90 of the Most Popular Elf on the Shelf Ideas for Families

A Christmas tree is in front of a window and there is a wooden table at the front of the picture.

Whether you’re just starting your Scout Elf journey or looking to upgrade your elfie activities, finding good Elf on the Shelf ideas is a constant pain for many parents during the holiday season. 

As the calendar page turns and December arrives, our elves will return to our homes from the North Pole. Kids everywhere are stoked, and parents start wondering how the heck they will be able to come up with new ideas this year.

Fret not! If you’re ready to start planning your elf antics for the season, check out the 90 incredible suggestions below!

Click here to subscribe

This site contains affiliate links, meaning that we earn a small commission for purchases made through our site. We only recommend products we personally use, love, or have thoroughly vetted.

Table of Contents

Should You Start the Elf on the Shelf Christmas Tradition for Kids?

For those of you who are still on the fence about getting an Elf on the Shelf–you’re not alone.

I, for example, was dead set against this specific holiday tradition for kids until our girls started asking why other people had them and they didn’t. I caved, bought the elf, and started mapping out an advent calendar of activities to do with our new stuffed friend. 

While I decided to latch onto this particular decision, I’ll tell you; it’s not for everyone. Once you start, the game will likely continue year after year.

Or at least until your little ones figure it out (which will never happen if I have anything to do with it!).

There’s no denying that this activity takes consistency and forethought, but I will tell you, it’s brought great joy to our December mornings. Every day, our kids sprint out of their rooms, searching for Angel’s (our elf’s name) whereabouts.

Don’t rush into your Elf on the Shelf decision, but if you decide to give it a go, we’re here to help with plenty of funny and exciting ideas.

What is a Good Age to Start the Elf Tradition?

There’s no right or wrong time to start doing Elf on the Shelf. 

Many parents wait until their little ones are 2 or 3 and can understand and appreciate the “magic.”

Your Guide to Elf on the Shelf Rules

We’ve gone straight to the source and are here to provide you with a list of rules for scout elves directly from ElfontheShelf.com!

  1. Never Touch Your Elf – Touching a scout elf will make them lose their magic. 
  2. Scout Elves Can’t Talk – While your Elf on the Shelf is a fantastic listener, they can’t talk back.
  3. Your Elf Has to Go Back to the North Pole – As cute as elfie might be, they can’t stick around all year long! Santa needs them back at the North Pole to prepare for Christmas next year. 

Now that you know the rules, it’s time to start planning what your Scout Elf will do this season!

 Check out some of the most popular Elf on the Shelf ideas around. 

Play a Game with Your Scout Elf

Whether your scout elf prepares a game for your little ones or has fun alone, these are some great game-related ideas for your Elf on the Shelf.

1. Tic Tac Toe

Bust out some bows or Christmas candies and make a tic-tac-toe board on the wall, floor, or table. Painters tape works great for an easily removable board material.

2. Scavenger Hunt

Did your elf bring a special treat? Why not create a scavenger hunt to help your kiddos find it? Etsy has some great printables you can use to help with this!

3. Bowling 

Who wouldn’t want to see their scout elf doing a little bowling?

Make a bowling lane out of pretty Christmas paper and set up candy pins they can knock over. Bouncy balls, gum balls, and other small candies make great bowling balls for your Elf on the Shelf.

4. Holiday Trivia

As a big trivia fan of trivia, this Elf on the Shelf activity is one of my favorites! Have your elf bring a Christmas trivia game you can play as a family. 

5. Word Search

Word searches are such fun activities for older kids and little ones just learning their sight words and alphabet. Elfie could bring a fun puzzle your children are guaranteed to love.

The fun doesn’t end at word searches, though – check out these printable Christmas activities

6. Candy Cane Hunt

Last year, we did this activity for the first time, and it was a hit! We bought a couple of boxes of candy canes and hid them all over the house. Then we set up our Elf with a note letting them know they needed to find them. 

7. Board Games

Whether your elf brings a new holiday board game for the family, or ends up in a game battle with other toys, it’s fun to use these activities as props for your Elf on the Shelf. 

8. Take a sELFie

Set up your elf with your cell phone on camera mode and put up a sign that says, “Let’s take a sELFie!”

9. Find the Hidden Treat

Many stores sell tiny plastic cups–grab a pack of these and set them out around your elf. Hide some treats underneath a couple of them and see how long it takes your child to find them!

Let Your Elf Prepare a Snack

Holiday treats, like cookies and candy, are a highlight during the Christmas season for many of us. Why not incorporate your elf in the snacking?

