JOPLIN, Mo. —
Every year around Christmas time, I have visions of my kids turning into benevolent little gift-givers. I imagine them widely spreading generosity and expecting nothing in return, gleaning lessons about the joy of giving and the spirit of the season.
While there are nuggets of truth in that dream -- kids do adore making others happy -- I'm usually left scratching my head.
How do I encourage generosity without lowering my kids into the madness of shopping and spending? After all, the point of giving gifts is to show love, not introduce stress. I don't want my kids to think Christmas is more about meeting expectations than finding ways to bring joy.
With Christmas break creeping nearer, I think I've found the beginning of a solution. It's not philosophical or moralistic, but it does get to the heart of the matter.
The foundations of generosity can be simple at this time of year: Use the long days while the kids are out of school to make gifts to be given with love. Showing our kids that time and thought are as good as or better than a store-bought trinket is a gift in itself.
The time spent crafting presents for loved ones can reinforce the hope that our children will internalize the goodness of giving. Maybe even snap them out of the greedy cycles we fall into at Christmas time.
If you're searching for homemade gift ideas, have your kids think about what they enjoy doing, craft-wise. Do they like creating art? Help them think of someone on their list who might appreciate a one-of-a-kind painting. Set them up with canvasses and paint and let them create a wall-hanging for a grandparent who will no doubt adore both the intent and the result.
Do you have little bakers on your hands? Join them in the kitchen with a few recipes for chocolate-covered treats or painted sugar cookies. Lead them towards day-dreaming about how happy their cousins will be when they get a holiday bag full of sweets. Let them tie festive ribbons on the packages and hand-deliver their goodies to smiling friends and family members.
If your child wants to make something warm and cozy for a new baby sibling or a beloved aunt, take him to the fabric store and let him pick out a few lengths of fleece in the colors and patterns of his choice. At home, he can sit down with a ruler and a pair of scissors to cut 1-inch by 4-inch fringes around the fleece. Show him how to tie pairs of fringe in knots to make a border around a personalized blanket.
Kids can make picture frames from homemade materials such as popsicle sticks or dowel rods, or they can find bare wooden frames at the craft store. These can be painted and decorated with anything they find appealing, or tailored to the tastes of their recipient. Buttons, sequins, ribbons, silk flowers, and a thousand other tidbits can be added to a picture frame they will be proud to give to a loved one.
Even a random and scattered supply of craft goods can sustain us through a bout of Christmas crafting, and recipes and possibilities are abundant. If we teach our kids to search for inspiration and think of the people they'll be giving to this Christmas, their natural joy of generosity will be allowed to flourish.
Plus, it certainly doesn't hurt that these homemade gifts will keep everyone busy during the long holiday break.
Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife. blogspot.com.