Gift-buying for one student can be daunting enough, let alone twenty-something opinionated young ones. The holidays are extra tough because you are budgeting your personal shopping, time spent at holiday events, and competing with the likes of Santa and Grandma. After taking a deep breath and a relaxing swig of eggnog, bring your small budget and big ideas right this way for some holiday classroom magic.
Spending a dollar or two on each child is more than enough to yield delight. You can spend less than that with fabulous gifts each child will cherish. The real secret to success is the personalization and the wrapping. Opening a special treat is half the fun. I use inexpensive, brightly colored tissue and white lunch sacks for cheap packaging. Stick a sticker or gift tag on each one and they will look like a pile of wondrous prizes.
Shopping after-Christmas clearance is a good way to save for the following year, but what if you didn’t think of it 12 months ago? One idea is to get glass or plastic ornaments in a large pack. Write the year, your class name, and the child’s name on each one. If you feel like going all out, attach a cute ribbon to each hanger. For less than $10 you can make an entire class set of gifts that will hang on trees for years to come.
Do you have a holiday concert, play, or puppet show? Record the performance and highlight students in your class. Use free editing software, pre-installed on most computers, and give out a copy of the CD or DVD. As a bonus, you can watch the footage as a fun treat in class!
I like to make the gift giving a little more energetic. Each year, I wrap up three or more small gifts per child. I know that sounds expensive, but I use leftovers from the bottom of the treat box, stickers, re-gifted odds and ends, ornaments that I no longer love, separated dollar-store multi-packs, and other little treats collected throughout the year. Every teacher has that secret stash… go on and raid it! Wrap up each item using cheap wrapping paper. The more it rattles and the less it looks like the item, the better. My kids always go for the big, loud boxes only to find the smallest treats!
On the day of our party, I bring in the gifts and we pile them in the center. We take turns tossing dice until doubles are rolled. If you roll doubles, you get to pick a gift but cannot open it. Dice an issue for your school? Grab some letter cubes instead! Once all the gifts are taken, the real fun begins. Keep rolling but now doubles mean you take a gift from someone else. It is a lot of fun as long as you lay a few no-pouting ground rules ahead of time. Go ahead and tell them the prizes are small and not worth fighting over. When we are done, I make sure all kids have the same number of gifts before opening. You can make them trade or hold a few back so it comes out evenly. Everyone has fun opening and looking at what was given, and of course I let them swap when it is all said and done. Everyone goes home with a stash of goodies.
Teachers love school supplies. It is as simple as that. So why not give a gift you’d love to receive? One year I kept all the class sets of random pencils, notepads, and mini-tape rolls I was given. When crayons and markers went on super-sale at the end of summer, I snatched up sets. Once Christmas came, I got empty pizza boxes donated from the pizza place and filled them with paper, crayons, paper, stickers, and other fun school treats. My students generally don’t have supplies in their homes and the huge pile of 24 wrapped boxes was more than enough to get them excited. They all loved their supplies and I received many a homemade card after break!
Personalized pens and pencils will cost you less than a dollar a pack and every child likes their name in print. Children with unusual names will be especially fond of this gift. I know, because my personalized set from my very own fourth grade class is still in my craft box at home!
Sticking with a personal touch, class or individual photos are great for students. Some of my friends take photos and help students make frames themselves. I like taking fun class snapshots and printing them small enough to fit in a clear plastic ornament for each child. One of my son’s teachers took a great class photo and ordered personalized greeting cards from her class. She mailed them home and we had quite a fun surprise opening the mailbox over the holiday break! You can upload photos online and print them out the very same day for pennies, or save even more by ordering them for delivery. I like to order mine at a local superstore and pick them up on the way home. Students love hamming it up, use it to your advantage!
We always want our students to read and the holidays are a great time to promote reading with fun and interesting gifts. I don’t usually advocate for joke books, licensed characters, or stickers in my class library, but a gift is a whole other story. I look for books that will be fun for my students, may be slightly lower level reading than what I push them to read every day, and might mean they will pick up the book over the break.
One end-of-year party was memorable when I spent time searching the thrift stores and library sales for a book especially for each child. I looked for books that were their particular interest and near their reading level, such as a pre-teen cheerleading melodrama for my sassy classroom queen and a lower-level soccer star book for my barely-reading sports fanatic. I put a personal note with each child encouraging them in their interests and telling them why I thought the book was just perfect for them. The result was a group hug from all of my kids at once and happy readers exploring their interests. I spent as little as ten cents on each book and no more than $1.
If you don’t have the time, or desire, to search out book deals, try Scholastic Warehouse Sales or the $1 bargain featured in most of the reading order forms. Just make sure you don’t send home that order, or your students will have already snapped up that $1 special! You can order any time during the year and save your class set for the right gift-giving opportunity.
I love gifts my children can actually do something with. Last year I cut trees from green felt, gathered sequins and mini pompoms, and tied it all together inside a felt square. The kids had a ball decorating their own tree with white school glue. If you are giving them away from the classroom, add a mini glitter glue stick for even more sparkle.
Students have fun making their own gifts to take home, and really, that’s a gift for them as well! I know my own sons are bursting with pride when they come home with a gift they made themselves. My students have done fingerprint snowmen on plastic blue ornaments, trees painted with the help of some painters tape, or framed photos of themselves with popsicle-stick frames. Letting them bag and tag each gift is a fun experience in itself.
Teachers like gifts too! My friends have enjoyed note card sets with their name or monogram. I’ve made them for our faculty before and they are a snap. Just purchase boxes of blank note cards. You can get 100 in a box for $5 if you use your craft-coupons wisely. Set your printer dimensions to the size of the note when fully flattened and put your image in the bottom right-hand corner or center. Be sure to feed your note card in upside down. I make sets of ten, tie them with a ribbon, and sometimes add mini ornaments. There is no need for a card or wrapping!
No matter what you and your class do to celebrate, remember what your teacher told you: it is the thought that counts. Personalized touches go further than plastic doohickeys every time. What are some of the best classroom gifts you’ve given and received?