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Elf on the Shelf ideas for kids — and kids at heart

Elf on the shelf doll in pile of Christmas decorations

It’s the age-old question every child asks: How does Santa, who lives all the way up in the North Pole, know who’s been naughty and nice? Who helps him maintain accurate notes on that Naughty or Nice list he keeps all year long? That’s the job of the Elf on the Shelf, often considered Santa’s unsung little helper.

The Elf on the Shelf is something of a scout, sent to children’s homes to encourage kids to behave. The Elf quietly watches kids during the day, reporting back to Santa every evening. Once the Elf downloads Santa on what he’s seen, he finds a new spot in the house to observe children. Which is why he’s in a new (and often unorthodox) location every morning. But how does he do it?

Spoiler alert: The Elf might need a little help from parents.

Your Elf’s daily antics will bring lots of joy to your little ones this holiday season, but it takes some planning on your part to pull off the perfect elfin pranks. So we’ve assembled some fun Elf on the Shelf ideas for kids that they’ll delight over — but that won’t be too complicated or time-consuming for you. 

First, some quick Elf on the Shelf basics

Before you begin brainstorming Elf on the Shelf ideas for your kids, here’s a helpful guide to the elfin basics:

  • Name the Elf to add a little character and build a fun backstory
  • Let your kids know your Elf only moves around at night and stays still during the day 
  • Remind everyone that no one can touch the Elf during the day or he’ll lose his secret North Pole powers
  • Keep a running list of Elf on a Shelf ideas for kids throughout the year when you think of new and fun ideas for locations or pranks

Fun Elf on a Shelf ideas

Whether it’s your first year starting this holiday tradition or something you’ve been doing for years, everyone can benefit from a bit of “shelf-spiration” to keep the Elf on a Shelf holiday traditions enjoyable, fresh and rewarding. This year, try these 15 fun Elf activity ideas:

  1. Elf makes breakfast: Make a holiday breakfast like pancakes, french toast or cinnamon rolls, and set your Elf at the kitchen table. Put a spatula in his hand and cover him in flour. Don’t forget to set out a plate for your Elf too (except his plate probably just has crumbs left, because he already ate). 
  2. Elf reads to his friends: Everyone loves a holiday story, especially your Elf on the Shelf! Set a holiday picture book out and prop your Elf as if he’s reading aloud to a group of your kids’ stuffed animals, action figures or dolls. 
  3. Elf makes snowflakes: Surround your Elf with folded paper snowflakes and prop scissors in his hand. Leave paper scraps strewn across the table; when your kids wake up, let them know you have a naughty Elf, and pick up the mess together.
  4. Elf plays in the snow: Give your Elf some fresh air by placing him just outside — preferably somewhere visible to your kids — in the leaves or snow. Build a small snowman or snow fort next to him. Don’t forget to bundle your Elf in a scarf or small blanket if it’s cold out.
  5. Elf hides candy canes: Hide a bunch of candy canes around the house for your kids to find. Leave the empty box with your Elf holding a note: “Can you find them all?”
  6. Elf helps with chores: Put your Elf in the laundry room with the detergent and a pile of clean clothes. He was busy tidying up last night!
  7. Elf plays a board game: Get ready for family game night by having your Elf set up a favorite board game — or set the game up as if Elf got caught mid-game with your kids’ stuffed animal friends. 
  8. Elf watches “Elf” with a big bowl of popcorn: Submerge your Elf in a big bowl of popcorn with only the top of his head peeking up. Have the Will Ferrell movie “Elf” paused on TV, and put the remote near your Elf’s hand.
  9. Elf doodles in a coloring book: Your Elf can color between the lines, kind of. Have Elf pretend to be coloring a holiday picture at the kitchen table. Make sure there’s plenty of paper and crayons for everyone.
  10. Elf makes a flour snow angel: Sprinkle flour on a spot on your kitchen counter or table. Lay your Elf down into the pile of flour and move his arms and legs around in the flour until it looks like he made a snow angel. You can also do this with baby powder on your bathroom floor (just remember you’ll have a bit of a powdery mess to clean up afterward). 
  11. Elf makes a hot cocoa buffet: There’s nothing better than waking up to a hot cup of cocoa with all the fixings. Your Elf has gotten everything ready: marshmallows and sprinkles, with biscotti and candy canes to use for stirring. 
  12. Elf notes in candy: Using sticky notes, write goofy notes and sign them from the Elf; then tuck the notes into school lunch sacks or backpacks. Your kids will love funny messages like, “I love you from your head to your mistletoe!” 
  13. Elf unpacks the holiday decorations: If you store your holiday decorations in a storage unit like Self Storage Plus, bring your Elf and take a picture of him going through and exploring the boxes. Share the pictures with your kids and have them spot the Elf. 
  14. Elf builds a snowperson: If there’s snow outside, prop your Elf on the shoulder of a snowperson. If there isn’t any snow, use toilet paper and color on a face with markers.
  15. Elf decorates a family photo: Your Elf just wants to get the family in the holiday spirit. So paste little Santa hats or red noses on everyone in a family photo and prop the photo up on your elf’s hands. 

Even the North Pole’s little helpers need rest

Losing motivation? Running out of Elf on the Shelf ideas for kids? Here are a few fun ideas to give yourself (and your Elf) a break while keeping up the magic:

  1. Weekending at the North Pole: Your Elf packed his bags and left home. But he left a note: “Santa was getting really busy so I’m running home to help wrap gifts. I’ll be back in five days!” 
  2. Feeling sick: Even an Elf can catch a winter cold. Surround your Elf with blankets, wadded-up tissues, cough drops and cough syrup. He may need some extra care from the kids while he sleeps in for the next few days.
  3. Reading a long book: Nothing beats a bit of solitary reading, and your Elf is feeling ambitious with a big book. Set him out with a large chapter book. Turn the pages forward a bit each night until he finally finishes it. (It could take days.) 

Create your own holiday tradition

Once the holidays are over, it’s time to start the process of putting your decorations back into storage (including your Elf on the Shelf). While this isn’t usually one of the most fun holiday traditions, there are ways to make it streamlined and convenient. Self Storage Plus has a variety of differently sized units to fit all your storage needs. Whether you want to store your artificial tree, ornaments, holiday tableware or yard decor, we have a climate-controlled storage option for you. Find a Self Storage Plus near you in the Greater Washington D.C or Baltimore area.

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