Ask Design Mom Week — Teacher Gifts

November 6, 2009

I need help with an idea! I’m on the PTA hospitality committee and we do Christmas gifts for all the teachers and staff (about 70 people — men and women). We are struggling to come up with an idea for this year — our budget is very limited (about $200 – TOTAL). In the past we’ve done: homemade caramel apples, white chocolate popcorn, Christmas potpourri…. Do you have any craft or cooking ideas for us? — Thanks, Cherie’

Hi Cherie! Here’s the first thing to come to my mind. Last Christmas, my friends Laura and Lisa made homemade vanilla extract (you know, like you’d use in baking) and packaged it in charming little bottles. I’ve been wanting to try the same idea for ages! In addition to vanilla extract, they also made vanilla sugar, vanilla almonds and lip gloss too. You can find more photos and instructions (and label pdfs!) here. Between those 4 ideas, hopefully everyone on your list will be covered. But if not, I’m sure my super smart readers will have tons more suggestions.

Dear Readers, what would you do if you were Cherie and needed to find gifts (on a limited budget) for teachers and staff at your school?

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous November 9, 2009 at 4:06 pm
2 Kelley November 9, 2009 at 4:12 pm

I actually made the vanilla extract
last year (thank you, by the way) and everyone was totally 'ga-ga' over it!


3 nikki November 9, 2009 at 4:14 pm

I've always liked the idea of giving a donation to the needy schools in your city (to provide breakfast or lunch or school supplies to needy children) Similar to giving a goat to a family in a foreign country. We did this last year and my daughter's teacher loved that it was for the education of needy children locally.


4 Bridget November 9, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Vanilla extract is a GREAT idea…but it needs to sit for 6 months before it can be used…so maybe something for next summer that you can use for the next holiday season. I made 45 bottles this June for Christmas gifts, and it cost $2.90 per 4 ounce bottle.

The pretzel sticks that are half covered with chocolate and then dipped in nuts or sprinkles are pretty easy, and they are pretty easy for four people (one work on melting chocolate/almond bark, one work on dipping in chocolate, one working on dipping in different toppings).


5 Deborah November 9, 2009 at 4:31 pm

My mom was a teacher and while she loved the students, the gifts piled up. I'd have a group of people make different cookies and give the teachers plates with assorted cookies. Wrap with clear wrap and a ribbon. Tasty, inexpensive and they don't take up space.


6 Tara November 9, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Little Birdie Secrets had a great idea last year….pretty hand sanitizer!


7 Jessica L. November 9, 2009 at 4:38 pm

I made stationery one year by using card stock and cutting the edges with pinking shears. Then, I bought colorful envelopes. Homemade and pretty cute. Tie up the bundle with a pretty ribbon.


8 Barchbo November 9, 2009 at 4:55 pm

As a teacher, like a thoughtful note or card – something personal that shows I am having a positive impact on my kids.

I have also loved: teas, coffees, spices (vanilla extract would have been lovely) gift cards, cute games, lottery tickets (that came with a funny poem that the student wrote), picture frames – small tokens. Please, NOTHING high-calorie. PLEASE! Also, 86 the apple decor unless you know your child's teacher likes it.


9 Shannon and Cameron November 9, 2009 at 5:06 pm

I'm a teacher too and I agree with the other teacher… no treats! We appreciate the thoughtfulness but you get soooo many and honestly, I tossed a lot of them. My favorite gift was a donation in my name to a charity. I also loved gift cards (in any amount) to book stores, Lakeshore, even Target. We spend so much of our own money teaching and it is awesome to get a gift card. I have also appreciated classroom gifts (i.e. books, games, supplies, etc.)


10 Michele November 9, 2009 at 5:45 pm

I think gift certificates work best. As a room mom, we asked each of the teachers to fill out a little survey which included questions about where they like to shop and eat. Throughout the year, for holidays and birthdays, we pull the lists and give gift certificates to those specific places. It's more personal that way, and the teachers can go pick out something they will actually use.


11 Sarah November 9, 2009 at 6:02 pm

An easy and functional gift would be to make rice heat packs. You can make them without blowing your budget if you use donated or inexpensive fabric.


12 Bloom November 9, 2009 at 6:30 pm
13 DPeaGreen Designs | Diane Green November 9, 2009 at 6:49 pm

If you cross-stitch or know teachers who do, I designed a Chinese symbol pattern for the word "Teacher". The costs then would be 1 pattern, the fabric, thread and a bit of time, less time if several people can cross stitch them. I don't think they take too long for even a beginner to complete :)

or a gift certificate/card and enclose it in personally created notecards?



14 LetterB November 9, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Last year my son made bookmarks for his Pre-K teachers. It was easy enough for him to do (almost) on his own and he loved personalizing each one (like he stuck about 25 googly eyes on the one for his art teacher) His teachers really loved them. We had already chipped in on B&N gift cards for them but it would also be nice to make a bookmark and put it inside a gift book for the teacher.


