Simple & Free Advent Activities for All Ages, Updated

2019 update: This is one of my most shared posts. I've updated the links and added a section for middle school/high school as our kids have grown. If you don't know this about me already, I don't make any profit from this site. There are no ads of any kind. This is purely a labor of love for you who are reading. 

This is a list of ideas and resources for you as you desire to focus on Christ during the Christmas Season. You will see that these are free and simple, but you can amp them up according to your capacity and personality.

(If you'd like a beautifully written perspective on why, see this op article from the NYTimes.)

The best activities are not the ones loved just by the children, but the ones loved by both children and parents. 

Your enthusiasm and follow-through matter! What everyone else is doing on Pinterest doesn't matter!

It's not too late or complicated to incorporate something into your Christmas season. That's why I'm including many options based on age and cost.

Most of these can be simplified or expanded based on your desires. 

For tots (1-3):
  • When the kids were tiny, I kept it short and simple. I read one verse about Christ's love each day. I did not have 24 different scriptures, instead I rotated 3 verses. Repetition at tot age is beneficial and fruitful. I printed these verses on slips of paper and drew one out of a box each morning at snack time.  My 2-year-old daughter anticipated which of the 3 verses would be drawn each day, and she had them memorized by the end of the month. These are the three that I chose:
    1. "God demonstrates His own love for us in while we were sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8
    2. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16
    3. "We love because He first loved us." 1 John 4:19
  • If you want something visual to mark the days til Christmas, you can add an ornament to a tree, a felt calendar countdown, a button or pom-pom to a tree drawn on construction paper, or simply color a picture, like these free advent Coloring pages. But at that age, we really did just pull the slip of paper out of the box and call it done. Simple, but meaningful, and exalting God's word above any other activity. 

