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I’ve grown to really like celebrating Advent the past several years. The word “Advent” comes from a Latin word meaning “coming.” There’s something about the anticipation. The set-aside time and space to look at the Giver of all good gifts. To remember that He became the greatest Gift we’ve ever known.
I want my little kids to experience the anticipation and fun surrounding Christmas in a way that is both meaningful & simple. And I want them to learn about the true meaning of Christmas.
But, since we’ve always had a baby, or toddler, or preschooler (or all of the above at one point), we’ve had to keep activities simple. Kids THRIVE in simple celebrating, and I think we parents often over complicate it by wanting to do ALL THE THINGS.
We really strive for a less-is-more mentality. Now that we have 4 kids ages 2-7, I try to finish up most of my planning, organizing, and shopping in November so I can just enjoy the Advent season with our kids.
But the first year I wrote this post and tried Advent (back in 2015), I figured it all out on like December 3rd and flew by the seat of my pants. Ha! So, if you’re feeling late to the game, you’re in good company. Everything here is meant to be simple to start. Better late than never 🙂
Here is what has worked for our family’s simple Advent with toddlers. Tweak our ideas to work for your family this Christmas season.
- Print a calendar (It’s a blank calendar that you can print on 8.5 x 11” sheet of paper if you want!) Or you can just use a ruler to draw a calendar on a giant piece of art paper.
- Grab some Christmas stickers from the dollar section at Target
- Mount the plain calendar on cardstock with enough of a border for decorating
- Let your kids go to town decorating it.
- Fill it in with 2 things each day: 1 “special” activity and 1 Bible Story.
Remember – “special” does not equal complicated and “pinterest worthy.”
We keep the calendar decorating really simple. Construction paper, markers, stickers. We did this calendar 3 years in a row with a baby around, even. Is it possible to have a baby friendly advent calendar? Haha
Here’s the Christmas Advent calendar my 1.5 and 3 year old made. I reminded the kids to color/ decorate mostly around the boxes and not too much in the box… I’m sure there’s a better way to do this but meh – we’re not aiming for perfection here, folks.
We like to do one little easy activity each day and one Bible story each day of December.
Toddler Advent Bible Story Ideas
1. Jesus Storybook Bible
The Jesus StoryBook Bible is our pick for kid Advent readings with little ones. There are 24 stories in the Jesus Storybook Bible leading up to the birth of Jesus. Perfect. Read one a day.
This is my favorite kids Bible, and my recommendation for the advent story for children. It’s ideal for preschool advent stories. (Ages 4-6 especially.)
My husband and I have learned a lot from it too, so I even recommend it to adults; especially if you’re new to the Bible. Be forewarned though, this Bible will bring you to tears a lot. It’s usually $10-ish on Amazon, and it makes a great gift too!
*Note: The stories in the Jesus Storybook Bible are a little long for 1-2 year olds. If your toddlers are 18-30 months old, or you’re wanting advent calendars for babies, I would recommend paraphrasing the stories or doing the next option below.
2. Reading from Luke 2
Another idea: read a different verse from the Christmas story (in Luke 2) each night. Here’s a cute free printable set – you have to go to her site to print them.
Advent Calendar Ideas for Babies or 1 Year Olds
If I were using the above Bible Verses for Advent Calendar to create an Advent calendar for babies, I would have a specific basket or container in a designated spot. It should be something the baby/ toddler can easily open.
Place the first paper in there on Day 1 secretly. Then, at breakfast (or snack or whenever it’s convenient), show the baby how to open the container and take the paper out. Read it and hang it on the tree, or clip it up, or tape it on the wall, or whatever! If they want to put it in and out, great.
End the verse reading each day by saying, “Jesus was born to be the Savior of the world!” (Or something similarly simple.)
Do this each day, and sooner or later, they’ll figure out the time of day to open the container. An older toddler will probably even repeat the little saying with you! Kids can absorb so much.
It’s a great way to just introduce the idea of Advent to a young child. But don’t overcomplicate it.
Do what you can and call it a day. Read one story or one verse. It’s the habit, and the waiting, and the anticipating of Christmas day that they’ll catch on to. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that. And if you miss half the days, it’s okay. Give yourself some grace.
Jesse Tree with Toddlers (an Add On Option)
If you’re feeling really crazy, or if you also have older kiddos around, you can add a Jesse tree to the Bible reading time. I have a whole separate post with details about trying a Jesse tree for Advent!
A Jesse Tree is just a visual representation of the story of God’s people waiting for the Messiah. A Jesse tree typically follows the prophecies & ancestry of Jesus chronologically and traces the stories of the centuries in the Bible leading up to Jesus’ Birth.
We use the Jesus Storybook Bible & some corresponding ornaments for this – you can buy ornaments or get printable ornaments online to go with the Jesus Storybook Bible… But there are lots of other Jesse Tree options too – all of which are in that Jesse Tree post linked above.
Other Advent Reading Ideas
If neither the Jesus Storybook Bible or reading plan calendar above are quite right for you, I wrote about the 9 best options for Advent Readings with Kids!
Advent Activities for Toddlers
As far as the activities go, we keep things REALLY REALLY simple. Taking a day time bubble bath or playing with Christmas stickers “count” for Advent kids activities in our house. You don’t need to worry about teaching your 2 year old ice skating and fine motor skills while watching a live nativity story & volunteering at the food bank. Good gracious!!
One of the best things about little kids is they get excited about anything you’re excited about, even if it’s not a big deal.
