DIY Activity Advent Calendar

Make your own advent calendar

{This post was first shared in November, 2010…and we’ve updated it for 2013!}

When the winter holidays come around, our family gets into a deep DIY groove. How about you? In that spirit, making an advent calendar is a great way to introduce children to the less commercial side of Christmas through hands-on making.

Although my kids adore their chocolate-filled advent calendar, each envelope in this activity advent calendar holds a description of a holiday activity inside:

One day we’ll make our own ornaments and another day we’ll go ice skating. To keep my life simple, I only put things inside the calendar that are already on our agenda. No need to make the holidays more stressful than they already are!

For a full selection of ideas, scroll to the bottom of this post.

The Benefits of this Activity

I didn’t grow up with advent calendars, but my children adore them. This handmade calendar, made with the help of children, gives young people the opportunity to:

  • participate in a holiday tradition
  • exercise fine motor skills
  • generate enthusiasm for the festivities to come. 

And if you celebrate Hanukkah, you could make something similar for the eight nights of Hanukkah. I know that I would have loved that when I was a kid!

How to make an advent calendar with kids

DIY Advent Calendar Supplies

Making twenty-four envelopes takes a bit of time, but nothing insurmountable. The steps, however, are beyond simple.

I have a daughter who is thrilled by holidays and had a hunch that she would enjoy mkaing an activity-based advent calendar. When we were still going strong after an hour of folding and gluing, I silently patted myself on the back.

How to make an advent calendar with kids


How to make a Paper Advent Calendar

DIY Activity Advent Calendar

Step 1: Cut your paper  to the desired size and fold it in thirds. One side should overlap the other by about 1/2 inch.

Step 2: Fold the bottom up about 1/2 inch and crease the paper.

Step 3: Open everything up. Make two cuts (see photo).

Step 4: Fold the paper together and add glue to seal it up.

Step 5: Add some more glue and seal up the bottom.

Make 23 more, and you’re ready to go.

Step 6: Punch holes in the back of the envelopes, run string through them, and hang the calendar.

Decorate away! And don’t forget to add some numbers.

How this worked for us

This project is more crafty than our usual process-based happenings, but my little one was deeply engaged in the industry of selecting images and do-dads to glue onto the bags. The benefits that I witnessed were:  

  • developing fine motor skills
  • making aesthetic choices
  • practicing with a glue bottle
  • commitment to completing a fairly large project. 

I also think she really enjoyed the camaraderie of working side-by-side with me, and I must admit that she’s pretty good company. Oh, and did I mention that she was invested in this for a solid hour? Seriously!!

DIY Activity Advent Calendar

Activity Advent Calendar Ideas

Our calendar is filled with holiday activities, written on pieces of paper, but you could certainly put small treats in each envelope if you’d like. Here are some ideas for activities:

If you make an activity calendar like we did, my best advice is to keep it simple. The holiday can be a stressful time, full of so many activities, parties, and travel.  I like to put things in the calendar that we’re already planning to do, so that this doesn’t add more work to an already busy time of year.

Go easy on yourself and don’t overcommit with this project!

What activities do you have planned around the holidays?

DIY Fabric Ornament With Kids

This post is sponsored by Gymboree. Bring a friend to a Gymboree store and sign up for Gymboree Rewards together and you’ll both SAVE 25% off an in-store purchase. 

Kids Crafts Ideas: Hand stitched fabric ornament with KidsKids Crafts Ideas: DIY Fabric Ornaments

These sweet fabric ornaments teach children hand sewing techniques while building fine motor skills, and they don’t demand that parents have a lot of fancy sewing skills to facilitate. Perhaps best of all, they’re heirloom quality and can be gifted or saved and used for years to come.

Hand sewing with Kids

As soon as the tree went up my kiddos begged me to pull out all of our ornaments, and we spent two full days decorating. We ooohed and ahhed over all of our hand made ornaments, some made by my girls’ great grandma! Last year we made stacks of salt dough ornaments and we talked about making something different this year.

