DIY Advent Calendar Ideas for Kids without candy!

Sharing is caring!

Like many people, the Christmas season is my favorite! I love celebrating Advent and counting down the days until Christmas. I have such great memories of opening the little doors on our Advent calendar every year as a kid.

Nevertheless, the Holiday Season is already filled with treats. We bake Christmas cookies and decorate them, we decorate gingerbread houses, and we attend (and host) countless parties with tasty sweets.

As a parent, I’ve decided that the last thing my kids need is another candy-filled activity as part of our holiday traditions. A few years ago, I started looking for Advent calendar ideas for kids without candy.

DIY Advent calendar ideas for kids without candy! Celebrating #Advent and #Christmas with kids doesn't have to be expensive or unhealthy. Check out these #adventcalendar ideas with your kids this Christmas season!
Pin it – Please! (Hover or Tap and the Pinterest “P” should appear)

{This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Please see my disclosure page for details.}

One great Advent calendar idea for kids (that’s candy-free) is something we stumbled upon accidentally on Amazon — a Lego Advent calendar.

Each day, the kids would open a compartment with a little winter-themed Lego item for them to build. This was really cute, and I certainly do recommend it as a candy-free Advent calendar idea for kids (they even have a Star Wars Advent calendar now, which my boys would definitely be all over).

However, while there was no candy, we ended up with another problem: more stuff.

Our kids are already spoiled and have too many toys. Add to this the fact that it’s almost Christmas, when they’re guaranteed to be spoiled even more. This Lego Advent calendar results in 25 new tiny trinkets; with three boys (one of whom still puts everything in his mouth), this Advent calendar fell out of favor with me.

Plus, my boys fought over who got to assemble the Legos each day and that was a delightful way to channel Christmas spirit. If your kids are a little older than mine were (5, 3, and infant), less whiny than mine (the odds are in your favor here), or you only have one kid, then I would definitely still recommend it.

As a result, we’ve now developed some great toy-free, candy-free Advent calendar ideas for kids that we use in our family every single year.

DIY Advent Calendar Idea for Kids #1: Books!

I’m a teacher turned stay-at-home mom, so literacy is near and dear to my heart by trade and as a parent. One way to make each day of Advent fun is to wrap books and let kids unwrap one each day. They look pretty all month on display and it provides a fun, literacy-promoting activity when the kids open them.

Now, you might be thinking, “Sure, this is a great Advent calendar idea for kids and all, but I don’t really want to buy 25 new books, nor do I want 25 new things in my house.”

To which I would reply: Amen to that!

I love books as much as the next person, but we do not need 25 more right now (or 75 more, if I took crazy pills and wrapped one for each kid to open daily). My solution?

Reserve Library books!

Depending on the selection at your local library, you could take care of this for free AND the books leave your house when Advent is over. It’s perfect.

Every November (while everyone else is doing their 30 Days of Thankfulness social media binge), I make a list of the winter and Christmas-themed books at our local library and start putting in my requests (our library is glorious and lets me do the research and requesting online).

Once I get the books, I order them 1-25, with the most popular books in the lower numbers. At our library, you can only renew a book if no one is waiting for it. If you’ve checked out a favorite Christmas book for kids, you better have your kids unwrap that book near the beginning of the month so you can read it and return it before your time is up.

The most recent checkouts or obscure titles can be for the later days in the month (you can also fill in those later days with any Christmas or winter-themed books you already own).

We’ve done this for three years, but it turns out, I only took a photo of our efforts once. And then I (apparently) erased it, so… this fuzzy Facebook-downloaded picture will have to do for now.

If you’re really organized, you can write down a list of which Christmas book corresponds to which day of your Advent “calendar.” This is helpful since, once you wrap them, you’ll have a hard time figuring out which book is under the paper. If you get an email from your library saying that one has been requested and needs to be returned, this can make the process easier.

Truth be told, I’m not that organized so I just chance it. If I end up with a book that goes overdue by a day or two for the sake of my Advent calendar of books… oh well. I’m no stranger to library fees in this house and consider it money very well spent.

You can wrap a book for each kid per day or one book total per day, depending on how much work you want to do. I can barely find time to shower, let alone wrap a zillion books, so I’ll be wrapping 25 and letting the older boys fight over it take turns each day. The toddler can play with the wrapping paper because, well, that’s all he really cares about anyway.

If the idea of having more books (or more anything) in your house doesn’t fill you with dread, by all means, feel free to execute this Advent calendar idea with books you purchase for keeps (new or from a used book store). Here’s a list of wonderful read aloud books for Kindergarten or Preschool (ish) -Aged kids!

*A little aside — as your kids unwrap and read the Advent calendar books each day, try to return them to the library relatively quickly. At this time of year, the wait-list for winter and Holiday-themed books grows quickly.