For littles (4-6):
  • You can do a similar scripture advent (as listed above) by reading the Christmas story one or two verses at a time. Here is a free printable for the verses: DIY Advent Calendar w/ free printable If you want to glitter up your clothespins like this example, then go for it! But if you want it simple, then you can put them in regular small envelopes on clothespins. Or in a stack on your counter. Update: There are now SO MANY free advent banners available online to print at home. Search Pinterest for many other options.
  • Or don't print it out at all. One year we made a paper chain, tore one ring off each day, and then I read the verse from my actual Bible. After reading the verse, we talked about what it meant, explained any words that they didn't know. 
    Last year we made this cute tree chain, but we have also done a traditional one-link chain hung by the window.
  •  But our absolute favorites at this age have been those with one big over-arching story that we read a portion of daily. My two faves for this age:
    1. "God Made a Promise" a free e-book by Stephanie Nannen. I love to do this with our kids. The stories are short with easy to understand language. If you choose, you can incorporate daily ornaments on a tree or wall-hanging much like a Jesse Tree. Shoot her an email and she will generously send you the files.
    2. Jesus Story Book Bible. If you already own this book, then follow along with this Free Reading Plan. If you do not own it, then this is the one time I will encourage you to spend money (even if you choose to do something else this holiday season). This is a worthwhile investment. It is hands down our kids favorite Bible, and it has produced so much fruit in their hearts as well as ours. 
    3. If you want to include ornaments with these (we have found it enjoyable), I suggest  first digging through all of the ornaments you have. You might discover that you already own half of the right items, or you can tweak it creatively. For instance, one ornament suggestion is "Bread" (for the Bread from Heaven story) so I used a gingerbread ornament that I already had. The kids made some ornaments from felt, popsicle sticks, or painted on round glass balls, etc. We did not make a new ornament every day. But really, if you know you won't do this part, it's still beneficial to do the daily readings. Your kids won't know that you skipped this part. Fight the urge to think that you're not enough or that they're missing out. 
For grammar school children (age 7-11):
  • Honestly, we love the "God Made a Promise" for this age too. (See above segment). We have rotated it through the years to keep it fresh, although we have friends who prefer to do the same thing every year, and have used God Made a Promise" through all the years!
  • Another free idea for this age is to collect Christmas books at your local library and read one each day. This is so fun, and there are many options for this age range. However, don't miss the opportunity to read God's word to your kids. The benefit of all the other advent ideas is that they involve you and your child reading scripture together. This is invaluable! It makes scripture enjoyable, important, accessible, and communal. There are so many free advent banners to download and print at home that make reading scripture simple. Here's one we've used before: Redbird-blue Free Advent Banner
  • If you want something PURELY SIMPLE, read the book of Luke in December. There are 24 chapters, which fits perfectly to read one a day in December up to Christmas. And with free apps on your phone, it couldn't be easier to read together any place at any time. Yes, it's sweet to cuddle together before bed, but at this age, sometimes activities keep you out until bedtime. You can have your independent readers take turns reading aloud on the car ride home so as to not miss a day, and to show the importance. 
For middle school/high school (age 12-18):
  • This is such a great age for advent! Don't stop because they are bigger and busier! The biggest challenge at this age is making the time rather than finding the content. The Bible is the best content. This year we are reading the book of Isaiah together each morning at the breakfast table. There's a lot we don't understand, and that's ok. It helps us remember that God knows it all, and we don't have all the answers. We look specifically for promises of the coming King and Kingdom and are compiling a list. We let the kids decide the format for the compilation. Some ideas were: poster, notebook paper, dry erase on the window, but they unanimously landed on making a paper chain. One promise on each slip of paper, and we add to the chain that hangs around the dining room. 
  • Prophecy banner, free printable. Kids at this age have a need to understand and make connections. This banner reveals once a day both a prophecy of Jesus and His fulfillment of that prophecy.
  • If you need one-two times a week rather than daily. That's ok! It's always valuable to make time together for advent. Here's a free study by Navigators on the names of Jesus with scriptures. Discover them together, talk about them, pray to God using these names.
  • If your teens are the artsy/craftsy type, let them make a banner or chalkboard of the names or verses that you're studying. If your teens scoff at the idea of family art time, just read them. It's important at this age to let them have some ownership of the time. Let them express their desires, and be willing to flex on how you spend the time together. Just don't let a negative teen vibe stop you from doing something. You're still the parent who is aware of the precious few Christmases left together before they move into adulthood. Make the most of them, and open the word together. 
  • Use music videos on YouTube to enjoy hymns and worship songs together. Have your teens make the playlist. Print out the words and talk about them. 
  • Big kids need independence, but also still need shepherding. Do independent quiet time studies and gather as a family to exchange thoughts about it. You could read a book of the Bible or use a free advent reading plan from the Bible app. 
For any age: 
  • We have also focused on prayer in a fresh way. Our favorite has been this verse from Isaiah with the names of Christ. Auntie Lolo Crafts lets you download for free. Each week at a meal time, we focused on a different name--discovering what it meant (sometimes pulling out the dictionary). During the meal time prayer, we used the name of God mentioned, "Dear Everlasting Father, bless _____." "Dear Prince of Peace, thank you for this food." "Dear Wonderful Counselor, help me to love as Jesus loves." 
  • There are plenty of Christian books that could enrich your advent experience. Max Lucado has several for all ages: The Crippled Lamb for youngers, and  God Came Near and Because of Bethlehem for olders. For those who appreciate art, The Glorious Impossible, has full size photos of Giotto's exquisite frescos of Jesus' life along with readings.  Find them at your local library or a free trial kindle version.

If it's simpler for you to spend some money for something that arrives ready to use (again, I make no commission on these. They are our favorites that I'm recommending):
  •  12 Prayers of Christmas Download.  $30. Printable with 12 verses and prayers.
  •  "What God Wants for Christmas Nativity" It has 7 rhyming and illustrated stories, 7 boxes to open. 6 boxes contain a figure of the nativity. They are made to let your child handle them. The 7th box contains a surprise to which each story alludes, and builds anticipation. Our kids have loved this ages 1-12.
  •  Jotham Journey Advent books have been enjoyed by our kids ages 7-13. They transport you to the times of Christ as you follow along the adventure of a main character. There are 4 volumes, and we have them all, although each one can stand independent from the others. My husband reads them as bedtime stories, and they come with instructions for lighting advent candles. Sometimes we use the candles, sometimes we just do the readings.
This isn't an exhaustive list, but they are ones we enjoy and approve. I hope it makes you feel equipped and gets you inspired to focus on Christ, and enjoy God's word together  in a simple yet meaningful way!

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