Friday, November 30, 2012

Activity-a-day Advent calendar for kids

Activity-a-day Advent calendar ideas = Hobo Mama

We've been inspired to create an action-based Advent calendar this year to count down the days to Christmas. I've made a list of (at least) 24 activities that would be fun little activities throughout the season, and Mikko will get to open one each day to find out what today's adventure is.

Choosing simple and fun connection activities each day has many benefits that more traditional calendars don't always possess:
  • Counting down "sleeps" to an important day like Christmas helps little ones manage the wait — and even learn numbers!
  • Choosing an activity can be a healthier treat for young kids than something sugary, and it doesn't clutter up your home the way 24 days of small toys or gifts would.
  • You can customize your activity calendar to match your family's preferences and schedules, including parties and events you already have planned.
  • Kids don't need the activity to be anything fancy: Snuggling with you to read a special book or toasting marshmallows over the fireplace can be just as special as a trip to meet Santa or going ice skating.
  • You can adapt the activities to fit particular ages and multiple kids.

The calendar

First your kids need something to open each day. There are so many options for calendars!

For the discount DIYers among you, you don't need to get super fancy. You could use a wide-mouthed jar filled with 24 scraps of paper; your kids reach in each day, pull out an activity, and hey presto! This does mean the activities will be sorted randomly, however, and I wanted to make sure some events fell on specific days, and that I could rearrange activities to suit my energy level, without Mikko cottoning on. You could even just have a simple stack of notecards that your kids turn over each day, or place each one inside a little envelope sealed with a holiday sticker.

Other options are 24 small gift boxes (perhaps even festively wrapped!), 24 little bags (paper lunch bags, thrift shop bags, plastic baggies, whatever you've got), or 24 other teensy containers. You could set up a display and number them, or do the randomizing thing by setting them all in a box or basket to be pulled out one by one.

You can also buy or make something much fancier and longer-lasting. If you want to decorate, you can buy an unfinished wood Advent tree with 24 doors, a cardboard calendar with drawers, or an MDF Advent calendar with a wide middle section for creating a scene.

If you want something ready-made or further craft inspiration, I was considering these options at Etsy, for instance (I've chosen to link to my pins in case the listings are removed so you can hopefully still see the images; the pins do link to the current listings): magnetic tins (love these!) to stick to the fridge or a baking sheet, mini cardboard boxes labeled with the days and hung as a set, clothespin tree for clipping notecards or envelopes, decorative cotton or simple muslin bags clipped onto clothespins and strung on a jute line across the mantel or shelf, decorated paper bags, or a wall hanging with pockets for each day.

But here's what we did, because we're like that. We went to Target and got this adorableness:

Activity-a-day Advent calendar for kids = Hobo Mama
Fair Isle Wooden Advent Calendar

Yeah, I'm not proud of its provenance or entirely convinced of its longevity, but isn't it cuuuute?

Activity-a-day Advent calendar for kids = Hobo Mama

I like that the numbers are nice and clear for little eyes, that the doors are easy to open, and that there's plenty of room inside each compartment for multiple treats if we decide to use it a different way in another year. We could cram in a little daily surprise for every member of our family!

The activities

Next mission: Come up with a few more than 24 things to do this holiday season! (That leaves extras in case an event gets canceled or life gets in the way of one or more ideas.)

