Holiday Crafts for Cheapskates: Science Class Model Tree Trimmers

science ornament main
Turn those science class models into tree trimmers and gifts. All images by Lisa Kay Tate.

Like most parents, facing our kids’ growing list of holiday gift recipients can be quite daunting. So, during the month of December, I’m sharing a few inexpensive and easy crafts kids can make to check off names on that list.

Remember how much fun it was making little marshmallow and toothpick molecule and DNA strands in elementary science class, or getting bored and doodling little atoms and isotopes on notebook paper? Here are three ways to make some simple, more permanent, decorative versions for trimming the tree and giving as teachers’ gifts–“snowflake” molecules, atom symbols, and DNA strands.


  • Assorted beads of various sizes
  • Beading wire
  • Chenille craft stems
  • Thread or clear fishing line
  • Toothpicks

“Snowflake” Molecule. Since snowflakes are essentially water, this is a little way to turn the simple H2O molecule, or as my daughter calls them, “Mickey Heads,” into an attractive little storm.

Tie three pieces of fishing line or string to a toothpick, one on each end and one in the center. On each line, string on one larger bead (hydrogen) and two smaller beads (oxygen), then bring the line up back through the larger bead, as shown in the image below.

Place three or four little “water molecules” on each line. To hang it, tie the ends of a piece of fishing line to each end of the tooth pick. To prevent the molecules from slipping, you can add a small drop of super glue to the string at the end of each cluster, as well as where the string is tied to toothpick. If working with younger kids, use thin beading wire instead of string. This will hold the molecules in place without needing glue.

snowflake steps
Stringing process for little “water” molecules.

Atomic Symbols: From science books to superheroes, stylized isotope or atom symbols are easily recognizable by any science- or sci-fi-minded folk.

Wrap a thick beading wire around your hand (four fingers length) three times, adding a bead each time you wrap it. Carefully pull the loops apart, and turn the sections to resemble an atom’s orbiting electrons. Wrap wire around the center of the design, in a rotating pattern (like spirograph set), adding several beads as you go. This should look like a nucleus in the center, once done. Secure the wire ends with a pair of needle-nose pliers.

atom steps
Constructing the atom. Use any excess wire to make hanging loop, as well as to tie off the end (center and right photos).

DNA Strands: Anyone who has had to make these in science class will appreciate this final, simple design, a little strand of DNA.

String beads along two equal lengths of thick beading wire or chenille stem; around ten inches is good length to start. Take four different colors of chenille stems and twist them in pairs to create the strands of “AGTC” bonds. Tie the bonds to the two long stands (the DNA’s backbone for those referring to their early text books). Do this with several little pieces of “bonds,” until it looks like you’re holding a little ladder. Once done, take hold of each end, and coil so it makes the classic double helix.

Feeling particularly industrious? Try making a really long one for a garland on a miniature tree.

dna strand steps
The DNA strand model ornament includes the bonds (left), and the backbone strands (center).

Not only do these look really clever on trees, they are, in their own way, a reminder that it’s the little things in life that matter… and what can be littler than the building blocks of matter itself?

Check out my previous two crafts in this series, Comic Gift Packets and Geeky Little Charms, and look for a my post-Christmas cheapskate craft next week.

three finished ornaments

Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site and maintains her own blogsite at She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.