personalized, customized gifts that reflect your son’s or daughter's personality, preferences and pastimes. From young children to teens, hand-crafted gifts make indelible memories as well as lasting keepsakes. To mark your child's next birthday, take the time to craft a special present that creates a big impression.
Letters & Numbers
To help young children learn, enjoy and play with letters and numbers, make a large-sized alphabet and corresponding set of digits out of fabric or on wood or stone. Because felt—as neither a knit nor a weave—can't ravel or tear, it makes a durable, colorful selection for a fabric-based version. Two layers of cloth stitched together with quilt batting or similar padding material between them make squeezable, puffy letters. You can create the patterns for your characters in any computer program that supports text and typefaces, including word processing, page-layout and illustration software, and output them on your printer. As an alternative to fabric, choose small wooden shapes or flat stones. Paint on your characters and seal the objects' surfaces with varnish.
Along with the birthday cake, cook up a batch of craft materials that can give your child hours of fun drawing and painting. On your range top, melt crayons in a metal can placed in a pan of boiling water, stirring the wax with a wooden stick suitable for mixing paint. Pour the liquid into molds used for making candy, soap or small shaped cakes. When it cools, the result retains its writing abilities in a new and clever form. You can also make your own finger paint out of a mixture of sugar, salt, corn starch, water and food coloring, warmed in a pan to the point at which it thickens.
For a child who loves to write, a customized journal offers a private place to jot down thoughts and record daily events. Even children who spend much of their scholastic time with a computer or tablet device enjoy the tactile sense of pen on paper and the permanence of a real book in which they can write. Use permanent markers, crafting supplies or paints to decorate the journal's cover with your child's name and paste a printout of a picture you've taken with your digital camera inside the front cover, with your child's name written below her image. For a younger child, make a keepsake chest out of a wooden or sturdy cardboard box, complete with his name lettered on the lid.
Music & Movies
Make your child the star of a movie you shoot with your digital camcorder. Create a custom gift certificate on your computer and printer, announcing the movie and your child's role in it. Together with your child, write the script on your computer and shoot the scenes on weekends or evenings. After you put the footage together, enlist your child's assistance to choose the typeface for the credits and approve the final edit. In a family with more than one child, you can create a movie for each one's birthday and allow the others to play supporting roles in each other's productions. Plan on a big batch of microwave popcorn to accompany family viewing night, as you screen your child's big debut feature on your HDTV and home theater system.
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