Free DIY Advent Calendar for Kids

Now that the holidays are over and we’re deep into January gloom, I can reflect on our first Advent-ure with an advent calendar. (See how I did that?) I wish I could tell you that I had a deep understanding of the advent tradition. In my family, it was just a countdown to Christmas. Some years my great aunt would send us a calendar with a little chocolate behind each day, and most years, we’d move a small teddy bear around an advent quilt. Since I didn’t want to get the kiddo all sugared up every night before bedtime, and I don’t have the skills to make an advent quilt, I decided to go with what I know: Post-Its and doodles.

DIY Advent Calendar

All you need is some poster board, Post-It notes, and markers (maybe stickers too, if you’re feeling crafty)

The photo is intentionally a bit blurry because I’m not giving out this artwork as a free printable. But I am showing you for ideas for your own kiddo. My daughter is 2 3/4, and can’t read, but she clearly knows images. So it was fun to do a drawing that she could understand that day’s activity. This project was inspired by Marie’s Makes and Takes post. I liked her idea of dry-erase and making it reusable, but after a quick run around Target, it was going to take way too much work, time, and money for what I was hoping to do. So, here’s my (almost) FREE version of an advent calendar.

Here’s what you need:

  • Poster board (I had some left over from my 13×19 Epson printer paper)
  • Post-It notes in different colors
  • Markers
  • Stickers
  • An actual calendar to reference (so advent activities don’t interfere with real-life obligations…I learned that the hard way).
Post-It Advent Calendar

We had a serious “No Peeking” discussion when I introduced this.

The Easiest Way to Make This:

Figure out how many Post-Its will fit across and down. My board was unfortunately only wide enough for SIX stickies, which made the planning part a little tricky. After I laid out the first row, I went back to the #1 Post-It, pulled it up, and drew that day’s activity in the space. I drew the number on the Post-It while it was OFF THE BOARD. Otherwise the Sharpie would have bled through. Basically go through and do this for each day, using the surrounding Post-Its as a guide for your space to draw. No need to mark out a full calendar ahead of time, unless you feel like that would help you.

Activities:

What we did was have the kiddo pull off the Post-It for that day and guess what the activity was. We’d talk about it and she would know that it was something we did when she’d get home from school. That typically inspired good behavior through most of the day! Below is the list of activities. I’m putting a (**) by the ones that were the most popular with the kiddo (and me.) Most of these are free or inexpensive, but some take some planning. If you’re planning to look at Christmas lights in your neighborhood, I’d save that one for a time closer to Christmas. We kind of jumped the gun and being so early in the season, there weren’t many to see.

  1. Go to the Nutcracker ballet (**)
  2. Make paper snowflakes out of coffee filters
  3. Drink hot chocolate (**) We allowed whipped cream and marshmallows! 
  4. Listen to Christmas music
  5. Color Christmas pictures. Draw any iconic holiday images and have the kids color them in. Or download some. 
  6. Take a walk and look for Christmas lights (save this one for 12/20 or later, and consider driving! Brr!)
  7. Bring home & decorate the tree (tree shopping NOT popular with the kiddo, but decorating ended up being fun after a nap)
  8. Decorate gingerbread houses (**) This was actually our annual gingerbread party, but it was fun to make it part of the calendar. 
  9. Sing Christmas songs. Pandora is great for finding kid-friendly holiday music.
  10. Make presents for school friends. We made sparkly initial ornaments for the class—the kids LOVED them! 
  11. Play with a friend. I goofed on the dates and had intended a playdate, but that wasn’t possible. She got to play with school friends though, so it counted. Ha! 
  12. Do a puzzle. I found a lenticular Finding Nemo puzzle at Goodwill that I saved for this one. She loved doing it with us. 
  13. Make a Christmas pizza. I used ready-mixed Trader Joe’s dough and rolled out 3 individual pizzas. We decorated them with things that were red, white, and green. Peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, green olives, and mushrooms.

  14. Skype with a grandparent. This was a great excuse to catch up with ALL the grandparents! Everyone was happy with this one. 🙂 
  15. Make cards for the family. I had saved a few holiday catalogs and magazines. I cut out pictures of holiday cookies, ornaments, wreaths, and presents, and gave kiddo a glue stick and some pre-trimmed cards:

    Make cards: advent activity

    Not bad for a toddler, eh?