1. Icing Toast for Breakfast

Imagine your little one’s surprise when they come out for breakfast in the morning and discover their Elf has done the cooking!

While it might not be the most nutritious breakfast they’ll ever eat, some toast with icing and sprinkles is sure to be a Christmas delight!

2. Vegetable Christmas Tree

Now that we’ve loaded your kids with icing and sugar, it’s time for your scout elf to bring a healthy snack. To make a Christmas tree, you can use broccoli, tomatoes, and other veggies!

3. Snowman Donuts

Stack some powdered donuts, add a Twizzler scarf, and some chocolate chip buttons and eyes–what do you get? 

Snowman donuts, of course!

4. Santa Hat Brownies

When it comes to holiday treats, Santa Hat brownies are one of my favorites. Grab pre-baked 2-bite brownies (or make your own) and top them with a strawberry hat and icing. 

5. Marshmallow Squares from Elf Cereal

Did you know that Elf on the Shelf has its own cereal?

Not only is this a special treat on its own, but you can make it even more special by whipping up some marshmallow squares with it!

6. Hot Chocolate Bar

If your little ones love hot chocolate as much as mine, they’ll go nuts with excitement if their elf sets up a cocoa bar. You can include candy canes, mini marshmallows, whip cream, and more.

7. Twizzler Spaghetti

Grab yourself a bag of Pull-n-Peel Twizzlers and pull a whole bunch apart. Then, throw it in a pot on the stove with a wooden spoon to make it look like elfie has made them a pot of Twizzler spaghetti!

8. North Pole Cupcakes

The North Pole is famous for its cupcakes (or at least that’s what I hear!) When your kids deserve an extra special treat, have your elf bring back some with a special card that lets them know they’re straight from the North Pole!

This also works great with cookies or donuts.

9. Ice Cream Cone Christmas Trees

All you need is ice cream cones, green icing, and sprinkles to create an adorable Christmas tree snack! Your elf can gather the ingredients for you.

One elf wearing a cream colored suit with red trim is sitting in a clear plastic cup. Another elf is sitting in a clear plastic cup and his outfit is red with green trim
Coming up with enough ideas for your Elf on the Shelf during the holidays isn’t always easy. Luckily for you, we’re here to help with this Christmas tradition!

Trim the Tree with Your Elf on the Shelf

The Christmas tree is the centerpiece of our holiday decor in many houses. That’s why it’s the perfect place for some of our favorite Elf on the Shelf ideas!

1. Balloon Tree Lights

This one will take some artistic flair, but the result is adorable! Have your silly elf blow up balloons and attach them to green plastic cups. From there, you’ll string the “lights” together with yarn and place them onto the tree. 

2. TP the Tree

If you have a funny elf who likes to play pranks, let them toilet paper the Christmas tree!

3. Merry “Chipmas”

Take a box of snack-sized chip bags and clip them onto the branches of your tree with chip clips. Then print out or draw a “Merry Chipmas” sign and place it on the tree, too.

4. Tangled Up in Tree Lights

What would happen if your scout elf tried to put up the tree lights themselves? There’s a good chance they’d end up in a tangle! Wrap a strand of lights around your elf and place them on the tree. You could even let them hang upside down for an added flair of fun.

5. Underwear Tree

There’s a good chance you’ll hear some giggling when your little ones come out and find their underwear hanging from the Christmas tree!

6. Toilet Paper Tube Tree Swing

Take some yarn and a toilet paper tube and make a swing for your Elf on the Shelf that attaches to the tree.

7. Tree Hammock

Like the tree swing, all you need for an elf hammock is a small piece of fabric that you can attach to the branches. If you’re looking for easy elf ideas, you can always order a hammock online!

8. Just ‘Hanging’ Around

Print out or write a sign that says, “I’m just hanging around for Christmas,” and place it on the tree. From there, you’ll take tiny hangers and mix them in with your regular ornaments.

Art Lessons with Elfie

I’m always impressed by how artistic scout elves can be. Whether they design a decoration for your family or let you do it yourself, here are some crafty Elf on the Shelf options!

1. Decorating Eggs in the Fridge

Who wants regular eggs for breakfast when you can place your Elf on the Shelf in the icebox and let them color on them?

2. Paper Snowflakes

Most of us have probably made a paper snowflake or two at some point or another. If not, now is your moment!

Make some tiny versions from the elf and place one in its hands. You can even let them hold a pair of child-safe scissors. Then, put out some extra paper and scissors for your kids to give it a try. 