**Bonus – the wrapped books look pretty and festive, so find a nice place to display them. Make sure the place is high enough that little ones won’t be tempted to unwrap them when no one is looking (not that I learned this from experience or anything…)

DIY Advent Calendar Idea for Kids #2: Christmas Cartoons!

I love Christmas cartoons and we are guaranteed to watch all of them during the season in our house. A long time ago, before we had kids, my husband bought a reusable Advent calendar decoration that you’re supposed to fill with candy. We used to leave it empty and just open the doors each day (we aren’t big candy-eaters).

A few years ago, I started looking for ways to make the house into an Advent calendar for kids without candy.

I started printing out the titles to all of my favorite Christmas cartoons, cutting out one title per day, and putting them into the little doors of the Advent calendar decoration. Each morning, the kids open a door of the Advent calendar to see what Christmas special we will watch that day. It makes something we were already going to do more special and exciting.

*Bonus* You can include cartoons you like (sometimes I “accidentally” put the Grinch into the Advent calendar twice) and leave out the ones you don’ t (sorry, The Year Without a Santa Clause, I’m just not a fan).

Occasionally, I will stick a little candy treat for the boys into one of the doors of the Advent calendar decoration as a fun surprise to mix things up. This is also something you can do to fill in gaps if you don’t have enough Christmas specials available on video, Netflix, DVR, etc..

If you’re looking to give this idea a try, here’s a list of awesome reusable wooden Advent calendars available on Amazon. These are much more kid-friendly (in design and function) than the one we currently use (but I refuse to get rid of a perfectly good one).

DIY Advent Calendar Idea for Kids #3: Giving Things Away

I love, love, love Christmas, but I don’t love how much the focus is on stuff. I try to fight against this in our house, but the message of me-me-me to kids at this time of year is palpable.

I believe that the purpose of Christmas is to focus on Jesus and the gift He is to the world. It’s hard to impart that message when relatives are constantly asking the kids what they want for Christmas and the kids are talking non-stop about Santa and what they hope he will bring.

{If you want to keep the focus on Jesus in your house this Christmas, definitely check out my free Christmas Bible verses for kids printables}

One great way to combat this worldly focus and celebrate Advent at the same time is to have kids fill a basket with food items for each day of the Advent calendar. At the end of the month, you can donate the contents to a food pantry. This idea is not my own–I saw it somewhere (probably Facebook)–but I think it’s a great one.

A twist on this Advent calendar idea for kids is to have the kids fill a basket with books and toys to give away.

DIY Advent calendar ideas for kids - a bpx filled with toy donations

This causes the kids to put a little more “skin in the game” because they need to choose the items and can think about how other kids will be able to enjoy them.

Donating food is great, of course, but the kids don’t buy the food and they certainly won’t miss it when it’s gone. I think the toy/book approach helps them participate more actively. This is something new for our house that I plan to try this year.

A few other ways to celebrate Advent with kids in a meaningful way are to have them purchase “angel tree” gifts, participate with Toys for Tots, or make a selection out of something like Compassion International’s gift catalog — but those aren’t actually advent calendar ideas for kids, which is the purpose of this post–so I digress.

How do you feel about Advent calendars in your house — yay or nay? What Advent calendar ideas for kids do you use to make the holidays special? Let me know in the comments! I’m always looking new for food-free, stuff-free ways to celebrate Advent with kids.

One more thing — with Advent approaching, don’t forget: So is New Year’s!

Since it’s *that* time of year, if you’re looking for a fun activity for your kids to reflect on the year that’s passed, you can check out my free New Year’s Eve Reflection for Kids Printable here. It makes an adorable keepsake! You can also snag this free New Year’s Resolutions For Kids Printable too, to help your kids set goals for the year ahead. 

Both are great ways to involve the kids in the New Year’s festivities!

Happy Holidays!!!


DIY Advent calendar ideas for kids without candy! Celebrating #Advent and #Christmas with kids doesn't have to be expensive or unhealthy. Check out these #adventcalendar ideas with your kids this Christmas season!
Pin Me!


Sharing is caring!


  1. Luckily, we re not the only ones that feel this way. In recent years more and more alternative advent calendars have sprung up for sale. And, much to our delight, the array of fillers on offer is getting better and better with each festive season.

  2. I’m really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your
    blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself?
    Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it
    is rare to see a nice blog like this one nowadays.

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      Thanks! Yes, it really is perfect! I love the idea of bringing in new and festive books, but really, who needs 25 (or 75 for us, if we did 25/kid) new holiday books in their house in December, right before all your relatives spoil your kids rotten with more things?! The only thing that’s a bit of a pain is all the wrapping, but it’s worth it because the kids really do love it.