My 4-year old has been interested in hand-sewing, and she came up the idea of making her own stitched ornaments. Great! Not only are they sweet, but children can make these with just a wee bit of adult assistance.

This is a good project for older children or children who have a little bit of sewing experience. We’ve done other sewing projects such as Toddler Hand Sewing and Preschool Machine Sewing, so my daughter was ready for this.

With cups of tea and cider poured (I highly recommend this step), this sewing experience was a soothing way to spend an afternoon connecting with my preschooler. If you have a child who’s interested in sewing, I’d encourage you to give it a go.


  • Fabric scraps
  • Fluff such as cotton balls to fill the ornaments
  • Embroidery floss
  • Embroidery needle
  • Thread
  • Sewing Needle
  • Ribbon
  • Treasures and Glue gun (optional)

 Step 1

Kids Crafts IdeasChoose a shape and cut out two of them. One will be the front of the ornament and the other will be the back. I like to give my children creative freedoms whenever possible, so I encouraged N to choose the fabric. She picked out fabrics that reminded her of the holidays. I love that!

You don’t really need a tape measurer, but kids love them and they add to the fun. Oh, and you can see how big our ornament is. Maybe that’s useful?

Step 2

sew on heartSew any ornamentation you like onto each of the fabric pieces (before you stitch them to each other). N wanted a heart sewn to this one, so I helped her hold the fabric while she did all the sewing. Normally I’d help with two hands, but I had to pull one away to snap this revealing shot.

Step 3

circles stitched together

Stack your two pieces of fabric together with the right sides facing each other. Pin fabric in place. Hand or machine stitch around your shape, leaving about a 1.5″ opening. Be sure to lock your stitch at the end.

We hand-stitched ours. N made it about half way around before she lost steam and then asked me to step in. That’s fair…sewing can be tiring for little hands!

Step 4

fill with cottonTake out all the pins. Flip the fabric shape inside out. Fill with stuffing.

Cut a piece of ribbon, about 6″ long. Fold it in half.

Insert the bottom of the ribbon into the fabric opening. Stitch the ornament shut, being sure to sew the ribbon into the ornament.

Step 5

homemade fabric ornamentThis is where my toddler happily stepped in to play. Attach treasures with a hot glue gun. Don’t make our mistake! We “secured” ours with white glue, and they mostly flaked right off the next day.

When you’re done, hang them proudly on the tree or gift them to loved ones.

stitched ornament

You could also take a cue from a friend of mine who invited all of her friends to do a random act of kindness in lieu of birthday presents — and gift an ornament to a stranger or someone you know could use a thoughtful hand made pick-me-up.

What kind of hand made ornaments have you made, or are you planning to make this year?


Winter Craft Collage Invitation

Winter Collage for Kids | TinkerLabToday I’m sharing a simple creative set-up that will help you slow down and celebrate winter at the art table. 

Slow down and craft: Art therapy for the Soul

I love it all…the tree trimming, wreath making, cookie decorating, Santa sighting, and latke cooking. Yes, it’s only December 7, and we’ve already done it all!

But I’ve learned that I can only take it in small doses before I need to bury my head in a pillow. And then I learned this week that my kids feel the same way.

When we put our kids to bed my husband and I often make up stories, and they invariably involve some sort of adventure (on my 4-year old’s request, every time). The ongoing story I tell is about three rabbit sisters who go on wild adventures to solve mysteries, but tonight N requested a story about the three rabbits “and their relaxing afternoon.”

I pressed the topic. “Okay, did they play at home and then take a walk to the park?” “No,” she said, “they stayed at home. All day long.”

If you find yourself in a similar place where you and your child just need to take a load off, brush off some of that holiday pressure and chill out, the spirit of this craft invitation is for you.

No special materials are required and the “product” does not have to look like anything in particular — forage through your cabinets and you’re sure to find everything you need.

The objective here is to pour a cup of something warm, go easy on yourself, and celebrate the process.

