I know, I know…Christmas is just a few days away. But just in case you need a fun, easy (I promise!) project that your kids will never forget, here’s a suggestion from one of our family traditions. Before you see the pictures and say, “Hey, that’s just a regular old gingerbread house!”, hear me out. Like I said in the first paragraph, I’m going to tell you how to make it easy.
Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s continue.
Our family has clung to this tradition because it appeals to all age levels. With kids whose ages span a decade, it’s sometimes tricky to find family projects that everyone can do. As a matter of fact, these houses seem to get more fun, the older the kids get, because once they learn about how real houses and bridges are held together, their gingerbread houses get more sophisticated.
We’ve been doing this for a decade or two so let me tell you my streamlined approach for pulling it off with little effort and lots of punch. The first shortcut that makes your life easier is forgetting about ‘real’ gingerbread. The main idea here is that the fun part of gingerbread houses is creating with candy, not stressing about baking perfectly square slabs of gingerbread. The base should be the easy part, to free up the brain for the fun, creating part.
Each house will be a small box (oatmeal, cracker…even the graham cracker box itself) covered in graham crackers. Buy the name brand kind, they don’t break as easily. Slap some white icing (homemade if you like, but we just use the stuff from the Betty Crocker tubs) on the side of the box and stick on a cracker. Again, the main idea is just to cover a box.
Go to that cabinet that holds all your leftover Halloween candy. Dig it out. Then go to the cereal cabinet and pull out all that shredded wheat (thatched roofs!) and Cheerios (fun stone paths!). Then look at all your other breakfast choices with a new eye. Coco Puffs, Golden Grahams, Chex, and Apple Jacks are all fun shapes and textures.
If your Halloween candy has disappeared, head to the local Dollar Store, or the section in your local grocery store that sells bagged candy for a buck apiece. Get a good variety. Think textures and colors. Peppermints are great. Skittles are fun. Tootsie rolls and Laffy Taffy have unlimited moldable potential.
One more stop, down the pretzel and cracker aisle. Be sure to get large rod and skinny stick pretzels. They make great fences, siding, and roofs. Then grab a few boxes of textured crackers, like Wheat thins, Triscuits, and even Cheese Nips. If you have it, coconut is also a fun addition, making great snow accents. Offering a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and textures is truly the key to this project.
You can use cardboard squares from the recycling bin for bases or plastic trays (I found some at the Dollar Store one time and we reused them for years). Dump the assorted cereals, candies, crackers and pretzels into individual bowls or paper plates and line them up along a long counter or the center of the table. Every kid gets one bowl/tub of icing and a small spreading knife. Explain that the frosting is the glue, then stand back and let them create.
Through the years I’ve collected pictures from magazines, of amazing gingerbread houses, and just flipping through them sometimes gives my gang new ideas. But most years they just look at the building materials that are available and forge ahead to make something funky.
Every year my kids will spend long hours working on their creations. The pictures scattered through this post are some of this year’s samples. I’m amazed every year, at the new designs we see and the creative ways they can find to use candy and crackers. Several of their friends have joined us in years past and beg to come back and participate again. We’ve also had adult friends join us and it’s fun to see the individual creativity of every age group.
Don’t forget that this is a fun project to do any time of the year. The finished projects make great holiday centerpieces but the week after Christmas, when life slows down a bit and kids are still home from school, is also a great time to pull out this all afternoon activity. One year we did them with our teen youth group at church, and everyone brought their favorite candies to add to the pile. Another year we never found the time at Christmas so we did them as Valentine’s Day houses, complete with candy hearts and Hershey kisses.
With just a little bit of prep ahead of time, this is one project that kids will stick with for hours, and always end up with something special in the end. Trust me, it’s worth the threat of everyone ending the day on a sugar high.