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  • Melissa Porteous

The countdown has begun! (Well, the first half)

Updated: Jan 4, 2023

Oh this time it really is getting to be the most wonderful time of the year. I know I say it a lot, but I think we all agree that Christmas truly is. I mean, a time for joy, laughter, celebration, a time spent with family and friends - doesn't get any better then that. I usually start putting up my Christmas decorations around November 15. Here in Canada, Thanksgiving is in October so we don't have that holiday getting in the way after Remembrance Day (November 11). I'm the type of person who starts the music and decorations mid November but everything comes down and gets put away by December 31. I like the buildup, then once Christmas comes and goes - it's over - I want my house back!

One thing I do that is almost the most exciting part of the season for me, is that I create and advent calendar of activities, games and crafts for my kids. My (awesome) dad made a wooden box that has 24 cubbies that are about 3"x 4" and that is what I fill with applicable items. Now there is much prep work to be done for this advent calendar, inspiration is found, a list is made, items are gathered, then a rush to get it all sorted into the correct dates on November 30. That's where I am today. I've just spent the morning finishing off the necessary crafts and organizing everything. There were a few last minute changes to the schedule of things but I think I've got it all figured out. Well if I'm being totally honest, I am still waiting for one last parcel to arrive but I do expect the mailman to show up any minute. Once I get that last item in the box marked December 24, I'll wrap it up and put it aside for my kiddos to officially start the countdown tomorrow morning.

This year I did find it to be a bit challenging because my oldest is in school now. Man that school really cuts into the family time. Plus he is playing hockey this year which also takes up a lot of time - 3 days a week in fact. Add in family gatherings, a birthday (not just talking about Jesus' birthday) oh and a couple hockey tournaments as well - it'll be interesting to see how the advent activities go this year. But December is always one of the busiest months of the year.

So I'm sure you are dying to know what is in this advent calendar, oh don't you worry, I'll give you a list. I'd like to reveal each item every day but I should be realistic in the fact that I will not do that. My husband likes to remind me that I always have unrealistic expectations then become disappointed when things to go as I hoped/planned. So - working on that flaw of mine - I will not plan to post every day in this already super busy month, instead I will share half the list now and maybe touch on a few things as we go. Check back in for the second half of the list and an update on how the kids have enjoyed the first half.

First let me tell you how this came to be. Obviously I am not the first maman in the world who thought of doing an activity advent calendar. It all started because I wanted to celebrate a countdown to Christmas but yet not give my kid cheap chocolate everyday. So... I set the wheels in my brain turning and I thought of him opening up activities instead of chocolates. To "The Internet" I went, and found that many many other mamans in the world had the same thoughts as me. Next step was to go to my (amazing) dad and ask him if there was anything he could build that wouldn't be too huge yet not too small that I wouldn't be able to fit anything in there. "Well what kind of stuff" he asked me. Hmm.. making me commit to something right off the hop. I can't remember exactly what was in that first years calendar but I must have responded by showing him a size with my hands as to what would need to fit. "I don't know, about this big" was probably my response that went with the hand gesture. Off he went to create something for me with little to no guidance. And as always, he delivered. I was so happy with this box he made and then I really started brainstorming/googling ideas. Of course I needed help with that part of the calendar too, so I called my sister to help me. One thing led to another and here we are many years later and this year I pretty much did it all on my own! So proud of myself - although I was just saying to my mom earlier that I didn't think my oldest would be super excited about the activities this year and it didn't seem like there were a lot of games (which are his favorite). So maybe I should pump the brakes on patting myself on the back.

Let's get into it!

December 1 - Make light angels

I placed some fairy lights in the box and we are going to make light angels and other light art with all the house lights turned off - I'm excited to do this - I think it seems like a very simple concept yet it could end up being a lot of fun.

*Update* - We completed this activity and it went over much better then I expected. The kids were really excited to outline each other while lying down, then turn the lights out and see the outline all lit up. We then had a game and created different Christmas shapes and the others had to guess what it was. Turned out to be a lot of fun and one that we played multiple nights.