Winter Craft Invitation: Gather your supplies

My goal was to present my kids with a smorgasbord of materials that might inspire them to create a winter landscape. I envisioned shapes that might remind my children of a winter scene and came up with these materials:

  • Sheet of paper (light blue)
  • Green paper cut into triangles
  • White paper cut into circles
  • Dot stickers
  • Colorful Tape
  • Do-a-dot markers
  • Markers
  • Glue Stick
  • White Glue
  • Candy Cane Stickers

Winter craft collage invitaiton,

Clear a table

Clear everything off the table and then do your best to attractively set the materials up. Our table is usually uncovered, so I took a minute to cover it, which made my kids notice it and in turn built their excitement.

Winter craft collage invitaiton,

Leave it open-ended

While it would be easy to tell my kids to use the circles as snow or the triangles as trees, they see things their own way. The winter suggestion is there, and they can take it or leave it.

My 2-year old wanted to use a glue stick like her big sister, and took great pride in figuring out how to secure shapes to her paper.

Winter craft collage invitaiton,

Listen to the story

When my children complete a picture I often ask them to tell me about it. My 2-year old was really excited about how she worked with scissors to chop up that triangle you see on the right, and she talked about how she glued and taped everything down. Fascinating, right? She didn’t say one thing about imagery; it was all about the process.

Winter craft collage invitaiton,

My 4-year old was soooo literal with this project that it practically killed me. She told me about how the middle tree needed more ornaments than the others and how it was snowing. As I spent more time looking at it, though, I was also struck by the suggested symmetry of the piece.

Winter craft collage invitaiton,

I wondered if the collage invitation was hindering her creativity, but after seeing this picture  (below) that she created on the same day, it was clear that her imagination was still alive and well, and that the collage enabled her to test new design ideas with form and composition.

Winter craft collage invitaiton,

How are you feeling about the holidays this year?

Are you overwhelmed by them or are you fueled by the excitement? Do you have any strategies for taming the crazies, respectfully turning down invitations, or taking things off your plate?

More Art Projects for Toddlers

12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers |
For more toddler art projects, you may enjoy the easy-to-set-up activities that use mainly everyday materials in 12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers.

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Snowflake Collage Activity for Kids

Are you looking for a meaningful process-oriented art project to do with the kids this winter? I have an answer for you with this snowflake collage activity for kids.

snowflake collage activity for kids

Have you made snowflakes with your child? Once you get started, making snowflakes can be completely addicting. Last year, when my older daughter was three, we made PILES of snowflakes and this year she turned into a snowflake-making machine about a week before Thanksgiving. The good news for us Californians is that we’ll be knee-deep in snow by December at this rate!

Snowflake Collage Activity for Kids

snowflake activity for kids

Step 1: Cut Snowflakes

There are lots of ways to make paper snowflakes, and my favorite tutorial for easy, good looking snowflakes can be found by Maya over at Maya Made.  This also happens to be a favorite blog of mine, and you’ll probably enjoy getting lost in the images of her gorgeous farmhouse and handmade loveliness.

We used a pack of precut tissue circles like these from Discount School Supply, but any tissue paper or other thin paper will work equally well.

snowflake activity for kids

Step 2: Lay them out over a sheet of card stock

4-year old N set hers out on top of two sheets of card stock that she taped together.

snowflake collage activity for kids

Step 3: Get your Mod Podge and Palette Knife ready

I spread a thin layer of Mod Podge onto the paper to which N deftly attached each snowflake. She was in charge of the layout, which included some beautiful layering of colors. After she placed the snowflake, I added a little more Mod Podge to seal it in place.

Watered down white glue will also work if you don’t have Mod Podge, but I’d encourage you to invest in some because it works so well for all sorts of collage activities.

Snowflake Collage Activity for Kids

Step 4: Keep making snowflakes until you’re done

Snowflake collage activity for kids

Step 5: If your dad’s birthday is coming up, turn it into a gift 🙂

Or, proudly hang your masterpiece and welcome in the winter season.

It’s all about the process

Like all the projects on this site, I hope  you’ll take this inspiration and run with it in your own direction. Or better yet, your child will take it in his or her own direction. Happy exploring!

