Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent calendar ideas for kids

I realize we're halfway through the time till Christmas, but I'm a procrastinator, so maybe you are, too. Here are some fun ways to count down the sleeps remaining till the big day.

Hobo Mama wants you to know she's a professional blogger! Look at how professional she's being!

Paper chain

This is an easy craft everyone knows that can be done with quite young children: Simply make a chain that's as long as the days you have left, and pull one off per day.

Put kids to work decorating the paper you use to make the chain, or let them pick out ribbons and pipe cleaners and old wrapping paper — anything that can be made into a loop. Older kids could help you count to 24 or do the cutting of strips.

Don't worry if your little one gets bored partway through the project, though — mind did!

Cutting out the decorated links Taping the links; you could use staples or glue.

Concentrating on the task — until he got bored and wandered off to play with decorations.
How many Christmases will he have those deliciously chubby cheeks?

Crafty calendar

My mom made us our legitimate Advent calendar, out of a lovely cross-stitch kit. We tie candy to the ribbons for every day from December 1 through Christmas Eve. (She recommends Tootsie Rolls, which we do have up this year.)

When I was growing up, we used a felt calendar my mom had put together when my older brother was still a baby: a large green felt tree with 24 felt ornaments with Velcro backing that stuck to it one at a time. My brother and I used to tussle to see who got to put up evens and who got odds, because the person with number 24 got to place the golden star on top.

If you're in a stitching mood (or woodcarving!), you can find a kit or pattern or idea to spark your creativity and fashion a keepsake that will be passed down for generations, the way that felt tree is now being used by my niece.

Mikko at 1.5, unclear on the concept of eating the Advent candy

Mikko at 2.5, unclear on the concept of hanging up the Advent calendar

Commercial calendars

We made the mistake of seeing the German chocolate calendars at Ikea sometime in November and buying one — the real mistake was that Mikko saw us do so. That chocolate did not last until December. The subsequent three we bought also did not make it to become true one-a-day calendars. Maybe next year? (One hint: Next year we will buy them at the grocery store instead of Ikea, since they're half the price there.)

Playmobil Advent Calendar: Xmas in ForestIf you're not a fan of chocolate for kids, another option I fell for at the local toy store was a Playmobil calendar: At the end of the Advent time, the kids have a little Playmobil set. Sam pointed out Mikko has too many toys already, so I resisted, but I still think it's a fun idea. There are also LEGO Advent calendars as well as calendars geared more toward girls' toys. If your kids have a favorite type of toy, you might as well search to see if there's an Advent calendar that matches — but check the reviews online first, because some sound like a better value than others.

Lighting candles

An accepted method of noting the passing days or weeks in multiple religions is lighting candles. Hanukkah, of course, celebrates with a menorah. In the Christian tradition, an Advent wreath with four candles around the perimeter and a Christ candle in the center marks the weeks of religious Advent.

I always loved seeing the first candle get smaller and smaller and liking the staggered effect of the pink and purple candles burning down in order as we lit each in turn. Lighting the Christ candle took place on Christmas Eve and indicated the birth of the baby in the manger. (Talk about unassisted natural birth!)

Since having children, I've gotten squeamish about lighting candles, for two reasons, both to do with safety. Fire safety is a big concern with an active and curious preschooler around, and air health is another one. I don't suppose lighting five candles a year is going to pollute our home's air supply beyond measure, but it's still something I'm conscious of.

Fortunately, there are plenty of fake but still pretty candle options out there now that use LED lights. I know there are electric and battery-operated menorahs. It wouldn't have the staggered effect of real candles burning down gradually each week — but for these early years, that still might be the best bet. We can light candles again when our little pyros can enjoy them safely and I can source out some new pink and purple tapers with lead-free wicks.


When Sam and I were still newlyweds, we had a tiny fake tree from Sam's high school days. One year, I decided to make an interactive Advent calendar, so I made 24 little baggies of surprises. Each day contained a card I'd printed out with a Christmas-themed Bible verse (because I was like that) and a special prize for us to share. Mostly, it was just candy that we had languishing in a drawer, but it was still fun to divide it up for all the days.

