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Unique ideas for your elf on the shelf

Posted at 1:35 PM, Dec 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-09 15:35:19-05

Every parent knows the Elf on the Shelf provides great motivation to help kids stay “nice” during the holidays and it prevents “bad behavior” because the elf is watching. Now that Elf on the Shelf has become such a huge hit, it gives parents, teachers and educators opportunities to motivate children at home and at school to participate in fun Elf on the Shelf activities that build their gross and fine motor skills, vestibular systems, proprioception, sensory systems and also creates more opportunities for activities that help retained primitive reflexes and midline crossing.

This year Integrated Learning Strategies is devoting an entire series to Elf on the Shelf as a way to give parents, Occupational Therapists and teachers ideas on how to integrate activities in your child’s everyday routine to help their development and educational growth.

The topics we will discuss in the upcoming Elf on the Shelf series include the following:

  • Gross Motor and Midline (toys and exercises that get kids moving)
  • Fine Motor (activities that will help a child with hand movements, hand strength and hand-eye coordination)
  • Sensory Touch and Texture (any activity that will aid your child’s sensory with texture and touch)
  • Sensory Foods/Smells and Sight (activities to help your child become more familiar with foods, tastes, smells, and sound)

Today we will provide a small peak into some of the activities we will be featuring on our series, but this does not include all activities. For more ideas and details on each part of the Elf on the Shelf series, please visit

Elf on the Shelf Activities

Snow Angels (Texture – Sensory Input)

Add flour generously to your table or countertop. Place your elf on top of the flour and help him make a snow angel in the flour. When your child wakes up, you can do some fun activities with the flour as a sensory activity with the texture (for example, flour fight, making dough, writing letters or words in the flour). If you would like to turn this idea into a gross motor activity, have your children go outside and create snow angels in the snow.

Snow Ball Fight (Texture – Sensory Input)

Add flour generously to your table or countertop. Buy a variety of small and large marshmallows. Create a fun snow fort with the large marshmallows for the elf and another stuffed animal. Use the small marshmallows to create a snowball fight scene with your elf and another stuffed animal. Have your child play with the flour and marshmallows using imaginative play so they get the sensory input with the different textures. If you want to turn this idea into a gross motor activity, have your children go outside and have a real snowball fight with friends and family.

Toilet Paper Rolling (Gross Motor)

This is an easy and fun activity to do at home and doesn’t require very much effort. If you have stairs in your home or classroom, unroll a little bit of the toilet paper and put your elf inside the roll so his arms and legs are sticking out. Place the elf on the stairs with a little bit of the toilet paper lagging behind the elf so it appears he has been rolling down the stairs. When your child finds the elf, help them roll around your house or even take them to a park with some hills so they can roll down the hills. This is extremely important and effective for your child’s vestibular system. The vestibular system helps your child process information (commonly thought of as a hearing problem), improves retention of letters and words, encourages speech and language development and builds their balance and muscle strength.

Play Dough Cutters (Fine Motor)

A great fine motor activity not only includes play dough, but rolling pins, slicers, and cookie cutters. Create a scene where the elf is cutting and molding the play dough. Have your children use the cutters, slicers and rolling pins to mold the dough and create animals and other figures. This will help your child develop fine motor skills for handwriting, hand-eye coordination, pencil grip and other fine motor development.

Swing (Gross Motor)

This is by far one of the best activities for both the elf and the kids. You can use either an empty toilet paper roll or a toilet paper roll that is not yet fully used, which is similar to a tire swing you may find at the park. Loop a piece of string through the toilet paper roll and then find a place to hang the elf so it appears like he is swinging. When your child finds the elf swinging, find a time and a warmer day to take them to the park, even in the winter. Swinging is one of the best activities you can do with your child, especially if they struggle with learning challenges. Encourage them to swing the traditional way, but also have them swing backward and on their stomach. Another swinging activity you want to do is help your child twist the swing like licorice and then let them go as they spin back to normal position. If you have a tire swing at your park, that’s even better. Swinging helps your child’s vestibular system, provides them with sensory input, and strengthens their arms, legs and core. Our sensory seekers love to swing and can’t get enough of it. It helps with attention, focus, balance and coordination.

Bubble Wrap Paint (Fine Motor and Sensory)

This activity can be used to help your child develop both their sensory systems and fine motor skills. Take your rolling pin and tape a piece of bubble wrap over the entire surface of the rolling pin. Paint the bubble wrap with multiple colors and roll your creation on a sheet of white paper. Position your elf to show he was painting all night. When your child wakes up, help them recreate this activity on their own to develop their fine motor skills. You will also want to give them the leftover bubble wrap so they can pop the bubbles for a great sensory activity.

Hula Hoop (Gross Motor and Midline)

Set up your elf so he or she is sitting. Place your own hula hoop near the elf on the floor. When your kids find the elf, they can hula hoop with the elf to help strengthen their legs and core. It is also a great activity for their balance and coordination. To incorporate a midline activity, have your child put the hula hoop on the ground. Help them put one foot in the hoop, then cross the opposite food behind their standing leg (doing the grapevine) and bring their standing leg to the outside of the hoop. Grapevine back and forth with opposite legs and feet using the hoop.

Joey Jumper (Gross Motor)

This is one of the best activities we have at our center for building your child’s gross motor skills while also improving their hand-eye coordination, and it is good all year long. This activity helps your child get their thoughts down on paper and helps them copy instructions from the board to their worksheets. Have your child place the bean bags on one end of the stepper and have them stomp their foot on the opposite end of the stepper, which projects the bean bag into the air so your child can catch the bean bag. Have your child use both right and left feet for this activity and complete as many times as they can.

Balance Boards (Gross Motor)

Help your elf balance on one of the balance boards of your choice. When your child finds your elf balancing on one of these items, they will want to join in. Balancing is great for your child’s core. They have to stabilize themselves on the board without falling off. This can be tough for children with low muscle tone or if they tend to bump into furniture, walls and other people. While doing this activity, you can play music to make it more fun or even play memory games by asking them questions (for example, asking them to recite letters, numbers and multiplication facts).