‘Tis the season for gift giving. No matter what religion or spiritual practice you subscribe to, the winter solstice is upon us and it demands that we exchange gifts with the people we love.

There really is no way to avoid it; our children will be showered with brand new outfits and bright, shiny toys from relatives far and near and those same people will expect something in return. And even if they don’t, we are not willing to risk angering the consumer gods. Are you? 

We are tired of passing on second-hand gifts, or worse, buying throw-aways that would then be re-gifted to others next year. Instead of contributing to the gift giving mania and waste, we decided to have the kids make something for the special people in their lives.

When we try to do a craft project with our kids, we find that the set-up and clean-up takes twice as long as the art itself! (How much longer until Zora and Addison are in preschool?) Luckily, there are a few places in town where you can make meaningful, homemade gifts without the mess. A hand-painted pencil cup or illustrated organizer make a much better present than just another tie. Our first stop on the gift express was Scribble Press on Montana Avenue, where kids can design calendars, bookmarks, notebooks, etc.  

We immediately reached for the bookmarks. Books are big in our families. Plus, you get three of them so we figured we could spread the wealth a little. However, we were quickly guided towards a place mat by a store clerk since “no matter what” it would “look good covered in color.” The bookmarks, on the other hand, had breaks in the design, which presumably an 18-month-old aspiring artiste might miss. (Although if you saw toddler Addison’s work you might question what difference it’d make.) 

Addison loves color. And she absolutely adores a set of Crayola markers we bought for her older sister, Liesey. She has covered herself, nearly all the furniture in the apartment and even her favorite chair at Panera in ink. But on that day she could have cared less about drawing. 

In fact, she took more delight in taking the pens off the shelves, taking the caps on and off the pens, and racing around and, once or twice, nearly out of the store. Still another store clerk was impressed by her efforts, assuring me Addison would be an artist one day. I certainly couldn’t hope for more but in the meantime we have a still mostly white keepsake place mat which will no doubt end up on Grandmarie’s wall since she rarely if ever dines at home anymore.  After $20, we’re one gift closer to done. 

Dash and Zora worked together to make a notebook, which only involved drawing one picture.  Two of the same picture notebooks were $30. Not only did Dash experiment with stencils, markers and crayons, but he also branched out into glitter glue and the magic of erasers as well. I have a notebook Dash made last year, and plan on documenting his path to Matisse-hood, one spiral at a time. Toddler Zora had difficulty focusing on studio time with so many attractive nuisances in the store. Mainly she delighted in helping Addison pull all the markers out of the giant wall display. (Dash also joined in the action, which for a 4-year-old, was really not so cute.)

For more advanced artists, Scribble Press also offers organizers, calendars, bookmarks, and cards.  Scribble Press also has an interesting selection of art-themed gifts, most placed at that tempting child-height eye level. They had art instructional books (we used to love to make the fingerprint characters as a kid), decorate your own lamps, puzzles, those tiny, true-to-life Japanese erasers, and pens, crayons, and chalk galore.

It’s also a great idea to take some of your child’s top artwork from the year and bring it in to be scanned and made into a book. You could distribute it to all those relatives who complain that they don’t ever get enough pictures, with the benefit of reducing household clutter. Scribble Press can actually incorporate pictures of the kids into the artwork.

Santa will be visiting Scribble Press during the Montana Avenue Holiday Walk on Dec. 4 from 4p.m. to 8 p.m. Also, on Dec. 5, artist Emily Green will help children make collage place mats for $40. The proceeds will be donated to L.A. Family Housing.

Scribble Press also has classes and winter camps for scribblers 2 and up, as well as adult workshops.  Some of the recent class work was on window display the day we went in and it was pretty impressive.  Maybe I’ll sign Dash up.

For those who are channeling Martha Stewart this holiday season, you ambitious souls can laminate artwork at Lakeshore Learning in Culver City.  Lakeshore also has free art projects on Saturdays, where kids can make things like candles, snowmen, or holiday card holders. (See our calendar on the blog for details.) If you’re feeling really crafty, you can pick up all the raw materials for a craft frenzy at Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabrics. 

Find a local calendar of children’s events and helpful links at smatoz.blogspot.com, or leave a suggestion for places to visit.

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