15 EmmersRae November 10, 2009 at 8:53 am

I'm doing chocolate covered Oreos this year. They're everyone's favorite cookie, and a little extra chocolate never hurts. Super easy to make, and easy on the budget. Package 4 or 5 in a cellophane bag with a pretty bow and you're set


16 Anonymous November 10, 2009 at 9:13 am

I like the idea for the heated rice bags…you can also use corn. However, if you make them small, they can be hand warmers (for in pockets or inside mittens). Quick to make and inexpensive if they are small.


17 Amber Lee November 10, 2009 at 10:11 am

Love the comments from teachers. I've tried and loved the vanilla too. A shelf life of forever makes it so easy for the giver and receiver.

One we might do this year is seed tape with flowers

Or one we did last year was personalized hand soap

Good luck!


18 Design Mom November 10, 2009 at 11:02 am

I think many of these same ideas would be great for neighbor gifts too!

Barchbo, Shannon – so glad you chimed in. I think it's great to get the viewpoint on real teachers.


19 KJ November 10, 2009 at 11:20 am

Pretty bags of mulling spices: I purchased whole spices in the bulk section at the grocery store, and bundled them together in little bags tied with ribbon (cinnamon sticks, cloves, allpsice, star anise). It was very budget friendly. My husband is a teacher and quite frankly, we receive far more sweets, cookies, candy, popcorn, soda, cocoa, than we can possibly ever consume. It's all very thoughtful, but a sincere note is more meaningful than any gift. MOre ideas here:


20 Bri November 10, 2009 at 12:14 pm

While this may not be practical for the person who wrote in, I love the idea of the oilcloth lunch bag. I found a tutorial from a lady who has several great ideas for teacher gifts. The lunch bag does require a small amount of sewing, but they turn out darling. As a former teacher, I would've loved something like this…I always brought my lunch in a plastic bag.


21 mandi November 10, 2009 at 11:08 pm

granola! you can make a lot for just a little (money). put it in a cute jar, with a bow, and something catchy like 'we're nuts over you'. ok, maybe not that cheesy.

i am a former teacher so i can tell you what NOT to give: apple decor, t-shirts about being a teacher (that are 4 sizes too big), scented lotions, candy/cookies. i mean really, my favorite presents were the sweet ones from the kids. like the 12 pack of lipstick or the chipped bird statue. those were treasures to me…because they were from the kids. even though i had to wear lavender lipstick all day…


22 Dee November 11, 2009 at 10:19 am

I'm a former teacher, and I can tell you what we don't want. "Apple ANYTHING" No apple necklaces, apple mugs, apple paperweights. No Thank You! Gift Certificates are great! Coffee, Yoga, Message, Dinner. Love them. I do love the cute vanilla ideas for a home made touch.


23 connie j November 11, 2009 at 5:45 pm

I'm a high school art teacher. My favorite gifts are those that show my students listen to me and know me. (So basically I'm like most humans).

So gifts with wit are the best. Examples: A wisk with a tag: We wisk you a Merry Christmas. Or a hilariously corny Chick-fil-A calendar with coupons.

Bookstore gift certificates are pretty great too, for us nerds who love to learn.


24 LeAnn November 14, 2009 at 9:00 am

The heated rice bags are GREAT. I had a student several years ago who gave those as gifts. I keep mine beside my bed. It smells great and works like a charm on headaches.

Check the scrap bin or clearance racks at places like JoAnn or Hobby Lobby. You can often find great fabric for a dollar or less a yard.


25 Anonymous December 9, 2009 at 11:19 pm

How crazy, I never post but wanted to chime in….I am a teacher too (middle school)…and am breaking my ban on leaving comments in order to say PLEASE don't give us sweets! We love the thought and the effort and even those of us who eat a TON of sweets and LOVE chocolate get overwhelmed at Christmas with sweets (even homemade ones!), If you have a really good sweet treat idea you want to give to your child's teacher, give them a card in December that say when they are least expecting it, they will get find a treat from you–then surprise them in March!

But really, thank you to all the moms who care enough to remember the teacher during this HECTIC time!



26 Thelma L Hamilton May 27, 2010 at 11:11 am

I handpaint glass ornaments. For this quantity I would be happy to offer a wholesale price and personalize each ornament with Teachers name or school name and grade? The earlier the orders are sent the better, as I sell out earlier each year, it seems. Thank you for considering me!


27 Michelle September 9, 2011 at 3:17 am

OH! I wish these links still worked. I’ve been really wanting to try this Vanilla Extract Recipe. I was living in China when I first found your blog but couldn’t get the Vanilla Beans. Now I’m back in the US and the links don’t work. So sad.

PS. My mom’s a teacher and the whole family lived it when she’d bring home gift cards. Especially Starbucks!


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