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 such as:
- make our own ornaments
- go ice skating
- sing carols
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, right?
For a full selection of ideas click over to the PDF download of 50 Winter Activities Checklist.
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!
DIY Advent Calendar Supplies
- Christmas Scrapbook Paper like this one from Martha Stewart (this is an Amazon affiliate link) or Hanukkah Scrapbook Paper.
- White Glue
- Hole Puncher.
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 making 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.
Make an 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!!
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, or click here to download the complete list as a printable for your fridge:
- Look at holiday lights
- Go caroling
- Make latkes (in case you celebrate Hanukkah too!)
- Visit Santa
- Build a Fire
- Make cookies
- Play with friends
- Have a family craft night
- Make ornaments
- Make Salt Dough Ornaments
- Deliver canned goods to those in need
- Decorate the tree
- Watch the Nutcracker Ballet
- Make a winter art project
- Make a gingerbread house
- Make gingerbread cookies with royal icing
- Build a snowman
- Decorate the house with lights
- Sing Carols
- Light Candles
- Take a family holiday photo
- Make rolled paper snowflakes
- Eat a Candy Cane
- Wrap presents
- Make cards for friends and family
- Pick out a tree
- Drink hot cocoa
- Make a snowflake collage
- Wear new pj’s
- Go Ice Skating
- Make Reindeer Food
- Go skiing
- Make Paper Winter Stars
- Watch a Christmas movie
- Read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
- Buy a special ornament
- Make ornaments
- Make a wreath
- Make homemade gifts
- Hang stockings
- Go sledding
- Play in the snow
- Do something nice for someone
- Make popcorn
- Eat chestnuts
- Write a letter so Santa
- Make treats for the neighbors
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!
activity based?! I love it. never would have thought. and now that each day already has a planned activity, I can think even less!
i’ve added a few activities that we wouldn’t normally do (like make gingerbread house), but it’s mostly things we’re already planning. We’re actually kicking it all off with “celebrate Hanukah”…not exactly your traditional advent calendar! Yay for building excitement while keeping things easy.
whoo hoo! an hour you say? worth mentioning *several* times 😀
i really like the style of your advent calendar. i’ve seen so many this yearâ€”of course the year i decided to take a break from a month of pocketed activities in our advent calendar (we’ll still do things, i just can’t handle planning anything). this one really caught my eye, maybe because it’s simple and pretty and… kept your little one busy for quite a while 🙂
i can’t promise that others will get a full hour out of this, but it worked for us. i was surprised! i wonder if i’ll take a break next year too, once i experience how much work this actually is 🙂
We’re off to buy scrapbooking paper the minute the kids get up!! What a fun idea!
Yay! Glad you’re inspired 🙂 Hope you all had fun with this.
Last year I made an Advent calendar with coin envelopes and filled each one with an activity–first looking at the calendar to see what we already had planned. Some envelopes also had stickers, and some had little chocolates. This year I cheated and bought the Lego Advent calendar, but all three of my kids, even the 2yo, adore Legos. December is always busy, with a birthday as well as Christmas, and this year my husband is away for a week in December as well. My goal is always to keep the month sane and as slow as possible, so we enjoy it. I always remind myself that I don’t want my children’s enduring Christmas memory to be of Mama weeping into the cookie dough. (And this year it has to be gluten-free, eggless cookie dough. Who needs the stress?!?!)
lego advent calendar! i had no idea such a thing existed! as a parent of two girls, i wonder if that would have ever made it on to my radar? i like your thoughts on keeping things sane (we also have december birthdays). i think i’ll revisit my calendar to mix in a few treats and make sure the whole thing doesn’t have me spinning in circles. thanks for the reality check, amy 🙂
thank you so much for this! we had great fun coming up with our activity list this afternoon. i have been working for several years to get my extended family into an activity mindset instead of only thinking about gifts. doing the advent calendar is a great way to frame the whole season with that in mind. as someone mentioned hugely important to look at the calendar for what is already on the books!
my favorite activity which is now a tradition is our beach clean. we’re doing it saturday the 18th at shoreline harbor park in oakland if anyone wants to join! bagels, hot chocolate and a little “greening” of the holiday!
Hooray! We’ve also been invested in keeping holiday “stuff” to a minimum, and I’ve found it to be a really hard pitch. Thanks for sharing the beach cleaning event — if you want to post it the Facebook page, it may get seen by more folks. It may be difficult for us to join you with the baby, but I’ll check the calendar. N would love it!
I love that your daughter helped create your festive and fun calendar. Our advent calendar has evolved over the years and I’ve learnt to make sure it is flexible. Our calendar is divided into different categories – traditions, giving, creating, reading and writing. If you have a chance and are interested, I wrote a blog post about it here: http://blog.creativeplaycentral.com.au/christmas-countdown-includes-25-christmas-activities/
Thanks for sharing your post with us, Elise! It’s giving me a lot of new ideas to add to this year’s calendar.
This year I go back and forth between making advent or not having one. With two little ones do you put out one set of advent for each child? Do your children ever get disappointed that there is not a gift each day? How do you present the advent idea to them ahead of time? I am thinking to do story disc for each day. It was on our to do list for a while. My husband and I will paint or draw a story disc on wooden circle for each child each day. One side is number and the other side is a drawing. Maybe each disc will depict an interest/activity/gift. Good way to learn number and counting. Any thoughts on how to display it will be greatly appreciated! Happy holiday making!
We have a chocolate-filled calendar and fit two small pieces of candy in it for each day. The activity calendar is great because everyone gets to join in. I have a friend who is one of seven children, and they would rotate through so she would only get a total of three gifts. There are so many ways to do this! I love your story disc idea and can see this becoming a treasured keepsake for many years to come. Perhaps you could wrap each disc and number them 1-24. You could mix them up on the first day and have your older child put them in the correct order, and then she could help you find a place to display them. i’d love to hear what you come up with!
Thanks for writing. I just finished making 24 paper roll advent tubes with fabric covers and stuffed them with small chocolates for each day. Inspired by Mayamade. http://mayamade.blogspot.com/2008/11/countdown-calendar.html
Some day we have an activity/event, some days just chocolates. Each day we will have two story discs one for each child. I will take a pictures when they are up. It was fun to make. Thanks for all the tips! How is your advent coming? I
I’m a huge fan of Mayamade, and love her idea. What a great way to upcycle those paper tubes! I look forward to seeing your story discs. Happy winter!
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I so prefer activity-based or experience-based calendars over the candy type for Advent. It’s a wonderful way to be sure to have family time during what can be a busy month. Beautiful calendar!
Thanks for your nice comment, Jacquie. We’re oversaturated with stuff, as are so many other families. I have to say that my kids do look forward to candy now that they’re older – it was so hard for us to avoid this!
[…] a copy of the list for our fridge or magnet board, and reference it when we’re building an activity advent calendar, looking for fun things to do to fill an hour, or when we’re planning out the season. […]
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