Easy elf on the shelf ideas for toddlers to pre-schoolers!
Are you an elf on the shelf fan? Never heard of it before but want to get started with your family?
Elf on the shelf is a lovely tradition, but it takes a lot of time and planning – you need a vault of ideas to draw from! Some that are easy, some that take a little more time. All that are fun!
Whether you’re a die hard fan of the tradition or you’re just getting started, here are some great ideas for you and your family:
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What is the Elf on the Shelf Tradition?

The Elf on the Shelf is actually a super recent thing. It comes from the 2005 book, “The Elf on the Shelf, A Christmas Tradition” by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell. The book and the tradition set fire to kids and parents imaginations and the rest is history!

If you want to start Elf on the Shelf, you really should grab a copy of the original book that comes with your very own elf.

How Does Elf on the Shelf Work?

Your elf is sent to you from the North Pole as an observer to make sure you and your kids are on the ‘nice list’.

The elf needs to appear sometime between November 24 and December 1. The ‘fun’ of the tradition starts then as you daily need to put the elf in different positions until the evening of December 24. 

Sounds fun, right? And also exhausting… but it builds so much anticipation for Christmas and can really make the season something special.

Where to Buy Elf on the Shelf?

You might find Elf on the Shelf available in a store near you (keep your eyes open when you’re out shopping.) Otherwise, the easiest place to get your Elf is online at Amazon.


How to Survive Elf on the Shelf (and be Successful at it.)

I’m not going to beat around the bush – Elf on the Shelf is a very labor intensive tradition to take on at a very busy time of year… so if you plan to go for it, here’s what you need to do:

  • plan a special ‘arrival’ idea
  • plan a special ‘leaving’ idea
  • set an alarm each night so you remember to move the elf.
  • have a backup plan in case you forgot to move the elf
  • have a consequence for touching the elf
  • plan a handful of easy ideas you can do when you’re running out of inspiration (or you could preplan the whole darn thing.)

The Elf on the Shelf tradition has only been around for a few years, but it’s becoming a firm favorite with the littles and ties in so well with the Santa story. 

Here’s how to delight your toddler in the lead up to Christmas with these easy elf on the shelf ideas.

1. Pilot Elf 


A great way to bring the elf back for the season is to put him/her in a toy airplane or helicopter or spaceship, whatever toy you have. You can then make a landing strip out of Christmas lights around the plane. 

2. Cookie Jar Elf 


Did you accidentally eat all the cookies last night? Place the Elf in the cookie jar to blame it on the Elf! If your child has any action figures or Barbie dolls, they could be holding the Elf hostage as well.  

3. Bubble Bath Elf 


Fill a bowl or pot with cotton balls or marshmallows; put the Elf amongst the “bubbles” to show him taking a bath. If you have a mini rubber duck or towel (or any other miniature bath time accessories) add them to the scene to make it more realistic. 

4. Mirror Message Elf 


On the bathroom mirror, or another large mirror in your home, use dry erase or window markers to write messages from the Elf. Messages could include “Be good!”, “Santa is watching.”, “Fa la la la la.”, or “Naughty or Nice?”. 

5. Underwear Elf 


If you are up late doing laundry, what better way for the Elf to make the kids laugh than to mess with their laundry? Hang a few pairs of underwear from the tree and place the Elf amongst them. 

6. Elf on Strike 


If your kids aren’t acting the best, put your Elf on strike. Sit the Elf on a shelf with a protest sign reading “ELF ON STRIKE”. Also add a note from your Elf to the kids reading something like “Please listen to your parents.” 

7. Mischievous Elf 


Use a dry erase market to draw over the faces or add Santa hats on your family portrait. The kids will get a kick out of the Elf being bad. 

8. Rolling Down Hill Elf 

If you have stairs in your house, this one is super fun. Grab a new roll of toilet paper and put the Elf through the middle of the roll. Let it fly down the stairs, it doesn’t really matter where the Elf lands (as long as it is in a place that can be untouchable for a day). 

9. Elf Picture Replacement 

This one takes a bit of planning beforehand. If you have a wall with several family photos on it, replace them all with a photo of your Elf. You could take pictures of your Elf, or just download a headshot from the internet, either way the kids are sure to laugh. 

10. Dollhouse Elf 

If your children have a dollhouse or Barbie house or princess castle, placing the Elf amongst the other toys is an easy way to move the Elf around. Place the Elf in a bed, all tucked in or in a group of other toys in the pool, at the dining table, or in the living room. 