  3. These are such great ideas! I am a library lover myself and put everything on hold. It’s a big money saver too. My kids would love to watch more Christmas Cartoons. I am definitely going to try that this year. Thank you!

    1. Hi Lindsay,

      Yes, aren’t libraries the best?! I have a girlfriend who purged ALL the kids’ books in her entire house and only does library books. I’m not quite that bold (yet!), but I love love love using library books for this advent calendar activity for kids because December is the very last month in which I want to be adding MORE belongings to my kids’ collections.

      Putting the Christmas cartoons in your advent calendar is so great because (at least for me), you feel way less guilty! It’s not a screen-time binge, it’s a Christmas activity CELEBRATION! haha 🙂


    1. Hi Kendra,

      Thank you 🙂 YES! Get the books from the library! I love the idea of a books for an advent calendar activity, but the idea of adding 25 (or 75! since I have three kids now) books to our collection was frightening to me. The library is perfect because the kids know they won’t be sticking around. We read a few books a million times for a few days and then off they go again. Perfect!


    1. Hi Jordan,

      I’m so glad you liked it! Yes, the books have been the biggest hit as far as Advent calendars/Advent activities go in our house. I gave it a go one year after a massive library trip, and ever since, it’s been the kid’s favorite thing each day!


  4. Love the candy free advent! Our reusable advent calendar melded with the elf on the shelf. I refused to climb aboard the elf shenanigans train, but didn’t want my little guy to feel left out when he heard classmates talk about it. Soooo… our elf writes a daily note and puts it in the advent calendar. His note is an idea for a holiday activity- often using things we already have. Sometimes he tells us to play an old board game, or he lets us know there’s baking ingredients in the kitchen for us to make a treat. Yesterday he brought a new set of stamps and 3 blank cards with envelopes. The note said we should make greeting cards for someone who needed extra holiday cheer. This weekend he’s bringing a “fancy” new pencil and a Dear Santa free printable so the little guy can make his Christmas wishlist. All of these are things we’d do anyhow, but seem more fun when it’s the elf’s idea and it’s stuffed inside a tiny numbered door 🙂

    1. Hi Cassie,

      I love how you combined the advent calendar ideas with your elf. We have an elf, but from what I’ve seen online, our elf is very lazy. He moves (almost) every night (when my husband remembers to move him, because I do not), and that’s it. I really wanted to have the elf start bringing “kindness” assignment as part of our advent calendar this year but… well, it’s 12/10 already and the elf has brought zero assignments to the boys thus far. You’re so right: if it’s stuff you’re going to do anyway, it just seems more exciting when it’s a secret from the elf/advent calendar door.

      Thank you so much for reading!

  5. Love, love, love these ideas! We are avid library goers and I love the ideas of wrapping the books and having them open one a day, how fun! Also love the idea of a Christmas show a day, there are definitely a lot to choose from!

    One thing we do every year for our advent calendar is a puzzle. I buy each of my older kids a 100 or 200 piece puzzle, assemble the puzzle myself, and separate the pieces into 25 little brown paper bags. I don’t show them the cover of the puzzle before hand and each day they get to open a new bag and put their new puzzle pieces together. Then at the end, they have a puzzle to play with for the rest of the year (but we are big puzzle fans at our house).

    1. Hi Racheal,

      Oh my goodness, that is such an AWESOME Advent Calendar idea for kids! I can promise you right now that I’m (currently) not organized enough to get the puzzle thing together, but I love it! My boys are so into puzzles! Our biggest problem right now, aside from my disorganization, is that Kid3 (22 months) is into EVERYTHING and there’s no way puzzles would survive his wrath for a whole month, but when he gets a little older, I definitely want to try this out as a new Advent calendar idea for our house. Thank you!


  6. Hi Anna,

    Thank you so much for reading. It started out as just looking for Advent Calendar ideas for kids without candy, but then I started railing against all the stuff in our house too. The library has been our saving grace! I love books and I love a theme, but not as much as I LOVE that it all goes back when the holidays are over lol.


    1. Hi Rachel,

      Thank you so much! I’m so glad that you enjoyed the idea of using library books to make an advent calendar for kids. I’m telling you, we tried it once and we never went back. It’s fun to celebrate the season, but it’s also super fun to ship all that stuff back to the library when it’s over rather than having to store it in your own house.


  7. I like your idea for using library books! I briefly considered a book advent a couple years ago but didn’t want so many books at home (we already have a lot of books). Using library books is a much better idea! Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Hi Davianna,

      I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed these Advent calendar ideas for kids. I feel like we can’t even get through the Halloween candy by Christmas, let alone by Dec. 1, so I’m done with the candy Advent calendars, probably forever. These Advent calendar ideas are working much better for our family and I hope you find they work well for yours too!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *