Make Elf on the Shelf Work for You: 8 Ideas for a Stress-Free December

elf on the shelf in christmas ornaments

Elf on the Shelf can be a divisive concept. Some parents have embraced this cheeky, imaginative toy, and enjoy finding new, inventive scenarios for their kids to discover each December morning. Others find it an unnecessary stressor, adding extra work to the already busy holiday season. Parents can spend ages online looking for cheap ideas that don't involve making messes, wasting food, or buying additional Christmas presents. Why not try these ideas that are not only free and easy to create, but also use the Elf as a prompt for kids to entertain themselves?

Make a Kindness Calendar

The Elf is supposed to return to the North Pole each night to deliver reports to Santa about how the children are behaving. Similar to a traditional advent calendar, create a 'Kindness Calendar' with 24 suggestions of nice things to do throughout December. You can use a printout of a calendar page and add a new suggestion daily. These ideas might include choosing an old toy to donate to charity, picking up five pieces of litter, writing a Christmas card for an elderly relative, taking food to a food bank or shelter, or making thank you cards for their teachers. There are hundreds of great ideas online so you can pick out things that are suitable for your family. Keep a photo record of each activity so that every evening, your kids can share their good deeds with the Elf.

Nature Hunt

The winter weather can make it hard to convince your kids to go outside and get some fresh air. Use the Elf to motivate your kids by creating a nature hunt, where you search for various natural items and collect as many as possible to make a collage or display. You can find ready-made lists online or make your own. Pick two or three items that can be found very easily and collect these yourself in advance. Place the nature hunt lists, the Elf, and the first few items poking out of your children's coat pockets. You can spend the following morning searching for the rest of the items on the list as a family, then leave the kids to make an artwork or display using their natural hoard.

craft suppliesUpturned Jigsaw

The Elf is supposed to be a mischief-maker, so why not create a messy situation your children will happily spend time clearing up? Upturn a jigsaw puzzle on a clear tabletop and arrange the Elf in the middle to look as though he's making snow angels in the puzzle pieces. Leave a little note from the Elf explaining that the kids are supposed to complete the jigsaw and leave it for him to look at the following night.

Hide and Seek

This idea will take you less than a minute to set up at night but will occupy your kids for much longer. Hide the Elf somewhere in the house and leave a note on the kitchen table explaining that the kids need to find him. Good hiding places include tucked into Christmas tree branches, cosily stashed between towels in the airing cupboard, or inside the washing machine on top of the kids' Christmas jumpers. Make the hiding place hard or easy depending on the age of your children.

Activity Sheets

There are lots of free, printable Christmas activity sheets online. Find some activities your children might enjoy and print them out, then roll up each sheet and tie it with a ribbon or a hair bobble to make it look like a fancy scroll. Arrange the activity sheets with Clinton under the Christmas tree to frame the activities as early Christmas presents. There are many different puzzles to choose from including word searches, coloring pages, or secret codes and anagrams, depending on what your children enjoy.

'Elf Says...'

For a super quick idea that can be reused several times throughout December, try playing a game of Elf Says, based on the party game Simon Says. Using a whiteboard or notepad, write a Christmas-themed instruction and leave it beside the Elf. Suggestions for good activities include making Christmas presents for family members, drawing cards for school friends, or filling up a shoebox with old toys to donate to charity.

Introduce Christmas Traditions Slowly

Many people have special books, activities, movies, decorations, and other treasured Christmas items that get brought out every December. Consider storing these items somewhere the kids can't find them throughout the rest of the year, then having the Elf introduce one or two items at a time throughout the month of December. For example, one morning he might appear poking out of a 'tent' made from a sturdy Christmas book. On Christmas Eve, he could find the children's stockings and climb inside one like a hammock.

The Kids Are Magic

This idea is great for slightly older children who enjoy making up stories. Start a conversation with your kids that makes them speculate about the different adventures the Elf might have during the night when everyone is sleeping. From the different ideas your kids suggest, pick something that is easy to create using household items and set it up while they sleep. When your children think Clinton is listening to their ideas, they are likely to brainstorm more suggestions each day. Just keep creating the simplest idea to keep the magic alive, and to avoid having to come up with endless ones yourself.

Elf on the Shelf is an imaginative toy but often parents do a lot of the imagining, and children passively enjoy the end result. Make the Elf work for you by turning the tables and using the Elf to prompt activity and creativity in your kids. These ideas can be repeated throughout December and ensure that your kids are spending more time enjoying the Elf than you are coming up with new ideas every evening.

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