25 Cheap, Low-Stress Christmas Activities and Treats for Toddlers

Advent calendarIn planning an activity-focused advent calendar for my kids, I knew I needed the daily activities to be simple, cheap, low-stress, and most importantly, toddler-friendly.

I have a three year old, a two year old, and an infant.  I don’t have the time or energy for big, extravagant advent activities.  I didn’t want to open a door on the calendar and inwardly groan at whatever complicated idea I’d planned for the day.

But when I took to the internet to research ideas, most of them were not at all what I was looking for.  They were geared toward older kids, kids who don’t need hand-holding and supervision for every activity.

Frosting cookies with toddlers?  Fills me with terror.

Take toddlers to the Nutcracker?  Forget about it!

Sing carols in a nursing home?  HAHAHAHA.

Most of the toddler-centric ideas I found were crafts, fancy crafts, and more fancy crafts (did I mention crafts?).  I’m not an artsy-craftsy mom and don’t keep a lot of random art supplies around, so that wasn’t really up my alley.

What I finally did was compile a list that involved our ordinary Christmas traditions, some acts of kindness, some special treats, some crafts, and some family traditions I’d like to continue as the years pass.

Here is my list!

Christmas Countdown Activities and Treats for Toddlers

I’ll divide these into categories.

47272_4944049801187_1503541472_nActs of Kindness

My toddlers are a bit young to comprehend these, but I want to get them started young and start making these things a tradition!  Hopefully as they get older we will do more of these giving-centered activities.

  • Pick out some of our older/unused toys to donate to children in need.  MOM will veto or approve each of these toys.  I know toddlers can get over-zealous and may want to donate things they use all the time…and then later they will throw a fit over these missing toys, unable to understand why they can’t get them back!  When they are older and understand the consequences, they can choose to make these sacrifices on their own.
  • Fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child.  We did this once when I was a child, and I loved it!  Be sure to explain carefully to your toddler/s that the toys we buy and pack are for another child somewhere in the world who doesn’t have many toys at all, and how fun it will be for them to have a Christmas gift.  National Collection Week is over but their website says you can send them to their headquarters year-round, so I’ll be doing that this time.

Tasty Treats

I’ve done totally candy-focused advent calendars before, but this year I wanted something different.  However, I’ve scattered a few treats in there…even these little things are very special to a toddler!

  • Eat a candy cane after lunch and talk about things the candy cane could symbolize (J for Jesus, shepherd’s crook, etc.)
  • Eat a special Christmas candy/chocolate after lunch.
  • Have Christmas donuts.  Down the road when the kids are older we could make a special outing of it, but for now going through the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru and bringing them home to eat will be just fine!

Traditions to Continue

These are new to us this year, and things I hope will grow and evolve as they get older.

  • Eat popcorn and watch a Christmas movie.
  • Have a “Christmas Around the World Day.”  Learn about Christmas traditions in other places.  This year I bought a coloring book about Christmas traditions around the world.  I’ll summarize the descriptions to the children, and then have them color in it.  In the future I’d love to actually celebrate some of these traditions and devote a day to studying that culture and then picking one special tradition to try for ourselves.
  • Play the Stocking Game.  (Down the road you can do a family game night instead!)  This year I am just including a simple game for one day – Mom will hide a toy in a stocking, and the kids have to guess what’s inside without looking.
  • Our snowman pancakes when I was done with them - a little messy but really cute and easier than I expected to make.

    Our snowman pancakes when I was done with them – a little messy but really cute and easier than I expected to make.  The kids LOVED them.

    Festive pancake night.  There are so many options for this!  Put green and red sprinkles in the batter, make snowman pancakes, do wildly colorful pancakes with green and red food coloring, snowflake pancakes, reindeer pancakes, star-shaped pancakes, or shaped pancakes using cookie cutters or specialty molds.

