Feature photo by Pinot & Dita. Photo above by brenbot.

Spend some quality time with the children in your life without breaking the bank.

SPENDING TIME WITH your favorite little people this holiday season? Channel your inner Martha Stewart and get them into these 7 craft projects. No fancy materials or complicated tools are required.

1. Pop-up Cards

Sound hard? They’re not. Thanks to websites like pop-up book creator, you can download free greeting card templates. There’s something for everyone, from traditional holiday icons to insects and animals. Just print, cut out, and assemble.

Pages from mail order catalogs work just as well as card stock or construction paper. Also, search the web for free envelope templates.

Photo by absentmindedprof.

2. Origami Ornaments

Origami is an fun brain bender, and you can turn these little works of art into holiday ornaments. The idea behind origami is to create a representation of an object (almost anything, really) using geometric folds and crease patterns on just one square sheet of thin paper.

Again, scour the web for free patterns, including step-by-step diagrams. Some figures are quite complex so if you’re new to this, don’t get too ambitious on the first try.

3. Animal Feeders

Photo by Gare and Kitty.

String day-old popcorn (easier to work with than fresh) and raisin garlands, hang them outside, and watch the birds and squirrels dig in. You can also make a feeder just for the birds. Take a large pine cone, wrap wire around the top for hanging, spread peanut butter into the crevices, and roll the whole thing in bird seed.

If you’re in a cold climate, make suet or lard cakes (they tend to go rancid in warm temperatures), an energy-packed snack birds love. Melt the fat, pour it into a paper-lined muffin tin, and add ingredients such as rolled oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. Chill until hardened. Young ornithologists will enjoy discovering the foods that attract particular species.

4. Natural Soap

Photo by Julie K in Taiwan.

‘Tis the season for giving but feeling the economic pinch? Pass along a handmade present like soap. It’s inexpensive, useful, and a cool chemistry experiment for kids.

Soap is basically made from combining an acid (any vegetable-based oil) and an alkali like sodium hydroxide (also known as caustic soda or lye, an old-fashioned drain unclogger). Everything has to be added in precise proportions and at the same temperature for saponification to take place.

Borrow a book, such as The Soapmaker’s Companion from the library or check online sources for more details on the process, appropriate safety measures, and recipes.

5. Recycled Paper

Paper making is another simple, frugal activity that’s great for kids. All you need are old magazines or newspapers, a piece of window screening, and some kitchen items you probably have already.

Tear the paper into small pieces and soak them overnight in a dishpan filled with warm water. The next day, add more water and hand beat the mixture into a pulp. You can also use a blender to pulverize it further, but this is optional. Mix in whole flower heads, petals, or whatever you like for a more interesting look and texture.

Spread the pulp evenly on the screen, place a towel underneath, and press out excess water with a flat object such as a cutting board. Once the sheet is dry, use it as wrapping paper, thank you notes, or gift tags.

6. Felt Dolls

Photo by g_cowan.

Felt is a craft-friendly fabric. It doesn’t unravel, comes in many colors, and can be used for a variety of simple sewing projects, including dolls. Design your own pattern or choose ones that the kids love, from animals to characters like Yoda and Hello Kitty.

Japanese duo Aranzi Aronzo have published several amusing how-to books about felt dolls, or mascots, as they are called. From pandas and sheep to aliens and kidnappers, exaggerated cuteness reigns. Kawaii overload!

7. Map Puzzle

Photo by Indie Wench.

And for budding young travelers, make a world map puzzle. It’s a fun way for kids to learn geography as well as for you to point out where you’ve been and where you want to go.

Simply color copy a map, glue it to a piece of cardboard in the same size, draw puzzle piece lines on the back, and cut them out. Instead of using cardboard, you can also laminate the pieces and trim them, leaving a small border of plastic.

Love these craft projects? Have some ideas of your own? Share your ideas for winter crafts for kids in the comments below!

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