December 2 - Felt Christmas tree

I placed some felt ornaments that will go on a felt tree which I will hang up on the wall after the kids go to bed the night before. This one I have had on my list for a few years and I'm glad I finally made it this year. The concept is that the kids will be able to put ornaments and the star on the tree over and over and over again as they like. I'm not too sure how this one will go over with them.

*Update* This activity wasn't as popular as I expected. And for the amount of time that went into the prep I will say I'm pretty disappointed. I still personally think it's a really fun thing for little kids, and maybe once our tree is up they will go back to playing with it more. If I go over to the felt tree and start placing ornaments on then the younger two kids come over and end up playing with it for a few minutes (around 10 minutes) then they lose interest again.

December 3 - Outdoor scavenger hunt

Now this one is an annual one. I do get different scavenger items every year though. Pretty self explanatory - I make sure this is on a weekend because it's dark when my kid gets on and off the bus so weeknights would be difficult to do an outdoor activity - unless it involved Christmas lights or stars or something - this one does not.

*Update* I think my oldest child had a sleep over the night before this so it didn't get "punched" until later in the day - at which point it was either too cold or too dark to do it. This is an annual one, so I think the excitement has worn off for the oldest. It's kind of turned into one that we leave on the counter and check things off as we see/hear/feel throughout day to day stuff.

December 4 - Make a tree ornament

I pre-painted some ball ornaments and I'll have the kids put white paint on their hands and place their palms on the ornament, then their fingers will become snowmen. I'm hoping this turns out as good as the inspiration I found online.

*Update* So this craft was a simple one, it worked well with the baby and the oldest, however, the 2 year old was not willing to put his hand in paint so he didn't end up making one. It was a quick craft that didn't require a lot of materials, seeing as though I had already pre-painted them.

December 5 - Make battery operated snow globes/sensory bag

I'm very excited for this activity. My oldest said to me that he wanted to make a snow globe that blows snow around all the time, not just when you shake it. So I bought a DC motor kit off Amazon and pretty much I'm going to wing the rest of it. I don't have a solid plan, just some basic idea. (This might be one of those times where my husband would say I have an unrealistic expectation that it will just work out on it's own..) Also, hopefully my husband will step up and help out with this one. The sensory bag is for the younger kids. I've never made one yet, so I will attempt to make one using clear soap and Christmas items in a ziploc bag.

*Update* So when I made the list and selected the days for the activities, I forgot to take into account that I was returning to work 12 hour shifts on Mondays. So, this one did not get done on this specific day, but the snow globe did get completed a few days later. The sensory bag still has not been done. The globe was a big hit with my oldest - he was the one who requested this in the first place. It did require a bit of trial and error as to which containers could be used to give the fan enough room to spin freely and also how much styrofoam to put in for the snow. It ended up working out and I think my son was pleased with the results.

December 6 - Write a letter to Santa/Duplo block picture game

I created a template with a few fill in the blanks. I learnt my lesson from last year, because my kid is not old enough to know how to write a letter. Last year he literally just wrote "race car track", no hi Santa, nothing else. I mean I could have encouraged him to write more but.. I didn't. Anyways, so this year I've created a template with fill in the blank style areas so that will make it a bit easier for him. The duplo block picture game is for the younger one to do since he can't write yet. It's a template of Christmas pictures using the blocks, he'll have to copy it in real blocks - not sure if he will be able to do it, but I'm sure we'll have fun either way.

*Update* The letter got filled out, my son was very excited to write it - or more so fill in the blanks. I think it was a good idea to have a spot for him to list ways he has been NICE. I sometimes forget to praise him on his good behavior and find I am more often disciplining him for bad behavior. Here in Canada the letter had to be in the mail by December 9. So I made sure to drop it in the mail by then. The Duplo block picture thing went well too. The kids liked playing with them and recreating the pictures. All 3 kids like playing with blocks, although the baby generally likes putting blocks away into the container, so it was a race to get the pictures made before baby came to scoop up the blocks.

Don't mind the dirty diaper! You all know how it is.

December 7 - secret coded message "go for family skate"/coloring page

I've created a secret coded message that says "go for a family skate". I will give him the answer key and he will decode the message and (hopefully) read it. Our local rink has public skating that day, so my family and my parents and siblings will all go to the rink and skate. I've also included coloring pictures for the younger kids.