  16. M&M taste test (**). This one was her “favorite.” You need: a sheet of paper, color markers or crayons, and a small bag of M&M’s. Take 10-20 M&M’s out. Draw circles in the colors of the M&M’s. Ask your child to sort the M&M’s by color. Have them taste the different colors and see if red tastes different from green, etc. The ruling was that they all tasted like chocolate. We also did a little counting exercise too, which was a bonus.

    M&M taste test

    Which tastes better? Red or green?

  17. Watch a Christmas movie. (**) Since I knew this was coming up, I scoured upcoming listings and DVRed a couple of movies ahead of time. The Grinch (original) and Frosty the Snowman (animated) were favorites, and ones I approve for a toddler.
  18. Bake cookies. (**) This one was so much fun. Kiddo got her own bowl and some random ingredients to mix next to me. We made vegan molasses ginger cookies. I ended up making 3 more batches for other events because they were DELICIOUS! 
  19. Go out for ice cream. (**Because, of course.)
  20. Serve Santa pancakes. I should have researched this ahead of time. We ended up not doing it, since it landed on a school day, but I’m guessing some red food coloring and a whipped cream beard were involved. I made Grinch oatmeal instead (2 drops of green food coloring). 
  21. Deliver cookies to neighbors. (**)
    Delivering cookies to neighbors

    Giving and community is what the holidays are really about.

    Remember those vegan cookies we made? I put a few on a plate, sealed with Press-N-Seal wrap, and designed a little label wishing them a happy holiday & sharing our contact information. This was my favorite activity of all. We moved into our home back in June, and still didn’t know many of our neighbors. Delivering cookies was a win-win-win: we got to meet most of our immediate neighbors, we got to teach our daughter about giving, and we learned some really cool things about our house and neighborhood from those who’ve lived here a long time.

     

  22. Decorate paper wreaths. I had some green paper cocktail plates on hand, so I cut a hole in the middle. We decorated with leftover holiday cutouts and glue sticks. 
  23. Go see lights downtown. Not. It was too hectic and cold to attempt this. We drove around the neighborhood and checked out lights instead. 
  24. Choose one present to open tonight!(**) We had our big Christmas Eve dinner that night, so it was fun to cap off kiddo’s evening with one small present. 

Overall, I think I’ll do this again. It was nice to have something planned for each evening, so we weren’t stuck being exhausted with nothing to do. I would have loved to hammer in the “Season of Giving” sentiment a little more, but hey, she’s a toddler. We also tried to tell the story of baby Jesus, explain Santa, and the colors and traditions, but most of these discussions were met with minor annoyance to major irritation. Maybe next year we can work in some more charity activities. It was also nice that most of these things were little, so if we were able to carry out a bigger tradition (like going skiing or seeing Santa), the calendar activity was still relevant.

Because of schedules and weather, there were a few activities I did not include in the activities. However, these new holiday traditions I’m hoping to keep: (1) visiting the Teddy Bear Suite at the Fairmont Olympic in downtown Seattle (2) playing with snow (3) checking out Zoo Lights, and (4) seeing the gingerbread houses at the Sheraton in downtown Seattle.

Advent alternatives

Not every holiday activity needs to be scheduled!

So how about you? What holiday traditions did you start this year that you’d like to continue next year?

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3 thoughts on “Free DIY Advent Calendar for Kids

  1. Definitely pinning this and hopefully will remember to do it next year! GREAT stuff!

    Some other ideas you could include that we have enjoyed:
    – make gingerbread play-dough
    – visit the animal shelter and pet kitties
    – make “Care Kits” and give them out to homeless people and/or Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child
    – Go to the British Dancing Academy Holiday Showcase at the Highline Performing Arts Center in Burien ($5/ticket + canned food drive) – seriously impressive talent of Jr and Sr High students.
    – Snowflake Lane in Bellevue
    – Go Ice Skating
    – Swimming at the AWESOME Rainier Beach Pool
    – Write a letter to Santa and Get Santa Pictures at the Mall

    Yeah, some of these have nothing to do with “Christmas” but they are activities that our whole family enjoys together, so that’s gotta count for something, right?

    Thanks so much for the awesome ideas!
    ~Jacqui

    • These are wonderful ideas, Jacqui! I like the animal shelter and “Care Kits” idea. We’ll definitely incorporate something like that for next year. Is it weird that I’m pinning this so I can remember YOUR tips? 🙂

  2. Good job. Good photos. Clear instructions. Age appropriate stuff. Glad you saved the artistic stickies. Great ideas. Shared well. Keep up the good work. YFM

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