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Simple, Frugal Homemade Gifts for Kids: Books on CD, Playdough Kits, Bathtime Fun

I believe in the simplicity and thoughtfulness of homemade gifts, especially for young ones. In fact, I truly believe we need to pray for a return to a greater appreciation of simple times and simple toys. (See my food gift ideas and useful stocking stuffers too.)  I’ve had a lot of fun creating homemade gift ideas for all the little ones in our lives. Here are three of my favorites:

Books on CD/Tape: A Keepsake to Travel the Distance

The voice of a loved one can really mean a lot, whether it’s talking to a spouse on the phone when they’re away from home, the voice of a mother soothing her child when they’re hurt, or a recording from the past that can’t help but bring back vivid memories of the person.

For the past few years, I’ve recorded my own voice reading a special book for both my goddaughters, who live far from me and only see me about once a year, if that. It’s been a special way to remain connected with them and has become a tradition I hope to keep up (almost) every year as they grow older. I almost cried when I got to read the first book my goddaughter Aly received from me in person. She called it “The baby book” but it was this one, an amazing gift for young Christian children. She had been listening to it every night for months, and there was literally a charge in the air as I read it “live” for the first time.

books on tape (1)

Last Christmas, we had all the members of our family (grandparents, aunts and uncles) read one of Buddy Boy’s favorite books (that he already owned) and make one CD for him. Not only is it a super-special gift for him that he LOVES, but it’s 45 minutes long to occupy him during long car rides!

Make It Happen

books on tape (2)

I wish I could explain to you the exact process of making a book on CD, but I’m thinking that if your computer has the capability to do it, you already know how, and if you don’t, I’m not the one to explain it! My wonderful husband sets me up with a headset mic and a program called Nero to record, then burns the CD for me. I make a label by hand (that’s how un-techy I really am!) and call it done.

The first year I did this, I just used my old cassette recorder. It works just as well and still has all the sentimentality of the high-tech version. Just make sure your gift receiver has access to a tape player before starting the project.

RELATED: Kids Cooking Gift Ideas

Make It Frugal

  • Buying any book you can find and then making the recorded part yourself is usually more frugal than buying a book-on-tape set.
  • Be on the lookout for good deals on multiple copies:  last year I found these Dora books at my grocery store for $1 each:
    books on tape I bought a ton! I read them all once on computer and made CDs separately for both the goddaughters, my son, and a cousin, saving lots of time over making each child’s completely unique. Six hardcover books on CD for under $7? That’s a great deal!
  • For your own children, using books you already own and making the read-aloud version is next to free. Can’t get better than that!

Homemade Playdough Kits

The best gift for any little one that can be made as inexpensively as $2 is a homemade playdough kit. I’ve made them for every little one we know, from godchildren to cousins to my son’s little friends. I include:

  • Homemade playdough (recipe below)
  • dry pasta (for hair, eyes, small motor skills for toddlers) I cought a VAST assortment of shapes on sale for 2/$1, and of course they lasted for many, many playdough kits. Unique shapes are soooo much fun for wild hair!
  • cookie cutters I bought a big tub at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $8 – it will last me forever! I give each child their first initial and a few others. This Wilton 101 Cookie Cutter Set is similar at Amazon, and this 50 Piece ABC & 123 set would be perfect as well.
  • a garlic press found on clearance (for the best “hair” and “spaghetti” ever)
  • ice cube tray (for organizing creations)
  • homemade rolling pin (a dowel cut to about 5 inches with the child’s name painted on it)  Dowel was a few dollars at Lowe’s, but I got 6-8 rolling pins out of it. If you have a broken broomstick, repurpose it instead for free!
  • plastic spoons, whisks, spatulas, other random items found on super clearance or at dollar stores  I’m always on the lookout for possible items to include when things are way, way marked down. Often kitchen gadgets that no one wants are a great 25-cent buy for the kits.
  • For a bit larger gift, buy a fun container to put it all in at the dollar store and hard plastic storage for the playdough.

Homemade Playdough – My Favorite Version

Although there are playdough recipes that don’t use the stove, this playdough is so much nicer to play with as an end result, and it’s really very easy.

Mix in a medium pot:

1 cup white flour
¼ cup salt
2 Tbs. cream of tartar
(I purchase cream of tartar in bulk from a spice store.)

Combine and add:

1 cup water
~10 drops food coloring
1Tbs. oil

Cook over medium heat and stir constantly (about 3-5 minutes). If you have a spoonula, use it. Just when you’re sure you’ve got a mess on your hands and it will never turn out, the mess will begin to form a ball in the center of the pot. Dump it out and knead with your utensil on a plate or waxed paper. Store in an airtight container or plastic bag after it cools. It lasts a really long time.

To be efficient, you can make multiple batches in a row in the same pot. Just use a spatula to get all you can of the first color out of the pot and begin again! Fun for all ages to help in the kitchen, too.

