The Best Activity Advent Calendar Ideas!

Our DIY activity advent calendar is one of my favorite parts of the holidays.  Counting down the days ’til Christmas was something I did as a kid with a long felt pole and 24 hard candies fastened with yarn. I have such great memories of it and wanted to create the same for my boys-minus the candy!

This is a combination of three posts, so there is a lot of info and ideas on how to fill your own advent calendar with more than 25 days of Christmas activities! 

Focus on togetherness and good deeds.

I changed things up a bit from my childhood and put the focus onto spending time together and doing good deeds.  Everyday my boys “open” an idea for a family activity.

I fill our advent calendar with ideas that are very simple and need little planning.

We take night hikes around the neighborhood with flashlights, bake cookies, donate food to a local shelter, and make solstice candles for teachers. I sprinkle many family game nights into the mix, and make sure to watch a couple of festive movies during the month.

*****Scroll down to see the big list of advent calendar ideas for tots to teens*****

activity advent calendar example

An Advent Calendar Made of Recyclables.

The calendar itself was created with tin cans and glass jars from the recycling bin.  I let both of my boys(toddlers at the time) paint and draw to their hearts’ content and then wrapped the tin cans with their artwork or inserted the art into glass jars.

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My oldest son wrote the numbers onto circles cut from cereal boxes, which I fastened to the cans and with a magnet or a clothes pin. Of course, we added a little glitter for some sparkly fun. 

I loved having even my young children have a part in the creation of the calendar.

If you don’t want to make your own, never fear! Just purchase one like this or this.


Spending time together is the gift.

Each year, I am reminded of the quick passage of time.  It seems like only yesterday we were making our advent calendar and yet, here it is 11 years later and my boys and our lives have changed so much since then.  

My heart just melts when I look at their early mark making and number writing. The activity advent calendar is my way of insuring we’ll spend lots of  moments together making  precious memories.

It’s the time together that counts and that I want them to remember most.

Ideas for an Activity Advent Calendar

I want to be an example of more giving than receiving, so  I always include many giving activities in our advent calendar. We love to  treat those people who help make our lives easier as well as giving to make things easier for others.

 Our giving activities for out Advent Calendar:

Making an ornament or small gift for neighbors.  We have made pipe cleaner trees, tea cup candles, cookies, mini milk carton houses, and felted soap.

We always shop for(or make!)teacher gifts and include as many other school staff members as we can..the office staff, school nurse, etc.

I love the idea of giving a huge tip to a server at some point during the holidays. This is a win-win, because we get to go out to eat, too. It leaves us with such a great feeling that even crowded malls and long lines can’t take away.

This year we are going to decorate an outdoor tree that is along one of our favorite public walking paths. Its sure to bring a smile to folks out for a stroll in the woods.

advent activity calendar

Make a bird feeder to hang on our trees.  We’ve strung cheerios, spread bird seed and lard on a bagel and dipped pine cones in peanut butter and seeds. It really is nice to think of our feathered friends this time of year.

Getting Crafty

The Holidays are a great excuse for me to get crafty with my kids–as if I need an excuse!  I treasure projects from past years and love to get my kids in that industrious elf mood.

Make your own wrapping paper. We do this almost every year. I get a few roles of brown or white craft paper (find them by the packing supplies at any big box retail store) and the kids have at it.

We usually stamp the paper with ink or paints, using bubble wrap or toilet tubes.

Create masterpieces on mini blank canvases. We did this a few years ago and they turned out so cute. These make great gifts and can even hang on the tree.

Felt old wool sweaters and make a wool garland. (see picture of tree at top.) We have been working on this for years.  Finally, I think we have enough garland for the whole tree. Find the simple directions here.

Decorate your room for the holidays. This one is new for us this year.  I plan to visit a few thrift stores to buy garland and lights for the boys to string around their rooms. The dollar store is a great place to go, too.

advent activity calendar

Decorate windows with tissue paper.  This really has a beautiful result and can occupy even the littlest in your family. Just brush on pieces of tissue paper (I buy it at the dollar store or here) with watered down glue.  To remove, just spray with window cleaner and wipe!

advent activity calendar

Make ornaments for family and friends. Each year I find a great homemade ornament to create and give to family and friends.  I love having the boys make gifts instead of buy them.  We all have fun and it’s a great lesson in giving.

ideas for your advent calendar

Cheap, free, and easy

We always sprinkle in many free, cheap or easy activities into the month for sanity(mine) sake. I think some of these are actually our favorites.

