How You Can Use 'Elf on the Shelf' to Give Year Round

 Taking homemade cookies to our local police precinct. They were so grateful and then gave the kids a tour of the police station and police cars/van!

Taking homemade cookies to our local police precinct. They were so grateful and then gave the kids a tour of the police station and police cars/van!

 Donating $1 to Grammy in the schools through a very cool light installation at the Winter Garden. And we got to see a rehearsal of the Nutcracker being performed!

Donating $1 to Grammy in the schools through a very cool light installation at the Winter Garden. And we got to see a rehearsal of the Nutcracker being performed!

 Giving money to the Salvation Army bell ringer near the 5th Ave holiday window displays.

Giving money to the Salvation Army bell ringer near the 5th Ave holiday window displays.

 Taking used toys and books to a local medical office waiting room.

Taking used toys and books to a local medical office waiting room.

 Taking homemade cookies to a local collection for distribution at our neighborhood food pantry. The kids helped me bake AND deliver the cookies!

Taking homemade cookies to a local collection for distribution at our neighborhood food pantry. The kids helped me bake AND deliver the cookies!

 Creating a  Giving Jar  to collect money to donate.

Creating a Giving Jar to collect money to donate.

 Folding origami cranes to donate to an organization who strings them up for patients with cancer. Yes, I ended up folding most of the cranes!

Folding origami cranes to donate to an organization who strings them up for patients with cancer. Yes, I ended up folding most of the cranes!

 Cooking dinner to deliver to a neighborhood family who had recently suffered a tragic loss.

Cooking dinner to deliver to a neighborhood family who had recently suffered a tragic loss.

Actually...move over, Elf on the Shelf...the Giving Elves are in town!

Every December, my Facebook feed is overwhelmed by clever 'Elf on the Shelf' photos -- hanging from the chandelier, making a mess with cereal, and even being found in compromising situations with Barbie dolls.

For our holiday season, we decided to add a little something.

Since December brings endless giving opportunities, we decided to invite the Giving Elves into our home as our countdown to New Year's Eve. An extended "advent" of sorts. I ordered these little customizable dolls from Windflower Toys on Etsy (adorable, right?!) and got to work. But you could absolutely use your 'Elf on the Shelf' or whatever you want! And I will admit, this project took planning and research, but it was SO worth it.

After scouring the internet for inspiration, I made a preliminary calendar of ideas (I wish I had saved it to share AND for future visits from the Giving Elves - ugh!). Beginning on the eve of November 30th, I wrote a note on a small piece of paper adorned with a few stickers, explaining who the Giving Elves were and what this was all about.

My kids were 1 and 3 at the time, so my handwriting was not recognizable to them and I could write whatever I wanted (since they didn't know what it says anyway). I imagine I will type up their notes as they get older and a bit more savvy/suspicious! I ended the note with a task for the day and placed it on our kitchen table with the Giving Elves, to be discovered the next morning. And later in the day, we would complete the task (well, almost every day!).

The first morning, I asked Milo to name them and he chose "Jingle & Bell." From that point on, Jingle and Bell visited daily! Some days I put them in funny positions (in a paper boat or hiding behind a candle). Some days I left the kids a little treat. Some days I forgot to do it and told them that the Giving Elves were sleeping in and that maybe they would visit later in the day (and then snuck them on to the table when they weren't looking).

Check out the photos for many of the highlights!

Some of the other activities included:

  • Delivering homemade cookies to the cashiers at the local grocery store on Christmas morning

  • Creating and sending handmade cards to loved ones

  • Picking up trash in the neighborhood

  • Delivering small gifts to Milo's teachers at school

  • Making and delivering dinner/dessert to friends who just had a baby

  • Inviting friends over to make gingerbread houses

  • Drawing pictures to give to people

The list goes on and on. Sure, there were a few days that we missed here and there and the last couple days of the month are a bit fuzzy...

BUT Jingle and Bell returned just in time to leave one final note for the kids.

What does this have to do with you now, you ask?

Is it April right now? Yes.

Is this still applicable to you now? Yes.

You don't have to do this at the holidays or for an entire month. You don't have to do this every day. You could do this once a week in the summer during vacation or once a month on a Saturday morning throughout the year. You could do a version of this with your co-workers to build community for a week! You could use a stuffed animal, or a doll, or an action figure, or a stick figure drawing. Figure out what works for you and go for it! Giving doesn't have to look "perfect" to make an impact.

Tips for the Giving Elves:

  • Be flexible. Sometimes your plan will be impacted by weather or moods or illness. Change it up. Do it another day. Don't let it stress you out too much or it will not be fun or sustainable!
  • Plan ahead. Try to do some research about what's going on in your community or what kinds of activities you could do. This plan may change, but at least you have something to work with!
  • Keep it interesting. Having a range of activities will help you keep everyone engaged. Some days might be more popular than others. That's ok!
  • HAVE FUN!

Happy Giving!

 Donating used clothes.

Donating used clothes.

 Donating a toy to Milo's school Holiday Toy Drive for the local Head Start program.

Donating a toy to Milo's school Holiday Toy Drive for the local Head Start program.