You might also enjoy

Rolled Paper Snowflakes

Hanging Holiday Stars

Last-minute DIY activities to make with the kids


Salt Dough Ornaments: Part 2

Salt Dough Recipe | TinkerLab

In the first part of this 2-part salt dough ornament post I shared the salt dough recipe and how to bake it here. In this post I’ll give you my best tips for painting and decorating salt dough ornaments with kids.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments |

Let me start by saying that these were made as a collaboration between me and my 3-year old. I love how they turned out, and how my 3 year old can proudly share gifts from her heart with her friends.

Supplies for Salt Dough Ornament Decorating

Note: This list contains affiliate links

  • Acrylic Paint. This set gives you a wide variety of colors.
  • Small paintbrushes. A set like this will give you a variety of brush sizes and choices.
  • Table cover
  • Glitter. Martha Stewart makes a set that comes 12 colors.
  • Apron
  • Water jar for cleaning brushes
  • Rag for drying the wet brushes
  • salt dough ornaments

paint salt dough ornaments


Less you think everything comes together like magic over here, I found that this project involved a lot of *stuff* and have eight tips that will make it more fun and less headache…

Set up your Ornament Painting Station

  1. Gather your materials ahead of time.
  2. Cover the table. Acrylic paint will not easily come off of surfaces and clothing.
  3. Set this up outdoors. Always a wise move if glitter is involved.Even if it’s freezing, it’ll be worth it. No glitter? Indoors will do the trick.
  4. Palette: Use a paper plate for a palette and squeeze small amounts of paint on the plate.
  5. Paint: Use acrylic paints. Don’t mess around with tempera. Acrylic is archival and the ornaments will look beautiful when you take them out year-after-year. FYI: Acrylic paint will not wash out of clothing.
  6. Add some shine. Use glitter or metallic paint. Make it sparkle. It’s the holidays, after all!
  7. Limit the palette. I limited ours to red, white, and green. For Chanukkah, you could use blue, white, and silver. With young children, fewer paint choices make things simpler.
  8. If you follow these steps, when you’re done, all you should have to clean are the brushes and hands.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments |

N got pretty good at painting the ornaments while maintaining minimal contact with the paint.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments |

She wanted to use glitter glue, sometimes all by itself and sometimes on top of paint. The beauty of having a ton of blank ornaments is that they’re ripe for painting experiments. No two ornaments were the same.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments |

Painting the glitter glue was fun, too.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments |

And then we pulled out our entire glitter collection! There’s no stopping us from…

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments |

…dumping the glitter like snow, all over the ornaments and workspace. Once more, so happy that I took this project outside. And lucky that it wasn’t a cold or windy day.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments |

And there they are, ready to be strung with ribbons and hung somewhere festive. The glitter sticks right to the acrylic paint, but as a final step, you could seal these with clear acrylic medium like this, which would help keep all the loose glitter on the ornament and off of everything it brushes against.How to make salt dough ornaments with kids | TinkerLab


Make Easy Salt Dough Ornaments: Part 1

Raise your hand if you’ve made or plan to make salt dough ornaments this season! Yep, I see a lot of you out there. It seems we’re not the only ones, but in case you haven’t committed to this yet, I have one piece of advice for you: While the recipe is simple, give yourself some time!

This is a 2-part post. In the first part I’ll share a salt dough recipe with baking instructions and in part two, I’ll share my best tips for painting and decorating salt dough ornaments with kids.

Salt Dough Ornaments |

I used this recipe on ParentDish by Anna Ranson, who blogs at The Imagination Tree.

Salt Dough Ornament Recipe

This salt dough recipe is the easier ever with just three ingredients that you probably already have. Double or triple the recipe for more ornaments.

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of salt
  • up to 1 cup of water.

I mixed the dry ingredients and then added a full cup of water. Gulp. Did you catch that bit about adding up to 1 cup of water? The dough was sooo sticky, so I kept adding equal amounts of salt and flour until the dough held together without sticking to my hands. Okay, back on track…

Salt Dough Ornaments |

My 3 year old and I both rolled out some dough and got busy cutting shapes with our favorite cookie cutters. I also gave her a small bowl of flour (you can barely see it at the top of this photo) for her to flour her workspace at will. She loved that, and I can’t believe I haven’t thought of that before. Her ornaments are less than perfect, but she proudly made them herself. Awwwww.