The #1 rule for the activities list is – if you were already planning to do something, it counts as that day’s activity!! So the Day 1 activity is “decorate the advent calendar.” If we’re driving 8 hours to Grandma’s house and watching movies in the minivan, that is the fun activity for the day. (Here are 22 ideas for surviving a road trip with toddlers.)
Haha keep it simple, mamas!!
Some other super easy, almost zero-effort, toddler & preschooler Advent activity ideas are:
- Decorate the calendar – that’s always our Day 1 activity.
- Decorate the Christmas tree
- Christmas movie with popcorn (add some red and green m&ms if you’re feeling spicy) – We love The Star and the newer animated Grinch
- Mannheim Steamroller Dance Party with flashlights – add glowsticks if you want!
- Make Christmas cards for grandparents – I cut out tree shapes & let the little ones decorate with dot paints, stickers, or whatever we have on hand.
- Church on Christmas Eve
- Open new jammies and read in them by the Christmas tree
- Drive around looking at Christmas lights – Tip – Don’t spend too much time doing this with littles. Research the BEST neighborhood in your area and then try to go on a weeknight right when it gets dark so you’re not out too late past bedtime. Remember, less is more. 3 fun, amazing houses or 1 cool neighborhood can be a HUGE win with little kids.
- Go get donuts at night in our jammies – this has become a family fave!
- Hide and seek with the Nativity set – I saved the box and leave it out so the kids know how many pieces they have to find. I love this Fisher Price little people Nativity scene. If it’s too hard to play with all the figures, just hide the baby Jesus. Ha!
- Take a family picture in front of the tree
- Decorate Christmas cookies
- Decorate wooden ornament shapes (grab some supplies at Hobby Lobby- adhesive jewels and glitter glue are a win for little ones!)
- Bring decorated cookies to teachers and say thank you
- If your child’s school has a Christmas program of sorts, that counts as an Advent activity!
- Have friends over for lunch & a christmas snack
- Christmas Jammies play dates with friends
- Giving Manger – I am contemplating trying this for the first time this year as I’ve heard AMAZING things.
- Christmas bubble bath – dye the water red or green with bath tablets. Bonus if you want to include the nativity set characters for playing in the bath.
- Read a few new Christmas books – here are some of our favorite children’s picture books about Christmas. Last year, I tried wrapping one book for each day, and I realized we didn’t like that. Some people love it though! Gotta do what works for you!
- Sing Christmas Songs – find a simple playlist or grab a Christmas Carols Picture Book like this one.
- Hot Chocolate & Games – Zingo is my favorite game to play with Preschoolers. Mostly, I think games with preschoolers aren’t that fun (haha) but it lays a good foundation for being able to enjoy games with older kids during family time.
- Advent Wreath – this technically wouldn’t be something to do a particular day on your calendar, but if your church doesn’t do a wreath throughout the month of December, you could buy one to do at home each Sunday. People usually use them with purple candles.
- Hang candy canes on the tree! Candy canes are a huge hit around here!
- Shop for a Christmas gift for a grandparent or sibling. I love taking my kids one on one to shop for their siblings. It’s such a special time together & it’s so much fun to see them get excited about giving! If they’re old enough to understand, we let them do some chores at home to earn the money to buy the gift too.
Some of our calendar things involve giving to other people, bringing non-perishables to the food bank, shopping for kids in need, sharing with friends, and inviting people over. I want my kids to love giving and to cultivate that spirit around Christmas time! And to remember life isn’t always about them, especially this time of year.
Or if you have preschoolers, check these ideas out.
Pick one new thing to try this year:
- Maybe you buy the Giving Manger, follow the plan and call it a day.
- Or wrap 24 Christmas themed books (if you can get a lot from the library) and tape a printed out verse above from Luke 2 on each book. Read the verse, unwrap the book, enjoy it and that’s it!
- Or, draw a grid and fill in the calendar dates, and fill in 3 no-prep, at home activities per week
- Or do a Jesse Tree.
But don’t try to do it all. This post is full of ideas – just pick one.
Remember the Big Picture & Do What Works for You
Remember, the big picture of things like celebrating Advent is helping point your child’s heart towards Jesus. You are simply trying to take advantage of your child’s innate curiosity and ability to soak up all the little “learning seeds” you are planting. There are lots of fun ways to plant these little seeds with your kids this holiday season.
In one sense, it feels like a long time until any of this effort will pay off. But I promise – it’s going fast and these family traditions matter! Even easy ideas set the tone for meaningful celebrations in future years to come.
To that end, pray and ask God what might work for Advent with toddlers in this season of your family’s life. And then, do what works for you.
If what works for you is an heirloom wooden calendar or beautiful hand-sewn calendar with tiny felt pockets, great.
If what works for you is no advent calendar, then great!
No Mommy Guilt!
[Our Kids Don’t need] an Elaborate Advent. If you haven’t thought twice about Advent activities with your kids, you’re in good company. It’s overwhelming getting dinner on the table, much less planning 24 kid-friendly moments that are worthy of preparing little hearts for the coming of Jesus. Talk about pressure. My Advent Rule: Try something. Anything. Read one Scripture. Light one candle. Pray one prayer. Direct one heart to Him.– 10 Things Our Kids Don’t Need This Christmas
I like that: try something… Direct one heart to him.
If you are starting to think about gifts for your little ones… here is my collection of our favorite gifts for toddlers that they’ll actually play with for years to come. (No more silly, noisy, plastic castles that get tossed aside in 10 minutes…!!)
Annnnd here is my complete guide to Christmas with little kids! Everything from how to teach/ model generosity to dealing with the massive materialism that gets shoved in everyone’s faces to meaningful/ unique gift ideas for your kiddos.