Children love to give gifts - and it's twice as nice if they can make the gift themselves. In addition to the economic advantages of do-it-yourself projects, children develop skills while making gifts. They take pride in their craftsmanship. And they may learn lasting lessons about thoughtfulness and the pleasure of giving.
''We encourage children to think about the person they're making the gift for ,'' says Jeri Robinson, early childhood education program director at the Boston Children's Museum, who helps run giftmaking workshops for children and adults.
She encourages young gift givers to figure out what would be a useful and appropriate gift for the person in mind. Some toys and gifts are best bought at the store. Ms. Robinson urges parents and their children to check prices, safety , and quality. How much will the gift be used? Will it be a short-term toy or a durable long-term gift, such as building blocks? Can it be made at home with quality? For much less money? And will it be comparable to store-bought gifts?
''Children don't want to give ugly, useless gifts,'' says Ms. Robinson. When 42 children in a classroom glue macaroni noodles on cigar boxes and spray-paint them gold, ''no kid feels good about it.''
Here are some gift ideas offered by Ms. Robinson and Dorothy Merrill, resource center program director at the Children's Museum:
Mothers or fathers might like a packet of envelopes to use as grocery lists. Leave the fronts blank for parents to list potential purchases. Use rubber stamps or colored pens to decorate the backs of the envelopes with dollar signs or pictures of fruits and vegetables. Discount coupons can be stuffed inside when it's time to go to the store.
Parents also appreciate coupons redeemable for specific chores. A 3x5 card can promise such items as ''One bedmaking, 24 hours notice required,'' or ''I'll clean my room tonight, no questions asked.'' But Ms. Merrill tells children to be careful of these homemade coupons.
''Your generosity in December may be hard to live with in January,'' she says. ''Specify your own terms in advance.''
Although many grandparents are easily pleased with any gift from a grandchild , parents can collaborate with a child in making a silhouette pillow. The child participates by sitting for the silhouette. Parents can then applique the silhouette on a pillow cover if the child is too young to sew.
What about a new baby brother or sister? A clear plastic bottle (carefully taped closed) filled with baby oil and brightly colored sequins will hold his interest while his diapers are being changed. When the bottle is shaken, the sequins float and flip around like fish.
In addition to the baby oil and sequin bottle, the museum's Bernie Zubrowski has also ''invented'' a bottle gift using vegetable oil and molasses. Fill a plastic bottle three-fourths full of oil, and fill the remaining space with molasses. Baby will have a toy that acts just like a ''lava'' lamp which feature an oozing mass when shaken.
Ms. Merrill reports that children of all ages are surprisingly good at tuning into each other's likes and dislikes. She tells of 10-year-old Sarah, who made a small pocketbook purse for 2-year-old Jenny, and filled it with fake credit cards, a windup toy, and an ''amazing'' set of keys. The handbag is still being used several years later.
Got a sister who likes zany jewelry? Clip a pair of punk earrings on a ''purple people puppet'' made from a sock, colored foam rubber, clothing scraps, painted ping pong balls, or other recycled materials.
''Older brothers and sisters are really an appreciative audience for kid-made gifts,'' continues Ms. Merrill. A teen-age sister might appreciate a locker sock. Fill the toe of an odd sock with a sweet smelling potpourri, and hide an emergency dime in it. Draw a funny face on it and cover it with safety pins, hair pins, and other necessary items. It can be a lifesaver when hung in a gym locker.
Parents can help children put together ''kits'' similar to those sold in stores for siblings or friends.
''You can gather your own materials and put together great activities for a fraction of the cost,'' says Ms. Robinson. ''All that's missing is the cellophane!''
She suggests an art kit with paints and brushes. Use regular paintbrushes and a few more unusual brushes, such as a toothbrush or scrub brush. Include paper and some recipes for fingerpaint or paint for aluminum. It will match any art kit sold in a store, and will cost much less.
An older brother might make a dress-up kit for his younger brother or sister by looking through old clothes with his parents.
''Thank goodness for the age of the mini-skirt,'' says Ms. Merrill. ''They're perfect for my daughter, and they don't drag on the floor. I have some half slips that she looks beautiful in!''