Give each other crazy hairstyles…then take a bubble bath to wash all the product out.

Sing Christmas Carols at dinner.  We have a few CD’s to pop in.  This one is a favorite.

Cook breakfast for dinner and then have a picnic by the tree.

Have hot cocoa and marshmallows.  Get out the special mugs. We have made it from scratch, but the instant kind works perfectly.

Make Christmas cards with stamps and don’t forget to decorate the envelopes. We cut shapes from carrots and potatoes and create some real keepsake cards.

Don’t forget yourself!! This year one of the activities is getting a baby sitter for a night –my kids LOVE this. And I love it too.  It means a night for my husband and I to go out to eat or get some Christmas shopping done together.

empty advent calendar

Help, I can’t add one more thing to my list!

Filling an activity advent calendar may seem stressful.  After all, the holiday season is already jam packed with commitments and to-do’s.  

Figuring out how to fill your own advent calendar with 24 more things to do may seem like a chore.  There are lots of ways to plan activities to make things easier and more enjoyable for you.

Start small and go simple

The first year we had an activity calendar we only did about a week and a half of activities. We started on the 13th instead of the 1st. That suited my then 1 and three year old just fine!  

You could have activities every other day or just on weekends.  Try repeating activities–we have several nights of family games and holiday movies throughout the month.

taking the stress out of advent activities

Use what you already have planned.

When I sit down to plan our activities, I look at what we already have planned and write those in first. 

I include trimming the tree, our annual trip to decorate gingerbread houses at the Art Institute, and the boys’ cub scout trip to visit a local retirement community.  

 Every day does not have to be a surprise.

Say no to other commitments.

If planning activities for your family makes you say no to other commitments, it’s already doing you some good.

Spending time with your family, making memories of your own is what is important.  We keep our commitments few and plan for lots of down time.

activity advent ideas

Just go outside.

Many of our activities involve getting outside.  

After all there is no bad weather–only bad clothing!  

We bundle up and take hikes in the woods, walk around our local arboretum,  and go play at our favorite playgrounds(they are empty!)

Plan what YOU want to do.

Make sure you make it enjoyable for yourself and plan for the activities that you want to do.  

I love doing puzzles with my kids, so I make sure to get in at least one or two puzzle nights during the month.

I also love a picnic dinner by the tree.  We turn all the lights off, leave on the tree and plant ourselves in front of it for dinner.

easy advent activities

Have your kids plan some of the activities.

Kids usually come up with really simple ideas.

 Mine always ask for extra screen time–which in our low screen household is a huge treat.

They often request a read aloud from the stack of holiday books we have out this time of year. My kids also love hot cocoa (easy!) and sledding and night hikes thru the neighborhood sporting their head lamps.

Kids remember time spent with you.

What kids really want is your time. These activities can slow your family down, start wonderful traditions, and teach kids what the holidays are really all about.

More advent calendar filler activities :

Have a family game night. ( We love “>Memory)

Spend time working on a puzzle together.

Create structures with gumdrops and toothpicks

Eat a red and green dinner.

Trim the tree and listen to Christmas music.

Decorate cookies with friends.

Go to a playground.

Have a picnic dinner under the tree.

Drive around to see the Christmas lights.

Enjoy hot cocoa and marshmallows.

Take a night hike around the neighborhood.

Bring cookies to the neighbors.

advent activity calendar making wrapping paper

Make your own wrapping paper. We love to print with bubble wrap.

Spend $3.00 on books at Goodwill.

Do something nice for your brother.

Decorate your room for the holidays.

Make homemade sparkle playdoh.

Check out my Advent Activity Pinterest Board for loads of other ideas. 

Whether you’re an activity advent calendar veteran or not I’d love to hear some of your favorite things to do  and how you make this month super special for your family….have at it in the comments!!

Did you see my Gift Guide for ADHD Boys?  It has lots of great ideas to make your gift giving easy.