Run DMT's amazing Advent calendar of surprises
I've been mightily inspired by Denise at Run DMT's Advent calendar as she's shown it off in Wordless Wednesdays (examples: Day 1, Day 7). She has a beautiful wooden calendar with tiny doors to open for each day, and inside is candy and a slip of paper with that day's surprise printed: Some are recipes to bake or special holiday treats to share (for you it might be hot cocoa or a favorite dessert); some are activities to do as a family (visit the holiday lights, celebrate the first night of Hanukkah); others are crafts for the children to enjoy. She plans most of them in advance by cross-checking the dates with their family's calendar (for instance, including scheduled parties as the activity for that day), and some she leaves blank to fill in with appropriate ideas as they come up. I'm so impressed with her ingenuity and the sense of wonder this very family-specific calendar must hold for her children. Wouldn't it be fun to open the door each morning and find out what fun new thing lay in store for the day?

You could adapt her idea and merge it with mine if you don't have a gorgeous wooden Advent calendar handy. You could make up the twenty-four slips in advance and put them in a jar to have your kids pull one out at random each day. Or you could print them on little cards and tape them facing down to a big poster board calendar to remove one by one. Or punch holes in the tops, thread ribbon through, and hang them from the tree like I did!

You're also not limited to candy and pieces of paper. You could wrap 24 little presents and have a feast of gift opening all month long. Maybe one could be a CD of holiday music; one could be festive novelty socks; and one could be the (shelf-stable) ingredients for a favorite recipe. They wouldn't even need to be new items, just lovingly wrapped and carefully doled out to enjoy afresh.

You could even add to the Christmas tree, by picking out 24 ornaments to set aside and placing one decoration on the tree each day — perhaps finishing with the crowning angel or star.

Another plus for putting together your own calendar — or spinning off one that you've found — is that you can add in enough little treats per day for each child (or child-at-heart), so there's no bickering over who gets the prize.

I know I want to put some thought into what sort of Advent calendars I might create for future Christmases, when we have two little kidlets to count down with.

Check back Tuesday for the December Carnival of Natural Parenting, where you'll receive plenty more inspiration about creating meaningful traditions with your children.

I apologize for abandoning Sunday Surf today. With preparing for the carnival and other December duties, I'm taking another week off.

Does your family have an Advent calendar? What's your favorite kind of countdown technique with kids?


seekingmother said...

As always your blog gives so much. I have been struggling with the holidays this year and am now feeling quite inspired. Thank you for your wonderful ideas and beautiful writing.

Megan said...

I bought the Lego advent calendar for myself this year and it's great, but a little pricey, and they sell out fast. I've heard that there's a design program, where you can order a kit of pieces to make up your own designs - and it creates an instruction sheet, Lego style. So you could make your own mini-Lego sets in a reusable advent calender, and you could even do cheap dollar store "legos" to save money.
I love your felt calendar idea, and the one hanging from the mantle in the picture is beautiful!
Thanks for all the great ideas.

Anonymous said...

Honestly? I managed to buy 2 chocolate filled calendars for $3 at my grocery store in late November. One of the good things about these is that the chocolate pieces are actually super-small, so the kids aren't really getting sugared up. Frugality for the win!

I love the idea of doing something more elaborate, but I keep putting it off until next year. I suspect this may continue to be the case every year. ;)

Momma Jorje said...

Our most memorable...

I used a poster board and made a calendar counting down to Giftmas. For each day, I did a mini craft and put it on that day. I got the crafts from a book of Christmas crafts. On that day, we would do that craft in actual size. Tyler LOVED it and still asks me to do it again! (She is 12 now.)

It was very time consuming, but fun. The trouble was, some days we didn't have time to do the craft, so then we'd get behind and wind up doing a couple of crafts a day to catch up.

As some examples, we did make a paper chain. We made different Christmas cards on different days. One used cotton balls to make a snowman on the cover while another used cutouts covered with tissue paper to make a pretty tree. It took a lot of planning, but I was homeschooling at the time, too.

Luschka @ Diary of a First Child said...

Some absolutely beautiful ideas here. Feeling SO inspired for next year when Kyra is a little older. Thanks SO MUCH for this post :)

Deb Chitwood said...

We always purchased an Advent calendar when my kids were young, but I love seeing the possibilities available now! Thanks for the great ideas and links! I linked to your post at

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