Cute + Creative Ideas For Elf on the Shelf
It’s that magical time of year again, and guess who’s back- the Elf on the Shelf! For the entire month of December, the mischievous elf will be spreading Christmas spirit in a fun way, popping up in a new spot every day during the festive season.
As much as it’s a great idea, it can be tough thinking of creative ideas for the little Elf, so I’ve come up with list of the best, easy ideas for the holiday season. There are loads of ideas here that take less than 30 seconds to do so they are ideal for parents who just want to get it done; then there are some more detailed ideas for when you’re feeling energetic!
I’ve even popped them onto a FREE printable elf checklist so that all the brain work is done for you- simply download it at the end of this article!
What we don’t do with Elf on the Shelf
I know that there is a tradition of having the Elf as a ‘spy’ for Santa (to tell the kids to be on best behavior, to be put on the nice list, etc) but personally I don’t think this captures the Christmas spirit of generosity or grace. We just have the elf as a funny visitor throughout December!
On that note, if you find your child struggles with overwhelm during the holidays, I’ve put some practical tips together on how to help your child cope with seasonal overwhelm (I’m an autism parent so I’ve tried and tested every one of those!) Now- let’s get to this Elf! I also recommend this gorgeous Christmas activity book for ages 4-12, packed full of festive recipes, puzzles, games, crafts and more to bring joy and creativity to kids during December.
Where to buy the Elf on the Shelf
Without further ado, here is my list of easy elf ideas to make the Christmas season magical for little kids- and big! Make sure you check out my ‘need a break from the Elf?’ good ideas below to buy yourself some days off- when it comes to it, a happy mom or dad means a happy kid!
Arrival of the Elf on the Shelf on December 1st
A cute idea that my kids loved last year is to have your Elf on the Shelf arrive on the morning of December 1st, along with their advent calendars that I pop in an empty box. The Elf also held a note explaining that they had been sent from the North Pole by Santa Claus to (this note is part of the printables available on this article) and would be staying until Christmas Day.
After December 1st, you can use the following fun ideas on any day until the last night, Christmas Eve, when the Christmas Magic will take the little guys back home!
Elf on the Shelf Ideas For December 2nd – 23rd
Elf on the Shelf Snow Angel- pour some flour on the kitchen work surface and have your Elf create snow angels in it. He’s certainly a naughty elf!
Have your Elf climb to the top of the Christmas tree and sit with the star or angel- if you have lights or tinsel as Christmas decorations on the tree he could hang off them!
Wrap your Elf in a roll of toilet paper and leave a long trail behind him, perhaps all the way down the stairs.
Dress up the Elf- here are some cute Elf outfit ideas that take no time at all to put together.
Put your Elf on a toddler’s potty and pop some chocolate chips in as elf poop!
Have your quarantine Elf wear a tiny mask (I cut a rectangle of disposable mask, made holes in each side and used rubber bands to attach to the elf) and sit next to a bottle of hand sanitiser.
Have your Elf make pretty ice balls- pop a toy, or some flowers or leave in a balloon, fill with water and pop in the freezer overnight. They look so beautiful in the morning when you take the balloon off!
Have your Elf relax in a tub of Christmas chocolates, with some chocolate melted around their mouth.
Give your Elf an ice bath- pop its butt in a tub of water and freeze overnight!
Glue together cotton balls in a domed igloo shape and have your Elf sit next to, or in, the igloo.
Use cotton balls to create a snowball fight between the fun Elf and some more of your children’s toys- so much fun!
Have your Elf set up a sleepover next to your children’s beds or another good place (in front of a fireplace for example) with a tiny Elf sleeping bag.
Have your cheerful Elf hide candy canes around the house; in the morning your kids find the Elf with a note telling them how many to find- the Elf is on good behaviour sometimes!
Have your Elf ‘walk’ some elf pets – these could be stuffed animals attached to a lead or string.
Tie string around your Elf’s waist, and the other end to a ceiling light attachment. Pop a cookie jar or other treat underneath and make it look as if the Elf was doing a ‘mission impossible elf’ stunt to snag a treat!
Have your cute Elf hide in your children’s Christmas stockings, with just their head peeping out (sometimes the best ideas are the quickest!).