Activity-a-day Advent calendar for kids = Hobo Mama

Here's my list, subject to revision as necessary:
  1. See the reindeer at a local plant nursery
  2. Walk along the Green Lake luminaria
  3. See the gingerbread houses in the hotel downtown
  4. Hear the caroling Christmas Ships on the beach
  5. Put out our boots for St. Nicholas on December 5 for Nikolaustag
  6. Make our painted ornament craft (I have a little kit; Truth in the Tinsel offers a $3.99 download of printable ornaments to decorate and hang)
  7. Shop for presents for Sam and Alrik (Mikko has very specific ideas of what they absolutely need this year, and I won't spoil the surprise by spilling it here yet!)
  8. Make presents for the grandparents (Every year we make an easy art coaster for Granddad, and this year Grandma's getting a bead necklace in her favorite color — yellow. I'm sure we can come up with something for Nana and Papa, too, and could expand this to separate days.)
  9. Wrap presents
  10. Buy presents for a giving tree
  11. Shop for donations to give the local food pantry and WestSide Baby
  12. Read a winter or holiday book (I'll make this more specific as we check some good ones out of the library and find the holiday-themed ones we have on our shelf right now; this also can cover several days' worth of activities and is a good, low-key task for stay-at-home days. Obviously it will include How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and the hedgehog-themed board book The Hat, by Jan Brett, for Alrik, and Very, Very Fine has prompted us to check When Winter Comes out of the library already.)
  13. Build a fire in the fireplace. Roasting marshmallows optional but encouraged!
  14. Watch The Muppet Christmas Carol (our hands-down favorite family Christmas movie; other DVD/streaming options we'll consider are Elf and Rifftrax: Live Christmas Shorts-Stravaganza!, which has sarcastic enough voiceovers to tickle Sam's and my funnybone while having wholesome, innocent 1940s-1950s short films that Mikko enjoys at face value)
  15. Conduct the model train downtown (for a donation fee, kids can help steer; if I'm feeling cheap, we'll just enjoy the bus trip there to view it)
  16. Walk to Tully's for hot chocolate
  17. Read the Christmas story in our Storybook Bible
  18. Get our pictures taken with Santa (He visits a children's store in our neighborhood business district, and you can take photos with your own camera for a suggested donation to a local charity.)
  19. Put up the Christmas decorations
  20. Buy and decorate a Christmas tree (this could cover two days depending on timing)
  21. Make adorable handprint snowmen ornaments to keep and give away
  22. Bake cookies or other holiday treats
  23. Bake bread wreaths and leave them outside our neighbors' doors in our building with handwritten notes
  24. Build and decorate gingerbread houses
  25. Make Christmas cards for our loved ones (or at least a few of them!)
  26. Sing and play "Jingle Bells," "Frosty the Snowman," and other favorite songs (I'll take the keyboard accompaniment, and the boys can go wild on our percussion instruments)
  27. Attend The Nutcracker ballet (we're going with a group; I'll prepare by watching the Prima Princessa DVD with Mikko again beforehand)
  28. Celebrate the first day of Hanukkah
  29. Attend a Polar Express Party
  30. Go ice skating downtown
  31. Head into the mountains for some snow and sledding (if I get brave enough to deal with chains on our tires!)
  32. Commemorate the Winter Solstice (Light LED candles and a warm fire plus learn a little about the solar system.)
  33. Go to a church Christmas potluck
  34. Write a holiday message and draw handmade cards for our sponsored children (through World Vision)
  35. Buy a toy or stuffed animal for a toy drive (Ikea has a bin for Toys for Tots, and I know many other shops have similar collections this time of year)

I plan to write them all out on little pieces of paper, place the ones that are pre-planned into the days where they belong, and reserve the others in a secret hidey-hole known only to me. Then each night I'll peek at what activities are left and choose a doable one for the next day. Many of these I can save to reuse next year as we continue our traditions.

Here's hoping we all have a fun-filled, adventurous, inspirational, and connection-centric Christmas season!

More inspirations for Advent calendars:

What do you do to count down the sleeps to your holidays? Have you tried an activity-a-day calendar before? What are your ideas for activities?

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Lindsay said...

I think your Target Advent calendar is adorable!
We are trying an activity Advent calendar this year and I'm hoping I won't regret it-I'm almost 7 months pregnant and we've all been sick all November!
We are planning lots of crafts and baking.
I didn't even really think of finding community events to go to-I should try to come up with some and replace some of the less exciting things we have on our calendar!

Anonymous said...

I love this idea. Sadly Monkey is still too young (16 months) for advent this year but next year I'm all over it! My parents gave him an adorable wooden train advent calendar with little doors like yours has for his first Christmas. Can't wait to use it!

Hmm... Maybe I'll just do it anyway...

Lauren Wayne said...

@boringyear: For a 16-month-old, you could do baby-centric stuff like reading board books and doing horsey rides on your back. Your toddler doesn't have to really understand the calendar concept — it would just be fun for you! :) Plus, you could put family things on it, like outings and parties, that you were going to do anyway. Does your local zoo have holiday lights up, or could you walk to a neighborhood with lots of decorations, or is there a neighborhood holiday gathering…things like that? Toddlers would be all over that kind of stuff. :)

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