Home made advent calendars can be loads of fun for counting down to Christmas (check out our gallery of creative ideas if you’re looking for inspiration). But filling them can be a challenge if you don’t want to add yet more chocolate to the treat-filled festive season. Here are 20 chocolate-free fixes for your advent calendar, guaranteed to be more enjoyable, more useful and longer lasting than a momentary sugar hit!
There are official LEGO advent calendars out there but its cheaper and more fun to make your own. Collect 25 individual pieces or minifigures (you might want to scour a few op shops!), or buy a set and break it up in to 25 different components.
2. Activity “coupons”
Instead of filling your calendar with things, fill it with experiences. Create 25 ‘coupons’ for fun Christmas activities you can do each day (like making decorations, baking cookies or visiting Santa). Throw in a few treats as well, such as ice cream after dinner or an extra story at bedtime.
3. Craft supplies
Fill up the craft box (you have one of those, right?) by packing your calendar with crafty bits and bobs like pom poms, icy pole sticks, googly eyes, stickers and glitter pens … The perfect loot for kids to embark on a creative frenzy before Christmas. Check out some easy craft ideas for kids here.
4. Fridge magnets
Buy a collection of fun magnets or an alphabet set. Or if you want to go the DIY route, glue magnet sheets to the back of cut-out pictures of relatives they’ll be seeing at Christmas. A great way to help them remember everyone’s names!
5. Silly bands
They’re silly and useless but kids seem to love them! This is an inexpensive idea if you have a large family of kids, and at the end they’ll have load of arm candy to accessorise their Christmas outfits.
For some it might not be quite the Christmas spirit, but for others, giving kids a coin a day so they can save up for something special teaches them the value of money and creates a sense of anticipation. If you prefer something they can hold on to, give commemorative coins or stamps to make a collection.
7. Mini cars
You can buy little toy cars in bulk packs from discount stores perfect for slotting in to advent calendar pockets. It’s a great idea if they’ll also be unwrapping a car-themed gift on Christmas morning, like a race track play mat.
Let your kids unwrap and hang an ornament on the tree each day. They can be new, homemade or something with sentimental value.
9. A treasure map
Draw a treasure map that shows where you’ve hidden one or two gifts somewhere in your home, then cut it up in to 25 pieces and place one piece in each pocket. Let them slowly piece together the map … finally leading them to treasure on Christmas morning!
10. Homemade cookies
Have a Christmas cookie baking day with the kids, but rather than gorging yourselves once the treats come out of the oven, put them in numbered ziploc bags and let them open up one a day until Christmas. If the cookies don’t last the distance … well, it’s a great excuse to make more!
One for the sentimental folks among us. Write down 25 of your favourite memories from the past year: things you love about your kids, the ways they’ve grown and changed, memorable days, holidays or funny things they’ve said. Open up one a day and read them out to your family. Aww!
12. Finger puppets
What about one finger puppet per day, culminating in a Christmas spectacular puppet show? The kids can have fun inventing the storyline and adding a new character daily. Although unless you’ve got lots of kids you might need mum and dad to help out with extra fingers …
13. Hair clips and bands
This is a great idea for little girls, especially if you have a little lady starting school next year. Load up the advent calendar with hair bands, clips, ribbons and bobbles – or make your own simple elastics like these by Dani from kittenbear.
14. Puzzle pieces
Buy puzzle with 25 pieces (or several, if you have more than one child) and place one piece per day in your advent calendar for the most drawn-out jigsaw puzzle they’ll ever assemble!
15. Vintage beads and buttons
Head to an op shop or craft supplies store and buy the prettiest beads and jewels you can find, and some metallic thread. Put a few beads in each pocket of your calendar, then let your little one slowly string a glittering Christmas necklace using the treasures she uncovers each day.
I never feel guilty about over-indulging in books, so I would have no qualms about buying 25 books to create this ‘calendar’ idea from 2 Little Hooligans. Wrap them up prettily, number them and put them in a basket. Then let your kids unwrap a new one each night to read. Visit the second hand bookstore if you’re on a budget – the kids will love them just as much whether they’re ‘new’ or not.
17. Socks and undies
After a year of the washing machine eating socks and a year of outgrowing their undies, your kids’ smalls drawers might be looking a tad bare. Socks and jocks usually end up on the stocking filler list but why not transfer them to your advent calendar instead? Go for bright and silly options to avoid them being ‘boring’.
18. Jokes and riddles
Grab a joke book and write out 25 side-splitters to read out each morning for a festive giggle. Here, we’ll start you off: “What do elves learn in school? The Elf-abet!” Boom-tish.
Restock their stationery supplies for the year by filling your advent calendar with pens, pencils, stamps, glue sticks, rubbers and scissors. School supplies: tick!
20. A play set
This idea can act as a great ‘teaser’ countdown to the big day. Buy a play set and take out all the little pieces, letting your kids unwrap one each day until at last the ‘big’ present is revealed on Christmas morning. (Above: wooden train set available from Young Minds Toys)