Salt Dough Ornaments |

We followed Anna’s suggestion of using a straw to add a hole in each shape that we could later hang a ribbon through. Of course N saw no good reason to stop at one hole per ornament. And why should she?

Salt Dough Ornaments |

The next step is to bake them at 100 C for 2-3 hours. OMG — just caught that it was Celsius, and here I was cursing my oven for not going below 170 Fahrenheit. Haha! Now I know why it took, literally, all day to bake these. Okay, so I could have just put my oven at 212 degrees and it wouldn’t have taken forever.

Bake your Salt Dough Ornaments

Bake at 212 F or 100 C for 2-3 hours, or until hard.

Salt Dough Ornaments |

After they were dry, N sorted all the ornaments into hearts, trees, snowflakes, and gingerbread men…and then, of course, her little sister stepped in to mix them all up.

Salt Dough Ornaments |

Ready for painting. To see how we painted them, click over here for Salt Dough Ornaments: Part 2.

Candy Cane Still Life

At least half of the art activities that happen in our home are improvisations. Today was another rainy day, and after setting up a marble run, sommersaulting off the couch, playing with neighborhood friends, and jumping in puddles, I pulled Candy Can Still Life out of my rabbit hat. It was a short activity, but totally worthwhile and applicable, I think, to a wide variety of ages. In terms of creating a still life, my toddler (is 2.5 still a toddler? I’m not so sure.) isn’t at all interested in depicting objects realistically, but at her age we could take inspiration from the colors of candy canes.


  • Black paper
  • Silver Sharpie
  • Red and White Chalk

I started by placing a black paper in front of her and asking, “What color are candy canes?” After a silent pause, I brought out the glass full of canes for further investigation, and we saw that they’re red and white!  This was my cue to “dig up” some red and white mark-making tools. I also asked if she’d like the silver sharpie. Um, yeah, have you ever met a toddler who didn’t want to draw with a Sharpie? Not likely.

After drawing with the Sharpie, she played around with the red chalk, and became fascinated with how it broke apart when she made forceful polkadots on the page. The smearing was pretty interesting, but after getting covered with a handful of red dust she was done. Fair enough.

I like how the vivid colors pop off the black background. While my child-art-projects generally have a focus on process over product, as this one does, I also really like how it turned out. The coherency of the final product seems to be the result of working within the constraints of limited materials. Professional artists work well with constraints, and I believe that children benefit from a similar approach to art making. So there you have it…a Candy Cane Still Life, of course!

If you try this out, I’d love to hear from you! Happy Drawing, and Happy Holidays!

Frozen Wreath

Until a few weeks ago, I thought Halloween was the best “season” to celebrate with little kids, but now I’m beginning to think it’s got nothing on the winter holidays. My two year old is enamored by holiday lights, menorahs, ornaments, snowmen, animatronic lawn decorations, Santa, nutcrackers, and gingerbread houses. And the list goes on and on. When I picked her up from preschool this week, I found out that she led her class in a round of Jingle Bells! So, this wreath project is clearly the icing on a very well-frosted gingerbread bundt cake!

To make the wreath, N and I foraged for berries, rosemary sprigs, red leaves, and green sweetgum tree balls on our way home from the park, and then set to work making magic happen when we got home. We filled a bundt pan with water, added our beautiful natural finds, waited for it to freeze, added a ribbon and some more water, and then froze it some more. The perfect spot to hang it ended up being a post by the street, where we could enjoy catching many of our neighbors stop in their tracks to take a closer look. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me, as little creative surprises can be mood changers and eye openers, and it reminded me of Keri Smith’s fun-to-read book, The Guerilla Art Kit.

I stole this idea from the very thoughtful and creative Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent. While our warm California weather renders a wreath like this useless after an hour or two, the lore and magic of winter evoked by this project make the process so worthwhile.

Thanks for the fun idea, Jean, and happy winter!