One Family's Holiday Experience

If you're looking for fun Christmas activities for kids this year, consider adopting a new holiday tradition -- the Elf on the Shelf.  Here's how it works: Each night until Christmas, the "Elf on the Shelf" doll departs from your household to deliver a "report" to Santa about who has been naughty and nice.  This article describes how the Elf on the Shelf began visiting my home, and offers ideas and tips to help you create holiday fun that your family will cherish.
Looking for the Elf on the Shelf at Home
In late November, my third grader came home from school and began searching the house.    Rumor had it that elves were visiting the homes of her friends at school. 
One friend suggsted that she carefully look on the ceiling fan.  Another friend said to build a house out of picture books to "attract" the elf.  A third friend suggested that she leave out crackers as a snack.  So, hedging her bets, my daughter did all three and even left a note for the elf to make herself/himself at home.
Thank goodness for this guidance from peers.  Until my daughter's search throughout the house, I was only vaguely aware of the Elf on the Shelf, which I had seen on a few occasions in retail stores.  
The Elf on the Shelf Arrives
An Elf on the Shelf typically makes his or her appearance first thing in the morning.  In my family's case, however, the elf appeared on Dec. 1 when my daughther came home from school. This appearance happened to coincide with my husband's visit to Barnes and Noble bookstore.  Whew - whatever works!
The Elf on the Shelf - The Picture Book and the Doll
The Elf on the Shelf is typically sold as a kit with a book and a doll. Elf on the Shelf DollCredit:
Book. A story picture book details the Elf on the Shelf's adventures: An elf visits your household.  Each night, when children are asleep, the elf goes to visit Santa to give a report about who's been naughty and who's been nice.  Each morning the elf reappears in a different position or location, one of which might be a shelf, hence its moniker "Elf on the Shelf." Among the many Christmas activities that take place over the holidays, kids love this one because there are many things both parents and children can do that create holiday magic and memories. 
Elf Doll. The elf's face is plastic which bears a passing resemblance to Kewpie dolls. The body is made of felt with soft arms and legs.

I think the doll has a charming look, and my daughter thinks the Elf on the Shelf is "cute," but at least one parent reported that his/her preschooler was frightened by the doll.  If you are unsure how your children will respond, it may be best to visit the elves in the stores before you make a purchase.
Where to Buy
Some elves may be able to find your home "on their own" as in my case.  In some cases though, a family must purchase a kit before an elf appears in a home.  Look for Elf on the Shelf kits at bookstores as well as at retailers with bookstores in them, like Target, Barnes and Noble. Of course you can find the book and kit online at
Be aware that Elf on the Shelf merchandise is numerous.  Such merchandise includs DVDs, ornaments, plush dolls, and activity sets.  However, if you are only looking for Christmas activities for kids, you only need the elf and the book.
Why You Might Not Want to Adopt this Holiday Tradition
Although this Christmas activity has been delightful for many kids, your family might opt not to play for a variety of reasons.  
For example, if you believe the premise of the elf leaving to report to Santa is manipulative, than this might not be a good activity for your family.  Although you can keep using the book and the elf year after year, you'll likely have to spend about $30, not to mention other merchandise and accessories.  As mentioned above, a very small subset of chidren (preschoolers perhaps) may be frightened by the elf.  
Patience will be required. You will be hounded about the Elf on the Shelf's visit from about Halloween on.  Conscientiousness will be required.  The Elf does need to find a new location each morning, although there is a workaround (see below). 
Elf on the Shelf Ideas and Tips
  • Read and enjoy the storybook with your children.  

  • One of the rules, in addition to being on good behavior, is that children cannot touch the Elf on the Shelf. 
  • When the elf reappears in morning. Looking for the elf, becomes an "eye spy" game. It's a christmas tradition that preschoolers and elementary school children love.
  • Here's a video with a few places an elf has appeared (as well as its other antics):
  • If you are traveling, be sure the elf travels with you or knows where to find you.

  • Ask your children to name the Christmas elf.  For example, last Christmas my daughter named her elf Ellie. Ellie then took our family's last name, which begins with an "F."  In August, and quite by accident, my daughter began talking about how Ellie needed a middle name. My daughter's first name starts with an "L," so that was a perfect middle name for Ellie -- especially after my daughter realized that the elf's initials would be E.L.F.  
  • Be sure that the elf doesn't forget to assume a different position in a different location the next day. Or, you will want to explain that the elf found a spot so comfortable that he/she didn't want to move.
  • In our home, Ellie makes an appearance right after Thanksgiving. Ellie doesn't talk but she also writes notes.  My daughter found similarities to the handwriting of the tooth fairy. Go figure.
  • The elves are sold with different colored eyes - either blue or brown, with light skin or dark skin.  If that matters to you and your order online, be sure you order an elf with the correct specifications.
  • Children will likely want to handle the elf, which is against Elf on the Shelf rules.  As an alternative, you can purchase an Elf on the Shelf plush toy which costs about $12.
The Elf on the Shelf is a fun, charming Christmas tradition that many families enjoy.  With a little imagination, you can bring even more holiday magic to your home as well.