  • Go to a pottery studio and paint ornaments with Mommy.  This may not sound very cheap or low-stress – ha! Who am I kidding? – but for our family this is a great activity because the studio we paint at is owned by friends.  (If you live anywhere near Exeter, NH, check out To Your Art’s Content!)  Even if this is a higher-stress item, it might make a fun tradition to let the kids paint themselves an ornament each year!  If you have multiple kids, be sure to write the name and age on each monstrosity – erm, I mean, masterpiece – so you know who painted it and how old they were!  They can take this special collection with them someday when they move out and have Christmas trees of their own.
  • Go for a nighttime walk with Daddy or Mommy to look at Christmas lights.  A lot of lists include driving around to look at lights, and that’s good for later years, but it can be hard for short children (especially those who still rear-face!) to see the pretty lights from inside the car.  Walking makes more sense for little ones.

Existing Family Christmas Traditions

These are things we do every year anyway, so it makes sense to incorporate them as a few of our activity days.  Any time you have a party or special holiday event in your schedule, put it in the countdown as an activity for a day, and you’ll have some built-in plans already.

  • Go as a family to get the Christmas tree.
  • Decorate the Christmas tree.
  • Deliver Christmas goodies to the neighbors.  You can certainly make and wrap these goodies with the kids if they are old enough to enjoy and help the process, but as a mom of toddlers I declare that NO TODDLERS WILL BE INVOLVED IN THE MAKING OF THESE GOODIES.  Ahhhh, stress free!  For now.
  • Give Christmas gifts/goodies to some little friends.
  • Go to my family’s annual Christmas party.
  • Christmas Eve traditions (most importantly for our family, the Christmas Eve service at church, and one gift for each child to unwrap that night, which contains new cozy pajamas and a new book).
  • Christmas Day traditions (of course).

Arts, Crafts, and Decorating

Here are some simple, cheap craft and decorating ideas for toddlers.

  • Make Christmas cards/drawings for one or two out-of-state friends/relatives who would most appreciate a personal greeting from the children.
  • Make snowman art.  Use glue sticks (or dabs of glue put on by Mommy) to attach cotton balls to an outline of a snowman.
  • Do stamp art with red and green paint.  Stamp on the paper with forks, sponges, toilet paper tubes, stamps, and other cool objects to make shapes with the paint colors.  If painting with toddlers stresses you out (I always wait until bath day…), just do a red/green marker and crayon selection, or do yourself a huge favor and buy a pack of Do-A-Dot dobbers!  Those are awesome art tools.  We use them all the time and the cleanup is so minimal.
  • Decorate windows with holiday or winter themed window clings.  These can be bought for just a few dollars on Amazon.
  • Buy a Dover Little Activity Book themed around Christmas.  These are inexpensive, and used gently they could be used again another year!  I got Christmas tree sticker books for the kids from Amazon for $1.99 each.
  • Print nativity scene coloring pages and have the kids color them after/while you read the Christmas story from the Bible or a Christmas storybook.
  • Print wreath pictures, tear them out of a magazine, or cut wreaths out of construction paper, and have the kids decorate them by coloring, putting on stickers, gluing on beads/decorations – whatever you want!

I hope this list will help other moms of toddlers!

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What are some fun Christmas traditions you enjoyed growing up?  Do you do a Christmas countdown or advent calendars with your family?  Do you know any toddler-friendly ones I could use next year?  I’d love to hear your comments!

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5 Comments

  1. Love these ideas! Hubby wants to do one christmas movie a night- but I think these totally need to make the list too! I’ve never been organized or committed enough to do an activity advent calendar though. We normally just make paper countdown chains- buy the little chocolate advent calendars when I can find them and add in some activities here and there 😉

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  2. These are great! Thank you so much for the ideas! Saving to return again…

    Reply
  3. Juliet-A

     /  December 3, 2014

    today our 3 year old enjoyed holding each one of the Nativity set figurines, and naming them. and then putting them right back in their cardboard holder! We have looked through a years’ old little Golden Book of the Animals’ Christmas Eve. We successfully spent 15 minutes sticking teensy stickers on some thin wood “ornaments” I got in a bag at Crate & Barrel. Baby brother was kindly asleep at the time.

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    • Did she name them with her own made-up names, or did you just tell her the names as she held each one? 🙂 I saw the ornaments on Facebook…what a cute idea!

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