Kids like to pen thank-you notes when they make the cards

December is traditionally the month for holiday crafts. Most of the emphasis, though, is on decorating for the holidays, not in crafting thank-you cards for writing notes afterward.

For those grateful just to get their Christmas cards signed, sealed, and delivered, making thank-you cards might seem out of the question.

It needn't be.

Crafting cards can be a pleasant family activity and a good way to encourage children to express their thanks - many times in ways that are more imaginative and memorable than words alone.

Part of the fun is in using low-cost purchased supplies or things found around the home.

All the cards shown with this article began with blank cards available at craft stores. Construction or printer paper will suffice, yet stiff cards can better withstand the handling that occurs in the crafting process - the cutting, gluing, or painting. Plus, a crisp white or cream-colored card is a very inviting "canvas" with which to start any art project.

In fact, with some simple lines or doodles made with a felt-tip marker, the edge of these cards can be transformed into a pleasing frame. The example shown here (top right) uses a regular black marker on a white card. The centerpiece is a detail from a school art project that was too large to fit onto the card.

The beauty of this strategy is that besides saying "thank you," it's an instant keepsake.

One of the easiest ways even artistically challenged children and adults can get a jump on producing an eye-catching card is to use wallpaper scraps.

Outdated wallpaper sample books are often free for the asking at paint stores. A decorating store let my son and me rummage through sample books that were going to be thrown out. The search for suitable patterns, images, and art was enjoyable, and ultimately we walked away with four books.

Look for designs that will work on a small card, either from the standpoint of scale or that have a tight repeating pattern. Also, look for sections of uninterrupted color and/or texture, which provide good backgrounds for covering card fronts (no need to cover the back).

Another source of instant color and pizazz is gift wrap. The trick is to find wrapping paper that doesn't overtly say "Christmas" and instead looks nonseasonal. This way, the thank-you cards can be used for any occasion.

For people who want to make a lot of the same card, stenciling or stamping are good ways to go. A recommended source of ideas for the former technique is a small book, "Stencil It!" by Sandra Buckingham (Camden House), which packs a lot of child-friendly projects into just 64 pages.

Simple stencils can be made using file folders. These are cut with a craft knife, so this task may fall to adults, depending on the age and dexterity of the children.

While commercial rubber stamps are available, look for stamping potential in any number of household objects. In crafting one card (shown above right), a plastic milk jug cap did double duty. Its flat side was used to stamp solid circles, while the flip side was perfect for making circular outlines. This same card also incorporates lines stamped using the edge of a piece of cardboard and triangles carved from a piece of foam insulation.

The ideas begin to flow as you play around. For instance, I discovered there's good potential in the wavy packaging material for light bulbs, and that string glued to a flat surface makes a low-budget stamp. Check out the supermarket's meat cases, where some plastic-foam trays come with a ready-to-stamp waffle pattern.

Stickers are available in an incredible variety. For the road-map wallpaper card shown, stickers shaped like cars made the perfect accent.

Have plenty of supplies on hand before starting. Rubber cement works well, is forgiving, and cleans up easily, but glue sticks may be more manageable for young children. Water-based acrylic paints, sold inexpensively in small bottles, are ideal for crafting (just make sure not to overpaint, causing cards to curl). Sponge brushes and plastic plates (for holding and mixing paints) are indispensable.

Thick, edge-bound magazines make terrific work surfaces. Cut or glue on them, then tear pages off until you've got a clean "desktop" again. Magazines and catalogs also serve as rich storehouses of clip art - images waiting to be cut and pasted onto cards. Little hands may not be able to do intricate cutting, but it's the thought - and effort - that count.

Clearly, nobody has to be Martha Stewart to make a simple card. And shifting the emphasis from writing to crafting cards can make these notes seem less like a busman's holiday to vacationing students.

For additional examples of homemade cards, see www.csmonitor.com.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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