2. “Grow” candy canes
Kids can grow their own candy canes during the holidays with a little magic (and some behind the scenes help from mom and dad). Start by helping kids bury small red and white candies (think M&Ms or Tic Tacs) in a bowl of sprinkles. Each night, swap out the small candies for bigger candies, starting with peppermint hard candies, then mini candy canes, and finally full-sized candy canes. The kids will be delighted watching the candy canes sprout and grow until they’re ready to eat. (Just be sure to supervise little ones for whom candy might be a choking hazard.)
3. Write an inspired letter to Santa
Drafting a wish list for Santa is a great way for kids to practice their writing skills while giving us parent elves a little help in the what-to-put-under-the-tree department. Catch the Christmas spirit first by reading a book like It’s Christmas David, where kids can read all about mischievous David and the epic wish list he creates for Santa as part of his struggle to avoid getting coal in his stocking. Then grab a glittery pen and maybe some special stickers and get to work. Older kids who are starting to ask questions about the North Pole might appreciate writing their own Christmas lists after reading Love, Santa, a story that gently explains the truth about Santa Claus through a series of letters between Santa and a young girl.
4. Make reindeer food
Thanks to the milk and cookies you leave out, Santa never gets hungry on Christmas night. But what about Dasher and the rest of the hardworking reindeer? Kids can make sure everyone on Santa’s team gets a tasty snack by spreading “Reindeer food” (birdseed and/or dry oatmeal mixed with a little edible glitter) on the lawn before bed.
5. Craft your own Christmas carol
Singing carols is a must for any holiday checklist. Make it even better by creating an original Christmas song for the family to sing together. Read a Christmas-themed song book like There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bell for inspiration, then get ready to craft your own version. Help kids memorize their favorite parts of the song and think up new verses and rhymes to expand the story. (Let the older kids play "producer" and write down the new song lyrics everyone comes up with.) Got a future beatboxer in the family? Give them permission to get silly and sing the song to different beats. Loving what you came up with? Take a video of your custom carol to share with friends and family for an epic live action holiday card.
6. Santa footsteps
Kids who tried to stay up late in hopes of getting a glimpse of Santa will be delighted to see he left his footprints behind. To help Santa make his tracks, place an adult boot on the floor and sprinkle some baking soda around the outside to create an outline that looks like snow. Make a path from the fireplace to the tree so kids can see just how busy Santa was last night. Don’t stress, it vacuums up in a flash, with an added bonus of freshening the carpet. Still worried about a Christmas morning mess? Switch the tracks to outside, leading from the front door to where Santa must have parked the sleigh last night.
7. Build a runway for Santa
Make sure Santa doesn’t miss your house by creating a custom runway for his sleigh along the driveway. Small decorated paper bags filled with battery operated tealights work great. Or try a string of outdoor Christmas light surrounded by colored ice orbs. To make the orbs, simply fill small balloons with food dye tinted water and freeze, then cut away the balloon to reveal the colored ice orb. If your littlest elves help out, keep an eye on them for an evening of safe fun.
8. Have an extra special movie night
Chilly winter nights are perfect for reading and watching holiday movies, so why not do both? Put on your coziest pajamas and read a holiday classic like How the Grinch Stole Christmas or The Polar Express, then watch the film inspired by the book. Talk about your favorite parts over popcorn and see if the kids can spot any differences between the book and the movie version.
9. Neighborhood light contest
Pour some cocoa into travel mugs and hop in the car for a relaxed nighttime drive around the neighborhood to admire all the twinkling light displays. Take a vote to see if your family can decide on a clear winner, and if you’re feeling extra festive, bring a box of cookies or small gift to award as a prize.
10. Make indoor snow
Whether you live in a climate where a white Christmas doesn’t happen often, or the kids aren’t wild about bundling up to go out in the cold, you can bring snowy fun inside to play with. Make moldable sensory "snow" by mixing three cups of baking soda with half a cup of white hair conditioner, as suggested by the blogger Every Little Adventure. (It's a great activity to do together, especially if you have younger kids who still need supervision.) Do you wanna build a snowman without getting cold hands? Yes, please!