The holidays are a wonderful time of year when friends and family can get together to celebrate and give thanks. For parents, they can also be a 24/7 minefield of temper tantrums and toys. Routines are changed, stimulation is at a maximum, parents are stressed, and there is so much (SO MUCH) focus on gift-giving. All these things can often leave kids feeling overwhelmed. One way to help reduce the focus placed on a single day is with an advent calendar for kids.
Advent calendars are typically used as a countdown to Christmas, but many nondenominational advent calendars are now available for kids and adults. There are also several options that don’t rely on chocolate or candy, good news for parents who don’t want to have a battle at bedtime. Using an advent calendar to mark the passing of time until the holidays helps kids conceptualize dates. Getting to open one new item each day also spreads out the gift-giving instead of having all the focus on a single day. This can help appease children who are anxious to open every item under the tree. In 2020, Advent calendars also provide an added treat for children who may not be able to safely celebrate with friends and family the way they have in previous years.
Not only are advent calendars great for the holidays, but we also find them beneficial for other major events. Nondenominational, non-winter themed advent calendars can be used leading up to other celebratory milestones, such as birthdays or family vacations. They can also be used to help ease tension in children who are anxious about a major event, like traveling on an airplane for the first time, visiting the dentist, starting a new school or moving.
Whether your child is a Potterhead, loves Elf on the Shelf, can’t get enough of that little cat Pusheen or enjoys solving brainteasers, there’s an advent calendar that will help get them excited for any milestone. Check out our top picks below.
1. LEGO City Advent Calendar Building Kit
LEGO has unofficially cornered the market on advent calendars. If your child is a fan of Star Wars, Harry Potter, Minecraft or Friends, LEGO has an advent calendar for you. With the City Advent Calendar, LEGO fans can build their own winter wonderland with 24 days of vehicles, buildings and figures. An awesome gift on its own or to be used in addition to the LEGO collection your child already owns, this holiday-themed advent calendar is a great way to improve motor skills, inspire creativity and get kids into the holiday spirit.
2. The Elf on the Shelf North Pole Advent Calendar Train
For exhausted parents who have run out of shelves (and bookcases, bathtubs, bedrooms, and just about every other spot in the home) to hide their child’s elf, there is a new advent calendar that takes the leg work out of the toy that is keeping kids on the nice list. The makers of Elf on the Shelf are continuing to expand their brand offerings of tiny tattletales who help keep kids in line during the holidays and are now making an Elf on the Shelf advent calendar. Spy was provided with one of the calendars and we were impressed with the 24 individual boxes, which hold toys that kids will enjoy playing with throughout the holiday season, including elves, pets, mini cookies and baking sheets, a tree, a Santa sign, stickers and several other fun surprises kids will love. The boxes can all be placed together to form a train with a spot in the front for the child’s full-sized Elf on the Shelf. Kids will look forward to opening a new toy every day, which is also an activity that will give parents a few minutes to find a new hiding place for their elf.
3. Pusheen Holiday Calendar Surprise
BEST FOR OLDER KIDS
If you have a Pusheen fan in your home, they are going to love the new advent calendar from Gund. The calendar comes with a super cute plush Pusheen and several mini friends. Older kids will have fun building a holiday setting with the soft toys includING a tree, a couch, a fireplace and presents. SPY was provided with one of the calendars and got to see the quality of each plush toy up close. The 12 toys can be set up and displayed in front of the open box, which features a faux-wooden floor with a holiday-themed backdrop. Pusheen fans will love opening each new daily surprise and playing with the toys long after the holidays have ended.
4. Melissa & Doug Countdown to Christmas Wooden Advent Calendar
BEST FOR TODDLERS
For an advent calendar that kids can use year after year, we like the Melissa & Doug Countdown to Christmas Wooden Advent Calendar. The wooden Christmas tree sits on top of a holiday-themed box, which acts as storage for the magnetic numbered pieces. Children can match the corresponding magnet with its place on the tree in the days leading up to Christmas, which helps improve their fine motor skills and counting. The Melissa and Doug calendar provides an alternative for parents who don’t want to add more toys to the holiday season but still get kids in the festive mood.
5. Fisher-Price Little People Advent Calendar
BEST FOR BABIES
Babies may not grasp that the holiday season has arrived, but for families who want to start annual traditions with their little ones, we recommend the Fisher-Price Little People Advent Calendar. The brightly colored calendar arrives in a cardboard box with fun and engaging winter and Santa-themed images. Each day, the baby or toddler can open one of the doors to find a Little People toy that is safe for babies 12 months and older. This is a great option for families with children of various ages as older kids and toddlers will both enjoy the toys.
6. Friends: The Official Advent Calendar
BEST FOR TEENS WHO STREAM
Everything old is new again in the age of streaming and Friends has seen a huge revival thanks to young viewers who are just discovering the 90’s hit show it for the first time online. If your pre-teen is too cool to celebrate the holidays, they may reconsider when they check out the recently released Friends-themed advent calendar. Teens will love opening the 25 days of Friends-themed keepsakes, which includes ornaments, keepsakes and booklets. ‘Tis the season for the holiday armadillo.
7. L.O.L. Surprise! #OOTD
BEST FOR FASHIONISTAS
Budding fashionistas who love to play with L.O.L. dolls will be ecstatic to receive the L.O.L. Surprise! #OOTD. The pink box opens to reveal 24 individual sections that each house a Surprise! fashion piece. These items are the perfect fit for the #OOTD exclusive doll that comes with the calendar. A sticker sheet is also included for added fun. We like that this nondenominational, non-winter-themed advent calendar works for counting down the days until the holidays, or the start of school, a birthday, or any other major event.
8. Funko Advent Calendar: Harry Potter
Funko makes several advent calendars geared towards fandoms, including Dragon Ball Z, Marvel, and Fortnite. We especially like the Harry Potter Funko calendar, which comes with 24 mini Funko Pop collectibles. Potterheads will love their daily transportation to the wizarding world of Harry Potter with each new collectible they unveil. Like the L.O.L. dolls, the Funko calendars are nondenominational and can be used for the holidays or any other countdown.
9. Disney Storybook Collection Advent Calendar
BEST FOR BOOK LOVERS
Getting to open a new toy every day is heaven for kids, but this much excitement can be overstimulating at a time when the focus on presents is already high. That’s why we like the Disney Storybook Collection Advent Calendar, which features one new book every day for the 24 days leading up to Christmas. Characters kids know and love, including Woody and Buzz Lightyear, Elsa and Anna, Wall-E, Wreck-It-Ralph and Minnie and Mickey are all featured in the holiday-themed books. The Disney Advent calendar is a great option for homes with multiple children, as everyone can enjoy the same bedtime story. This calendar also acts as a great way to encourage kids to get ready for bed each night so they can open their new book.
10. WloveTravel 2020 Christmas Advent Calendar
BEST FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
For an advent calendar that the entire family can enjoy together, we like the daily brain busters from WloveTravel. The calendar comes with 24 individual wire puzzles that users must try to solve. The calendar encourages fine motor skill development, problem-solving, and is a fun activity for older kids, teens, and adults. Plus, it’s something the whole family can do together that doesn’t require batteries, screens, or putting on a snowsuit.