3. Art Kit Fun

Around our house, crafts are a significant part of our holiday traditions. An easy way to incorporate art projects into your Elf on the Shelf ideas is to buy small art kits from places like Michaels or Target

4. “Elf Yourself” Projects

Cut out an elf hat and/or an elf collar and tape them to a mirror in your house. Then have your scout elf sitting nearby with a sign that says “Elf Yourself.”

Your kiddos will have a great time pretending to be their elf for the day!

5. Coloring Contest

Who’s the better artist–your child or the elf? Color a picture from their elf and then leave out extra coloring pages and crayons so they can have a contest.

Elf on the Shelf Ideas for Lazy Parents

Amid buying gifts, baking cookies, and taking care of the other holiday season activities, finding time to move the elf can be challenging. Lucky for you, however, there are plenty of “lazy parent” options to carry you through busy days!

1. Candy Cane Garden

I love this one because you don’t technically have to move your elf for three days! 

On the first day, set your elf next to a pot of crushed-up cookies with a sign that says, “Watch my candy cane garden grow!” You’ll place small pieces of candy cane or mints on top of the soil.

On day two, you’ll remove the first mints and replace them with mini candy canes. On the final day, you guessed it; you’ll switch them out for full-size candy canes!

2. Christmas Tree Snack Sale Sales

Scatter some Christmas tree cakes around your counter and let your elf “sell them” to the kids!

3. Toothpaste Messages By the Sink

Make sure your kids don’t forget to brush their teeth by writing, “Don’t forget to brush!” on the counter with toothpaste! Set your elf nearby, still holding the toothpaste tube.

4. Elf in a Doll Stroller

Does your little one have a doll stroller? Put elfie inside of it and let your kids push it around for the day! This one is great because it’s easy and allows children to interact with the elf more than usual.

5. Nutcracker Disguise

If you have a collection of nutcrackers at home, stand your Elf on the Shelf next to them and see how well they blend in.

6. Quarantine Elfie

Okay, if you’re not in the mood to move your elf around for a few days, it might be time to put them in quarantine. 

Stick your elf in a jar and tape on a sign that says they’re sick and have to quarantine for five days!

7. Sprinkle Snow Angel

Dump a bunch of sprinkles out on a cookie sheet and move the elf’s arms and legs around to make it look like they were doing snow angels. This one is simple but still impresses the littles.

8. Yoga Poses with Your Scout Elf

Let your elf zen out for a day by propping them up in a yoga pose – if you’re feeling it, you could even write out a little “Namaste” sign.

9. Chocolate Mouth

Smush up a piece of chocolate and smear it on your elf’s mouth – done.

10. Barbie Playdate

If you have a Barbie house, put the scout elf inside it on a chair, couch, or other location where they can interact with the other dolls.

11. Elf Racing

Do you have a race car toy that’s big enough to fit your elf? If so, let elfie pretend to be a race car driver for the day!

12. Family Dry-Erase Mustaches

This one is sure to crack your kids up! Take a dry-erase marker and draw mustaches on everyone in a framed family photo. Be sure to leave elfie nearby with the marker as evidence!

Click here to subscribe

Have Your Elf Plan a Family Holiday Activity

One of the most magical parts of the holiday season is the opportunities available for family activities. There are several easy ways to incorporate your elf into the family fun.

1. Movie Night

Christmas movies are a holiday season highlight for many of us, so why not have Elfie drop off a movie night box filled with popcorn, candy, and a new seasonal film?

2. Christmas Bingo

Etsy has tons of great Christmas bingo cards that your kids will love. Turn them into an elf-sponsored family bingo tournament for some serious family fun.

3. Light Looking Supplies

What kid doesn’t love looking at Christmas lights during the yuletide season? Have your elf surprise the family with a light-looking kit with hot cocoa, candy canes, and cozy pajamas everyone can enjoy in the car. 

4. Disconnect to Reconnect

If you’re interested in creating meaningful family moments during Christmas, it’s time to put down your screens and enjoy some disconnected fun.

Set your child’s scout elf up with a small sign that says “Disconnect to Reconnect.” Underneath have the sign state that there will be no screens for a certain amount of time–be it an entire day or just a few hours. 

5. Take Elfie on Vacation

Whether you travel to a cabin in the woods or hop on a plane to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, traveling during the holidays is always fun.

You can put your Elf in a special travel container so they can come along for the ride!

6. Bedtime Stories

I’m a full-fledged bookworm and love the many fantastic holiday stories available. If you and your family love Christmas books as much as my family, why not let your elf bring one or two new ones in for bedtime?

