Making Holiday Ornaments with Students

One Christmas we decided to make tree ornaments as gifts and bought a sheet of 1/4” plywood and spent hours cutting out simple trees with a jigsaw. We sprayed them dark green and used brushes to add festoons of popcorn and lights and multicolored ornaments. We learned a lot from the experience. Working outside in November is cold. Plywood chips. Paint takes time to dry. Ornaments have two sides. One side can be painted at a time. Despite the frustrations, we had fun. I still have some of the trees with our initials and the year painted on the base.

We made plywood trees for one more year and then switched to a salt dough recipe that worked well with cookie cutters. We colored these with magic markers. Some of these are in the attic too. We made these with our students as well.

Another year, with young children of our own, we brought home a box of wood scraps from a local manufacturer of wood toys. (The school woodshop, if you have one, would make a good source as well.) We wrapped the tiny cubes and prisms in Christmas paper, glued two or three together, and attached a red ribbon loop for a hanger. Most on our list recognized the ornaments for what they were. I’m not sure what tiny gifts the others expected to unwrap.

Origami cranes and boxes make good ornaments too. Paper folding can be a challenge for some, so simple is better. Though origami paper can be expensive, students can easily decorate sheets of white paper.

We stopped making ornaments when our daughters started bringing their own home from school. I’ve kept these. It’s hard to determine what a pipe cleaner figure is supposed to be after all these years, but it hangs on the tree along with the others. And the angel at the top of my tree is the same TP-tube, styrofoam ball, yarn, and tissue paper angel my youngest daughter brought home 15 years ago. Older students can make more sophisticated tube angels.

Every year, the local art museum has a festival of trees. Fabulously decorated trees. As you walk among them, you can almost hear jingling cash registers. Our tree is not featured. That’s fine. Every imperfect and flawed handmade ornament on ours has a story. The one mass produced exception is the pickle. We bought a glass pickle the year after we hung a real dill. Pickles could easily be fashioned from salt dough or clay. If you’re not familiar with the Christmas pickle and the pickle prize, see The Christmas Pickle Ornament Tradition.

As if I need reminding how antsy children, especially younger children, can get before the holidays, it only takes a day subbing between Thanksgiving and holiday break. Projects like these and those that follow can focus attention and provide practice in following instructions and fine motor skills.

Here are some additional ideas for ornament projects.

Students in grades K-3 might appreciate help from older students with some steps in these projects: Button Wreath Christmas Tree Decoration, How to Make Homemade Civil War Christmas Decorations Hardtack ornaments!, and Triple Star.

Students in grades 4-8 can handle the tools required for these projects: Punched Tin Christmas Tree Ornaments: An Easy To Make Children’s Craft and Make Your Own Christmas Dove Ornaments.

Students in grades 6-12 can create Felt Christmas Tree Ornaments and La Belle Èpoque Inspired, Christmas Tree Ornaments.

Not all students celebrate Christmas, but the techniques and materials used in these holiday projects can be used to make ornaments for other traditions.

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