Just before your child wakes up, have your Elf sit in a bowl and put some bubbles in – it will look like the Elf is having a morning bubble bath.
Have your Elf rolled up in a sheet of wrapping paper- you can add sticky tape and ribbons for extra effect.
Have your Elf sitting with pancakes for breakfast, holding the spatula.
Place a cereal box on its side with some cereal spilled on the counter; the Elf could be peeking out or sitting next to the box with cereal in its hand!
Your Elf could decorate a mini Christmas tree
Your Elf can use a Sharpie or dry erase marker to draw or write on banana skins- this could be personalised to your children, a cheeky message or fun doodle.
Your Elf could decorate a gingerbread house (we used this quick no-bake gingerbread house), or even eat a few sweets off an already-decorated gingerbread house!
You could have a sick Elf – pop the Elf in a small box as a bed, place a thermometer next to it and screw up some tissues around the box. If you want to go next level on this one, pop some pea or chicken soup in a tiny bowl as Elf puke- a little bit gross but kids love it!
Your Elf could start wrapping up some Christmas presents and pop them under the tree- finally, some good behavior that will get the Elf on the nice list!
Your Elf could be peeking out of the cookie jar next to a trail of crumbs.
Stack a pyramid or tower of canned food and have your Elf balance on top, or posed as if they made it.
Have your Elf make a smiley face with toothpaste in the bathroom- on the mirror or in the sink for easy cleaning!
Pop some Haribo foam egg sweets in a frying pan and make it look like Elf is cooking breakfast.
Pose your Elf with some toast, with a note saying ‘It’s cold outside but now I’m toasty!”
Have your Elf make a tipi or house with Kit-Kat fingers.
Take a Pringles tube, cut a big hole in one side and two smaller holes below on either side- pop your Elf in to make it look like they’re wearing the tube!
Pose your Elf with a maple syrup bottle, with a straw placed in the bottle as if they are drinking it.
Re-create Buddy the Elf’s epic breakfast (from the film ‘Elf’)- spaghetti, maple syrup and candy!
Set your Elf up with a tea party along with your children’s stuffed toys or other characters.
Have your Elf spell out ‘oops, I pea’d myself’ from frozen peas.
Make a mini Twister mat with a square of paper and some colored markers.
SUPER Easy Elf on the Shelf Ideas To Give You A Few Days Off
Sometimes the best elf ideas are the ones that give us parents and carers a break. We have busy kids and busy lives and the festive season comes with extra busy-ness!
Last year I didn’t have the energy to come up with creative elf activities or find new ideas or put it in different places every night. If you need a free elf pass for a few days off, use one of these still funny elf ideas as a great way to have some days to forget about your little friend:
Leave your Elf with a note that says they are playing freeze-tag with your child’s Barbies (or stuffed animals, or other character toys) and that they have to wait until they are unfrozen to move.
Wrap your Elf’s leg in a cast and leave them with a note that says they had a tumble after climbing the Christmas tree, and that they’ll need a few days to recover. You can make this idea really cute with these Elf crutches!
Leave your Elf with a note saying that Santa Claus needs an extra elf to help with all the Christmas preparations so they’ve had to fly back to the North Pole for a couple days (make sure you hide the Elf well if you do this- my kids found it in a drawer in my bedroom, oops!)
Place your Elf outside, take a photo and leave a note for your child saying that the Elf has gone on a little vacation and will be back soon.
Elf on the shelf tradition for Christmas Eve
While you’re getting ready for the big day, your favorite elf on the shelf doll has got one last surprise, that my kids think is the best part! Our Elf delivered a Christmas Eve box that contained hot chocolate, a dvd of the wonderful Polar Express (if there is there a more magical Christmas film I haven’t found it!), pyjamas and a note that explained that the next morning, the Christmas magic would have taken the Elf back to the North Pole.
There are some creative ways you can do this (although by this point, and with Christmas Day to prepare for, I’m done) such as having the Elf ring the doorbell, or having it all under the tree or on the end of their beds for when the kids wake up.