7. Skittle Rainbow Experiment

Now, it’s time for some science family fun! Did you know that putting a circle of Skittles around a plate and then pouring warm water over them will create a rainbow in the middle?

Set up your elf next to a circle of Skittles and post a sign that says, “Just Add Hot Water.” Include the extra Skittles, too, so your kids can try this experiment repeatedly!

8. Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

Grab some marshmallows and small pretzel sticks and have some family snowman-building fun. Make sure elfie leaves some sample snowmen out so your kiddos know what to do!

9. Have a Snowball Fight

For those of us that live in warm weather, our kids don’t get to go outside and have a snowball fight as they do up north. If, however, our elves bring us a pack of stuffed snowballs, you can enjoy a family snowball fight inside or outside any time of year!

What’s Your Scout Elf Doing in the Bathroom?

While the bathroom might seem like an unusual spot to find elves, some of our favorite Elf on the Shelf ideas take place in this strange location. 

1. Marshmallow Bath

After traveling to and from the North Pole, your elf deserves some R&R. That’s why it’s always a good idea to fill up a sink or bowl with mini marshmallows and a rubber duckie for an elf-sized bubble bath experience.

Bonus points for cutting out tiny cucumbers and putting them on your elf’s eyes!

2. Toilet Paper Snowman

Take three toilet paper rolls, stack them, and place your scout elf in the top one. Then draw on some buttons, eyes, and a carrot nose for the best toilet paper snowman your little ones will ever see.

3. Wrapping Paper TP

It will be a nice surprise when your child sits down for a potty break and finds wrapping paper on the roll instead of TP. Word to the wise, however – put the real toilet paper close by!

4. Toothpaste Oreos

Scatter some open Oreos around your bathroom sink, scoop off the cream, and let your elf put toothpaste on them instead!

5. Elf Poop

Scout elves have to go, too!

Lean your Elf on the Shelf over the toilet and drop some mints inside to make it look like your child’s North Pole friend is relieving themselves.

Nasty, but also sure to incite some giggles!

6. Q-Tip Snowflakes

If your elf feels like exercising their creativity, you can always let them create some Q-tip snowflakes and place them around the bathroom counter. You can also let kids join in on the fun by leaving some extra Q-tips out.

7. Bathroom Sink Fishing

Plug up your sink and fill it with water – then place some small toy fish inside. Have your elf sit on the edge with their very own fishing pole!

8. Mirror Messages

Whether you use lipstick, dry-erase markers, or toothpaste, putting a holiday message from elfie on the bathroom mirror is always a fun and simple Elf on the Shelf idea.

9. Ho Ho Ho – Who Has to Go?

Set up a toilet paper roll thrown on the back of the toilet for your elf and have them write “Ho, ho, ho – who has to go?” on the lid! 

10. Wrap the Toilet Up

This one will take some effort, but it will also leave a big impression on your kids. 

Take some wrapping paper and cover your entire toilet with it! Your kids will be cracking up. Just make sure they find it before it’s a potty emergency!

Naughty Elf on the Shelf Ideas

While not all of these naughty elf ideas are entirely “appropriate,” if you’ve got older kids with a sense of humor, they will likely get a kick out of them!

1. Lemonade?

Position your elf next to a few small cups of questionable yellow liquid and make it seem like elf pee. 

Disgusting? Yes. 

Solid gold kid humor? Definitely.

2. Pea’d Myself

Here’s some more bathroom humor for you.

Sit your scout elf in a pile of green peas. Then spell out, “I pea’d myself” right in front of them with more peas. 

3. Chocolate Chip Cookie Poop

I’ve seen tons of parents sit their elves on top of a chocolate chip to make it look like a little piece of poop. Take it further by putting a trail of chocolate chips behind them.

4. Grated Carrots

Then one is a little mean but also hilarious. Take a regular-sized carrot and draw a screaming face on the top with a permanent marker. Then, grate the bottom half of the carrot and make it look like your elf is torturing it. 

5. Army Men Takeover

Have your elf put his hands up in front of a collection of small army men toys!

6. Melted Frosty

Pur a small puddle of water on the counter and throw some buttons, a baby carrot, and other snowman accessories into the puddle. Then, sit elfie next to it with a blow dryer to make it look like he melted Frosty!

7. Pretty Toes

Sneak into your child’s room (this especially works well for boys who aren’t interested in having their toes painted) and give them a wild-colored pedicure while they’re sleeping. After you’re done, place the elf nearby with the nail polish bottle. 

