10 DIY Advent Calendars for kids! Plus over 40 Advent filler ideas!

advent calendar

Advent calendars have come a long way since I was a kid.  I remember selling lift the flap calendars filled with generic chocolate candies for fundraisers at school.  I also remember eating more than I ever sold and having to buy most of them myself.

Ah, those were the days.

We love the tradition of the advent calendar, but have never had an actual calendar. I just wrap 24 small gifts in the same paper and with a sharpie marker write the number on the outside.  They go downstairs next to our little bitty 2nd tree. It is not worthy of any magazine that is for sure!  Funny enough though, my kids don’t seem to care how pretty it is.


I’d like to make something more special this year though and I’m so inspired by the research I’ve done.  Man alive there are some talented people in the world!  (I’ll update you all with my creation after it’s done. Be prepared for a “nailed it” photo!)

Christmas may be almost 6 weeks away, but advent starts 2 weeks from tomorrow!  The idea here is that I will actually have everything purchased and ready before November 29th.

There’s a first time for everything!

A really fun visual schedule for kids on the autism spectrum

One side benefit to having an advent calendar if you have a child with autism or other developmental disability is that you can have your own personal visual schedule to prepare them for the big day.

Having conversations about what is coming will help a TON in getting your kiddo ready for the fun of the holidays.  Consider using it as a teaching tool: “Only 4 more days until we get to go visit grandma” or “Remember, when we open presents on Christmas we go one at a time.  We are practicing one a day until then!” 

Getting out of the daily routine is hard for any kid.  Advent calendars are fun, but they can also help prepare kids for what’s coming.

My favorite advent calendar ideas

#1 Infarranty Creative made this adorable bucket calendar from dollar tree items!


Photo Credit: Infarranty Creative

#2 The Painter Family has this adorable shelf advent calendar with boxes.  This one looks like it is small scale- sitting on a kitchen counter- but I am thinking if we do this it will be big and put it on our bookshelf!


Photo Source: The Painter Family

#3 I have done this idea from Elizabeth Joan Designs– a DIY Advent calendar form an over the door shoe rack!  I would highly recommend a cloth shoe rack, not plastic.  Ours fell apart after a few years, but it had plastic pockets.

diy advent calendar from a shoe organizer, christmas decorations, crafts, repurposing upcycling, seasonal holiday decor

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Joan Designs

#4 I love this clothes pin one from Donkey and the Carrot.


advent calendar

Photo Credit: Donkey and the Carrot

#5 I’m finding inspiration from this Pottery Barn tree.  I think I could make something similar… how many times have I said that?

advent calendar

Photo Credit: Pottery Barn

#6 The Creek Line House I just love how this one turned out.

advent calendar

Photo Credit: The Creek Line House

#7 Want a printable option?  Mama, papa, bubba has just thing!  These are activities too so no wrapping required.  You might make sure you have them dated though.

Printable Advent Calendar Activity Cards | Mama Papa Bubba

Photo Credit: Mama, Papa, Bubba

#8 Leave it to Martha Stewart to have an adorable baby sock advent calendar that just requires a few household items to make.

advent calendar

Photo Credit: Martha Stewart

#9 Here’s another twist on the paper bag advent calendar.


Photo Credit: Creative in Chicago

#10 I just love that this one can be put on the wall as decoration!  So clever.

This cute dog in the picture above reminds me of a “doggie” advent calendar I found  at Pawsitively Pets.  Our fur babies need some love too right?

Advent Filler Ideas

You can’t have an advent calendar without something special inside so here’s my running list of ideas we have done with our kids.  I usually just go through dollar tree with a budget of $20 and see what I can find!

I’ll add to this as I find more things.

  1. funny socks
  2. lip balm
  3. hair brushes
  4. cool pens
  5. small stuffed animal
  6. book
  8. notebooks
  9. sensory toys
  10. fun movie themed plastic cups- we did star wars themed ones last year!
  11. an ornament for the tree
  12. candy- I try to find unusual things. This year I found A&W flavored licorice.  YUM!
  13. candy canes- we hide them on the tree after the kids open them
  14. Lucky Charms cereal (I never buy this except at Christmas)
  15. hot chocolate and a new mug
  16. fancy popcorn
  17. a magazine about an upcoming movie they will love (Star Wars, Hunger Games etc)
  18. sprinkles- to make cookies
  19. stickers
  20. silly stick on mustaches (Have you ever met a kid that didn’t like those things?)
  21. silly string
  22. silly putty
  23. slippers
  24. pajamas (always on Christmas Eve)
  25. scripture pens, stickers, a book about the Savior etc.
  26. new Christmas decoration for the house
  27. an outside decoration
  28. a craft idea and supplies- great for winter break!
  29. an iTunes download
  30. $5 each
  31. gloves, scarves
  32. yummy smelling lotion (even my boys love this!)
  33. joke books
  34. battery operated character toothbrush
  35. bubble gum flavored toothpaste
  36. travel size soaps and shampoos
  37. legos
  38. favorite snacks
  39. candy!
  40. decorations for bedroom
  41. lights for bedroom
  42. bouncy ball
  43. balloons
  44. chapstick


Random Acts of Kindness Advent

What better way to bring in the season than through service?

Coffee Cups and Crayons has some great ideas– the printable is from December 2016, but check out a little lower in the post about how she made a paper chain visual.  One thought would be to make sure you look at your calendar before plugging in service ideas… that backfired for me one year.

She Lives Free has another great service advent calendar.

Mum in the Mad House has put together 50 advent service ideas for kids that I’m sure would benefit any calendar- even if you don’t have a complete service theme.  She also has a cute free stocking printable.

What do you put in your advent calendar?  I want to add to my growing list of ideas!


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