RELATED: Kitchen Chores and Cooking with Toys (for a 5 year old)

Bathtime Kit

This one is great for baby showers or new babies near Christmastime. Look for super markdowns on various items that could go in the tub and put together a kit with some of the folowing:

  • dollar store mesh laundry bag (for hanging the toys to dry)
  • measuring cups (for pouring)
  • turkey baster
  • condiment bottles (best squirters out there!)  I always grab a set of 2 for a dollar at my dollar store in the summer; they’re a seasonal item.
  • foamy letters to stick to the walls
  • plastic funnels
  • caps from laundry detergent bottles, shaving cream – anything of the size for scooping and pouring

Think out of the box about what you put in the boxes this Christmas. Once you watch kids play with two folding chairs or a box of clothespins for an hour or so, you’ll start to rethink the high-dollar battery-powered toys that are flashing through the ads this time of year!

Win it! Your choice of FOUR Biokleen eco-friendly cleaners!

Find lots of gift ideas at:

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

27 thoughts on “Simple, Frugal Homemade Gifts for Kids: Books on CD, Playdough Kits, Bathtime Fun”

  1. gift ideas for teenage girls

    I’m definitely glad to have found this website that has some excellent posts in it with some thoroughly useful information in it.

  2. Pingback: Free Preschool Activities from your Kitchen | Green Your Way

  3. I make my own playdough due to allergies, and I use natural dyes (we can’t have food coloring). There are lots of veggies & fruits you can cook, then use the colored cooking water instead of the plain water!

    I love Thrift Stores for playdough fun! And sandbox fun actually!

  4. via Facebook

    We have a Cassette tape (my husband converted to CD) from when I was 9yo that my Grandmother recorded for me. Songs and stories. She died when my “big” girl was 6 months old. Daughter is now almost 6yo and it is her FAVORITE thing to listen at bed time.

  5. I made books on tape (showing my age) when I had to leave the kids with Grandma while I went house hunting in a far away state. It seemed to help!

  6. Last year I made my son a cape and crown that he loves..this year I’m thinking play dough (his new love) and fleece dragon mitten…maybe a pirate sword and hat!

  7. Brady Cavaness

    You can use a pack of kool aide in place of the dye and it makes great colors that smell really good 🙂

    1. I was going to mention the same thing Brady. I use the Kool aide, my kids insist on it. The color isn’t as brilliant but the smell is the best.

  8. Pingback: More Children’s Gift Ideas - A Life in Balance

  9. Wow, those ideas are fab! Especially the books on CD one,

    .-= niki´s last blog ..Menu Plan Monday…December 7th =-.

  10. I love the idea of giving books on CD. I am a kindergarten teacher and have made my own recordings for my listening center but hadn’t thought of doing this for a gift. I think I’ll do this for my 6 year old nephew this Christmas. Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Jessica,
      Thanks for visiting! I bet your K-g kids would love to record their OWN voices practicing their reading, too. 🙂 Katie

  11. These are great ideas!! The playdough recipe is AWESOME! I have made some in the past and it was okay but this recipe is great. I am going to become a playdough chef! My kids love the playdough. They play with it everyday.

    1. Gia,
      It’s great to hear that someone has tried it! We love it too, and it lasts nicely for a long time. You’ll get some neat salt crystals after a while, but that’s just another science lesson in the making! 🙂 Katie

  12. Such neat ideas. I’m sure your recipients will love them. I really like the idea of recording the books in your own voice. Have you thought of recording your children’s voices to give to them as gifts as they get older? You’re maybe already doing that. You’re to be commended for not getting caught up in the expensive materialism of our holidays and special events.

    1. Anne,

      I do record my children’s voices, at least on their birthdays, and usually more often when they’re younger and totally cute! 🙂

  13. Lenetta @ Nettacow

    Did you know you can make your own foam bath toys?

    Great list – I will be linking on my roundup!
    .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Frugal Advent Wreath =-.

      1. Lenetta @ Nettacow

        You’re too kind. :>) The link to my roundup (where you seem to be the star) is here. Thanks! Super ideas!!
        .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Link Roundup – I Smell Popcorn Edition =-.

  14. love the tub toys idea! Thanks for sharing!
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..Breakfast Bags & Granola recipe =-.

  15. Barb@My Daily Round

    What a great list! The first idea is so wonderful and so personal! I put a link to your list on my blog because I think people will be inspired by your creativity.
    .-= Barb@My Daily Round´s last blog ..More Children’s Gift Ideas =-.

  16. I’ve been looking for a good gift to make for my nephews. I love the idea of recording books for them! Thanks for the ideas!
    .-= Jendeis´s last blog ..Made a Menu =-.

  17. Several years ago, we recorded my grandmothers telling stories and put them on CD as gifts for my sisters. I am thankful that I still have my grandmothers, but I know that when they have passed on, we will value this even more.

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