11. Teaching Elf 

Have the Elf write your children a note if they had a particularly rough day behaviorally. This is even better if they have a chalkboard or dry erase board. Write a note asking them to be better, and place the Elf nearby. 

12. Giant Elf 

Use your child’s toys again, if they have tiny toys such as LOLs or Pikmi Pops. Put all of the little toys under the Elf so they are carrying the Elf away. 

13. Worshipping Elf 

If you have a nativity scene set up, place your Elf kneeling in front of it. This also reinforces the meaning of Christmas. 

14. Snowflake Elf 

Grab some Elf sized sheets of paper and then create paper snowflakes with them. You can make as many or as few as you like, but be prepared, your kids will probably want to make snowflakes after seeing their Elf do it. 

15. Elf on the Move 

If you won’t be in the house for most of the day, try relocating your Elf to the family vehicle. The Elf can hang from the rearview mirror to keep watch throughout the day. This may be especially nice to keep the kids under control on a long road trip! 

16. Reading Elf 

Place your Elf under a lamp or Christmas lights reading a Christmas book. 

17. Cleaning Up Elf 

Give your Elf a scrub brush and place the Elf near the bathroom sink. Your Elf is helpful, so maybe the kids will be too! 

18. Gaming Elf 

Set up the Elf with a board game in the midst of being played, their opponent can be another toy – a doll or stuffed animal – or even a Christmas decoration like a snowman or Santa. If the Elf plays scrabble be sure to set up Elf like words (cookies, cheer, fun, snow, etc.). 

19. Musical Elf 

Do you kids have a guitar, ukulele, or piano? Place your Elf in a situation trying to play some Christmas sheet music. (This may also give you peace and quiet for the day.) 

20. Chill Out Elf 

Your Elf gets tired traveling to the North Pole every night. Fashion a hammock from a bandana, sock, or even toilet paper and hang between two houseplants to let the Elf relax for the day. 

21. No Move Elf 

Maybe you fell asleep early, maybe you have a lot going on and just forgot, but it is inevitable that the Elf won’t move, at least once this season. If this is you, leave a note the next day saying he didn’t want to tell on the kids to Santa because they were up to no good. Or the Elf looks sick – then you can have him in bed the next day, or with a broken arm or leg.

22. Cookie Making Elf

Another thing you can do with your Elf on the Shelf is use him (or her) to announce fun daily activities to the kids – like baking Christmas cookies! 

This one’s super easy to set up too – just get out your mixing bowl, measuring cups and spoons and cookie cutters and plonk your elf inside holding your wooden spoon. 

23. Christmas Coloring Elf

Do your little ones love coloring? Print out a few simple Christmas themed coloring pages and set up your elf on top of them with some colored pencils. You can even partly color in a page to make it look like the elf has been coloring.

24. Christmas Bauble Making Elf

A great Christmas tradition to start with your little ones is making handmade Christmas ornaments. Get the materials to make one of these awesome ornaments and sit your elf with them. You might like to make one of them first to leave with the elf so your kids get an idea of what they’re going to make.

25. Christmas Treasure Hunt Elf

If you’ve got older little ones, print out a list of Christmas ‘treasure’ for them to find. For younger ones, include a picture of each item on the list. Leave your elf on the shelf with the list for a fun activity.

26. Hot Chocolate Elf

Place mugs and cups for each family member in a circle with the ingredients for hot chocolate (or chocolate milk) nearby. Sit the elf inside the circle.

27. Elf in the Fridge

You might want to reserve this one for if someone’s been touching the elf… wrap the elf in a tee towel and tuck him on the door next to the milk! It’s too warm out for this North Pole dweller!

28. Frozen Elf

Frozen II is coming soon… if you’ve got an Elsa doll or figurine, create this tableau! 

Freeze your elf into a giant iceblock (use a container large enough to hold him) and position Elsa in front like she just hit him with her ice powers! 

Obviously, this one’ll take some pre planning.

29. Give to Get Elf

Sit your elf in the Christmas tree above a box or laundry basket with a sign inviting the kids to ‘put your old toys here to give to someone else to enjoy.’ Encourage your kids to bring their old toys they don’t play with anymore so they can be donated to others.

30. Elf Goes Potty

Place your elf straddling the potty with a line of chocolate chips behind him.

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