Triangle Children Holiday Classes Create Homespun Gifts
A whimsical cinnamon-scented elf ornament. A hand-bound book of The Night Before Christmas, where Santa steps happily down the chimney of a lit fireplace. A wreath of green and red macaroni that is missing a noodle or two. Potato-stamped Christmas tree coasters. A manger made of Popsicle people.
Each holiday, parents lovingly display treasures made over the years by their little ones. These gifts are special because of their imperfections. They bring back memories and come from the heart.
Each year, venues across the Triangle host a variety of classes to help children make gifts the old-fashioned way — by hand — creating new memories for generations to come. (Learn more about the schedules for 2014 Triangle holiday gift-making classes for kids here.)
As the winter holidays approach each year, Jewel Kichak is among those who excitedly pull out decoration boxes. An arts program specialist with the Cary Arts Center, she decorates with ornaments made by “her children” — kids she has taught at art classes over the past two decades.
“A majority of our decorations were created by my children 20-some years ago,” Kichak says. “There are Rudolphs, Santas, stars, snowflakes, snowpersons, gingerbread persons, miniature trees, sleighs, candy canes and more. The eyes may be ‘misplaced,’ the proportions ‘irregular,’ and the colors ‘nontraditional,’ (but they’re) perfect — just the way they were made by all those little hands. Each item represents a memory, a precious gift to be unpacked over and over each year.” (Photos of box snowman at right and clay Santa on sleigh above courtesy of Town of Cary.)
Free Rein to Create
Kari Bacon, an artist who owns The Artful Mind in Wake Forest, teaches fine-art-based holiday classes for children to make gifts. She gives her students free rein in creating but encourages them to think about the person who will receive their gift, and tailor it to suit him or her. Bacon’s gift-making classes have yielded snow globes to be hung on trees, handsewn ornaments and finger puppets, candy dishes, picture frames, nativity sets, greeting cards and paintings of snowmen. This December, her classes will make gingerbread houses, candy cane garlands, clay bud vases and handsewn elf stuffies, among other creations. Her students choose what they will make right from the start.
“I let the child lead the way,” Bacon says. “[Their gift] will be one of a kind, and it will come straight from the heart because I make them really think about who they are giving it to. I say, ‘Does Grandma like the color red, and if not, let’s not put it in there.’” (Photo of ballerina ornament courtesy of Kari Bacon, The Artful Mind)
At West Point on the Eno, Susan Dwiggins, a certified clinical aromatherapist who owns Nature’s Pure Essentials, helps children ages 12 and older use nature to make gifts with scents favored by the person the gift is for. She teaches a “Blending Essential Oils for a Holiday Gift” class for Durham’s Parks and Recreation Department. Her students choose from a variety of essential oils to make scented bath salts, all-natural lotions and body spritzers. Along the way, they learn a dab of chemistry and the precise proportion of oil needed for each gift.
“It’s so easy, and that’s what I like the children to do — and adults — learn how to make these no chemical-, no pesticide-filled aromatic gifts, Dwiggins says. “They learn how many drops to put in a bath. They can either make a blend or they can use a single drop if they like the aroma of [say] lavender, rose.”
At the J.C. Raulston Arboretum of N.C. State University in Raleigh, a “Holiday Creations” class designed for children of all ages, and their parents, helps them experience the season in the garden. Children make holiday crafts using natural materials such as pinecones, acorn cups or sticks. Their final products range from cards to wrapping paper to hanging decorations, says Elizabeth Overcash, a children’s program coordinator with the arboretum. “It’s definitely a way for kids to connect with the garden and to have a piece of it that they can give — to create with the garden and to share the garden with other people.” (Photo at right courtesy of Elizabeth Overcash, J.C. Raulston Arobretum)
At the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, children in Nancy Pennington’s “Make It, Take It: Holiday Ornament” free drop-in program learn surprising facts about Victorian holiday decorating.
“A lot of folks made their own ornaments,” Pennington says. “Sometimes they could be elaborate; sometimes they could be very simple. We are going to focus on some of the simpler ones — made out of paper, maybe out of peanuts.”
Children may make a Victorian cornucopia filled with nuts or hard candy, or Victorian medallions to hang on a tree — using images such as an angel head or Santa cut from magazines.
Pennington, the museum’s associate curator of programming, welcomes children of all ages — and their caregivers — to the program. (Photo at left of Victorian ornament courtesy of Nancy Pennington, North Carolina Museum of History)
Becca Hulett, a pottery instructor who teaches a trinket box-making class for the Durham Arts Council, says children often love the gifts they make so much, they want to keep them. (Photo at right of heart-shaped clay trinket box, courtesy of Becca Hulett, Durham Arts Council)
“I have found that the children prefer to keep their masterpieces for themselves,” Hulett says. “Many parents have hinted that these would make great gifts — to no avail. There is something very satisfying about storing your treasures in a special box that you made yourself.”
Hulett, who made her first pot at age 4, says her students have been as young as 6 weeks and as old as 16. “Children make their trinket boxes out of clay, and they can be any shape or design. Whatever the child wants to make, we will figure out a way to be successful,” she says, noting that the 6-week-old child made a footprint in clay that was “very cute.”
Recycled Gifts From the Heart
For those who appreciate recycled creations, The Scrap Exchange, a nonprofit creative reuse center in Durham, invites children and adults to seek inspiration for their creations in the Make-N-Take Room, a studio filled with barrels of reclaimed fabric, tubes, sticker paper, elastic, wire, rubber bands and other clean industrial discards.
The studio inspires glue-free creativity, says Lindsey Miller, The Scrap Exchange’s outreach and events manager. “Though we do supply scissors, tape and staplers, we encourage makers to think outside of the box as they use other techniques to connect their materials. Without glue, these materials can be taken apart and used in new and different ways again and again, further promoting our environmental and creative mission,” she says. Self-led use of the studio is $5 per participant for 1½ hours, and visitors can take home their creations.
Holiday gift-making classes are also popular with many parents because they offer a safe place to drop off their kids while they take care of their holiday shopping. Mark Johns, a program specialist with Cary’s Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve, says, “A Natural Holiday” and “Winter Wildlife Wonderland” classes are popular because they enable parents to get their shopping done while the kids create.
As the pace of the holiday season picks up, these classes also provide children a place to contemplate the true meaning of giving. And for those parents who take the time to attend a class with their child, that feeling might rub off on them, too.
For details on class locations and schedules and to register your children now, read Triangle-Area-Holiday-Gift-Making-Classes-for-Children.
Odile Fredericks is the web editor of Carolina Parent magazine.