*Update* My oldest really enjoys doing the secret codes. It's fun for him to decode the message and then he practices his reading skills as well. The actually skating was another activity that did not end up happening. My oldest had an ear infection so we had to make a trip to see the doctor then just rested at home for the day. Also, we were in the middle of a cold snap, and the local rink always seems colder inside then it is outside so it would have made for a pretty chilly and therefore short skate anyways.

December 8 - "Pin" the ornament on the tree

So this is a play on the "Pin the tail on the donkey" game. I've done this for the past two years and my son has brought it to school to share with his friends. This time, I've created a big tree out of poster board and made 4 ornaments (which will be in the advent box) and 4 circles drawn on the tree itself. They would try to tack the ornament into the circle on the tree. This is the date that the teacher requested he bring it to school.

*Update* As soon as my oldest saw the ornaments in the box of the advent calendar he knew they were for a "pin the nose on" style game. I had already made arrangements for the tree to be brought to the school ahead of time since he wouldn't be able to bring it on the bus. The response from the teacher and my son was that all the kids in class had a blast playing the game. It didn't actually come back home so my kids didn't really get to play with it. But in hindsight it's very similar to the felt Christmas tree so I don't think the other kids are missing out.

December 9 - Make floating candle in vase decoration

So this one I've seen videos for online. I've ordered some of those beads that absorb in the water and "disappear" when water is added to them once they are fully expanded. I'm not sure how this is going to go, but I figured I'd try it out with the kids.

*Update* This activity turned out really great and the kids were hands on so that made it fun for them. We socked the polymer beads before my oldest went to school and the first thing he said when he got off the bus was "did those things get big??". So we got out some vases and started filling with the polymer beads then added little ornaments and more polymer beads until it was full. We made two and the kids each poured water into the vases and watched as the polymer beads "disappeared". It was a really fun activity and looks great as decor on the table.

December 10 - secret coded message "go get a Christmas tree"/coloring page

This is fairly self explanatory, another secret code that he will have to decode and we will go and get our Christmas tree! A little late in the month in my opinion, but that's just how the weekends worked out I guess. Again, I've included some coloring pages for the little kids.

*Update* This one was fun for the decoding aspect - and yet again - the actual activity didn't happen. We still don't have a tree!!

December 11 - Build a gingerbread house

Alright, I'm slightly upset with myself, but I did buy a kit this year. We did this one last year too and I made it all from scratch, and you guys, it was a lot of word. I had my sister helping me last year and it was still a lot of work. I've got one more kid then last year at this time so I'm trying to be more realistic that I won't have time to make it. Other then that - pretty clear - just build a house and cringe at how much candy the kids are eating. Why include it then you might ask? Well it was requested - and how can I say no?? At Christmastime!? All I can do is try to commit to doing homemade next year.

*Update* Of course this one was a big hit. Candy and playing with food - a kids dream. The kit I got had pieces to build 5 mini houses which worked out good. They kids each got to make 2 houses and decorate them as they wanted. Things that help avoid fighting - those are the important things! They had a lot of fun and their grandparents dropped by for a visit that day so grandma helped with making the houses. They ate a bit of the candy, but not as much as I expected.

December 12 - Reindeer runaway vowel games/popsicle stick alphabet puzzle

So these are two things I found online, I'll include the links to the sites I found them on. They look really fun and educational - win win.

*Update* Well unfortunately for me this fell on a Monday so I was working all day. My husband did do this activity however got a bit confused by my "simple" instruction I gave him. So I don't think they really played the games. But I plan to check them out with the kids again. I did end up playing with them and it was a lot of fun and I think my 6 year old enjoyed practicing his spelling. We will definitely play again.

Well there we go, that is the fist half of the advent calendar. I'm so excited for it to kick off tomorrow morning. I just can't wait for the joy and memories that this will give my kids. Every morning there is an opportunity to talk about the season of Christmas, the meaning of the season and how we can spread joy throughout this great Earth (as far as we can reach anyways).

Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out my post for the second half of the advent calendar here.

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