8. Popcorn Explosion

Pop a bag of popcorn and spill it inside the microwave with the elf sitting inside, too. Don’t forget to remove the evidence before using the appliance again!

9. Canned Good Tower

You know those hard-to-reach places you don’t want your Elf on the Shelf getting to? Well, build a tower of canned goods and let them sneak their way to the top!

A dark wood wall has a dark wood shelf on it. On the shelf are multicolored lights and 3 red boxes in small, medium, and large sizes.
What to do with the Elf on the Shelf can leave parents overwhelmed. That’s why we’re sharing 90 ideas to help ease the stress!

Hilarious Elf Ideas Your Kids Won’t Forget

The ideas below don’t fit into any particular category, but they are some of the most popular  Elf on the Shelf ideas I’ve seen other parents do!

1. Elsa Does Some Freezing

Is your little one a Frozen fan? If yes, they will love this one!

Freeze your elf in a block of ice and stand an Elsa doll up next to it to make it look like she froze them while your kiddo was sleeping. 

2. Bow Climbing

This was one of the first Elf on the Shelf activities my husband and I ever did. Tape some gift-wrapping wrapping bows to a wall in your home. Then, use some more tape to secure the elf’s hands and feet inside the bows to make it look like they’re climbing the wall.

3. Zip Line

While not the easiest option on this list, creating an Elf on the Shelf zipline is always impressive!

4. Marshmallow Workout

Stick a small pretzel stick between two marshmallows to make it look like a dumbbell. Afterward, lay your elf down and make it look like it’s pumping iron.

5. Drinking the Syrup

This is an awesome lazy Elf on the Shelf idea. Take a straw, stick it in a bottle of pancake syrup, and let the elfie start sipping away. 

6. Candy Cane Fishing in the Fish Tank

Build your elf a candy cane fishing pole and stick them on the side of your real fishing tank!

7. Roomba Riding

What better way to entertain your children than to secure their elf to the top of a robot vacuum and let them ride around the house?

8. Banana Disguise

Do you have a bunch of bananas sitting in the fruit bowl? If so, buy your family this adorable elf banana costume and let them camouflage themselves. 

9. Marker Face with Selfies

This one is a little bit naughty but also hilarious! Take a washable marker and draw a silly face on your child while they’re sleeping. Then put the elf nearby with the market and make it look like they’ve been taking selfies. 

10. Sack Race

If you grab a stack of brown paper lunch bags, you can put your elf and a selection of other toys inside them to make it look like a sack race. 

11. It’s “Toasty” in Here

Print out a sign that says, “It’s toasty in here.” Then, you’ll make a piece of toast and stick elfie’s arms through it to make it look like he’s wearing the toast.

12. Elf Burrito

Wrap your elf up in a tortilla like a burrito!

13. Candle S’mores

This Etsy seller has created a s’mores kit for Elf on the Shelf. Sit your scout elf up in front of a candle with their s’mores supplies.

14. Rudolph Noses

Take some red pompoms and stick them to everyone’s nose in a framed family photo. 

15. KitKat Jenga

Buy a bunch of KitKats, and then let your elf build a Jenga game for the family. This one will be not only silly and fun but also delicious!

16. Banana Minions

Another simple idea for busy nights! Take a permanent marker and draw minion faces on your bananas.

17. Staircase Sledding

If you’re feeling crafty, I highly recommend setting up an elf-sized sled on your home’s staircase banister. 

18. Shoe Train

Help your kids find their shoes in the morning by creating a shoe train with elfie sitting in the front. 

19. Balloon Barricade

This one will probably be a kid’s favorite! Blow up a bunch of balloons and then create a bedroom door barricade with crepe paper. Imagine your child’s surprise when they run through in the morning. 

Elf on the Shelf Kits Can Simplify this Family Christmas Tradition

Listen, I get that life gets busy, and it can be challenging to plan these activities. If you want an easy solution, you could buy a convenient kit with all the ideas and Elf on the Shelf accessories you need for a fun scout elf season. 

No matter what you choose to do, I can promise you that your little ones won’t soon forget any of their elf’s yuletide antics!

Click here to subscribe

What are some of your favorite Elf on the Shelf ideas?

Holiday Articles Link Round-Up

Want some more ideas for holiday fun? Check out these great articles!

Christmas Party Activities

How to Not Do Santa

Baby’s First Christmas Ornament

Matching Christmas Pajamas

Christmas Movies for Toddlers