How I Do ‘Elf On The Shelf’ As a Gentle Parent
The following is an original blog post that I wrote a few years ago, before my above list of Elf on the Shelf ideas. It outlines the differences between the widely-publicised use of the Elf, and an alternative gentle parenting style
Elf on the Shelf was initially a fun, cute idea to add a little extra Christmas magic to children’s lives. However, over the last couple of years I’ve noticed an increasing trend with Elf on the Shelf that I would encourage anyone who is interested in gentle parenting, to avoid.
Ok, so what could possibly be wrong with Elf on the shelf? Well, the other side of this tradition is that the Elf is often used as some sort of snarky Santa-spy, with children being told that the Elf will report back to Santa whether or not the children have been ‘good’.
I don’t think this is good for kids, adults or even Santa (jolly old guy, why would you send a snarky spy?) and it’s not great for the reputation of Elves everywhere who just want to help shoemakers and sit on toadstools and the like.
Really though, my concern is for the kids (sorry, Elves) and for the relationship between the children and the parents who are using this tactic to manipulate their children’s behaviour. Let’s go through the issues with this tradition:
It is lying. Children are often not able to distinguish between fantasy and reality; they need us to help them figure that out. Telling children that the Elf is an animate being and ‘watching’ them is a lie, whichever way you cut it.
I don’t think lying to children is any better than lying to adults- yes, Santa is not real but whether or not his story is a ‘lie’ depends on how it’s presented to them.
Initially I decided to tell my children the truth- that Santa wasn’t real- but my eldest daughter was incensed by the suggestion, and told me when she was 3 years old that I had to stop saying Santa wasn’t real. I respected her decision to engage fully with the idea of Santa, while being ready at any point to discuss the truth.
It is manipulative. Think about how you’d feel if you found out that one of your younger children had been telling their siblings that their Lego toy or Minnie Mouse doll was ‘watching’ them and threatening them that the younger sibling had to comply with the older kid’s standard of behaviour or they would be punished. How would you feel about this?
It is punitive. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that punishment does not work. It does not help to educate someone about the reason they should or should not do something, and to teach someone not to do a behaviour. If it did work, prisons would not be full of second-time offenders.
What research has found is that punishing a child makes them motivated to avoid punishment. Don’t want them to hit their siblings? If you punish them you can bet they’ll make sure that next time they hit their siblings, they’ll do it out of your sight.
Punishing kids is scientifically proven to not work. It doesn’t help develop good character, it simply makes kids better at avoiding punishment, and fosters resentment. I’ve never punished my kids; here are some gentle parent ‘consequence’ alternatives to punishment.
It is unkind! To proffer the hope and idea of presents and then take away that hope, or threaten to take it away, is unkind. We wouldn’t do it to adults, and we shouldn’t do it to children.
Imagine doing it to an elderly person- it makes your stomach a bit sick, right? That’s because it isn’t kind. Kindness should not be conditional, and certainly not dependent on the age and vulnerability of the recipient.
If you need more reasons not to use Elf on the shelf as a mean festive spy, remember that kids copy what they experience. Do we really want our children to be looking out for every fault and misdemeanour of others, seeking ways to jump on others’ failures and threaten and punish them?
Elf on the shelf ideas for a kind and happy Christmas
Here are some Elf on the shelf ideas for those who want to focus on respect and connection this Christmas:
- Ask your child if they want the Elf to visit.
- Respond honestly to your child’s questions as to whether the Elf is ‘real’ or not. (Ask them “do you really want to know or shall I tell you after Christmas?” if you think they might be upset with the reality.
- Have the Elf do a mix of cheeky things and kind things, maybe leaving small presents or loving notes for your child.
- Let the kids carry the Elf around, decorate it, draw on it, dress it up, take it apart, whatever they want to do with it. It’s for them, after all.
- Let the kids say bye and create a fun ‘goodbye’ party or event for the Elf
- If they want to keep the Elf after Christmas, let them!
- If questions arise about your child’s friends who have a mean-spy-Elf, say something along the lines of “oh that’s a shame, you receive presents because we love you and enjoy seeing you happy, not because of what you do or don’t do.”
So there’s my take on Elf on the shelf ideas. If you’d like 9 tips on how to help your kids stay peaceful, polite and happy in all the hustle and bustle of Christmas, check out my popular post helping kids keep calm at Christmas. here’s your free Elf on the Shelf Planner to take ALL the brain work out of it for you!