24 Quick and Simple Elf on the Shelf Ideas

Surely you’ve seen The Elf on the Shelf tradition make waves on your friends’ social media pages during the holidays. Maybe you’re an elf pro in need of some fresh ideas or maybe you’re just wanting to start a new tradition in your home. Either way, this post will guide you through the tradition of The Elf on the Shelf and give you lots of tidbits when it comes to setting up scenes and where you can find some of the fun accessories and items that often go along with these elves.

What is The Elf on the Shelf

This is a Christmas tradition about elves who fly back to the North Pole each night to give Santa reports on that day’s activities. Kids love to see the antics the elves are up to and word is, the elves tend to encourage best behavior out of children since the elves are reporting back to Santa.

How It Works

First, you’ll need to adopt an elf if you don’t already have one. Grab your boy elf or girl elf to start. Then you can read the book as a family to understand the tradition of The Elf on the Shelf as well as the rules. Don’t forget to name your elf and tell them about your Christmas wishes, too.

Biggest rule is that you cannot touch the elf or they will lose their magic. Your family’s elf will return to the North Pole on Christmas Eve in order to help Santa get ready for Christmas.

The set ups, antics, and messes the elves make are totally up to you now. Some people go all out with their elf antics and have elaborate scenes. If that’s too much for you, no worries, below are some very simple ideas that you can pull off with items you probably already have around your house.

How to Plan

I would come up with the list of ideas you want to use for your elf and map everything out on a calendar. This way, you’re not scavenging the night before or trying to come up with an idea. Take 10 minutes or so to plan ahead and make sure you have what you need. I’m also a big fan of setting reminders on my phone or calendar to alert me of important tasks. Set a daily reminder, for this season, to move your elf and change the scene at the same time each night (after your kids are in bed, of course) so you don’t forget!

Want a super simple planner that will tell you what to do each day and even give you a list of supplies you’ll need from week to week? Look no further!

Elf Ideas

Elf Welcome

The first day your elf arrives should be a special one. Have a little welcome party if you’d like, maybe with some wintery treats like hot chocolate and cookies. Your elf can bring a letter introducing (or reintroducing) themselves to the family, reminding everyone of the rules, and telling the kids how excited they are to be back again this year.

Decorate the Tree

Have your elf on the Christmas tree either tied up with ribbons (or a roll of toilet paper for extra laughs). It will appear that the elf has tried to decorate or redecorate the tree while everyone was sleeping.

Countdown to Christmas

Have your elf present an advent calendar to the family near the start of the season. This could be the advent calendar you use all year or it could be a simple paper chain countdown you make.

Elf Carpool

Plan this one for before the kids go on Christmas break. Have your elf hanging from the rearview mirror of the car for a funny carpool ride.

elf on the shelf hanging from the rear view mirror to surprise kids on the way to school

Elf Breakfast

Have elf make a festive breakfast one morning and have pancakes or waffles in fun shapes. Don’t forget the whipped cream and sprinkles!

Making S’mores

Create a little miniature marshmallow roasting scene for your elf. Even better if he brings s’mores ingredients for the whole family to enjoy that evening before bed.

Rock Climbing Elf

If you have a stone fireplace, this is a really fun and simple idea. Take large bows and stick them on your fireplace stone and make it look the elf is scaling the fireplace like a rock climber.

Game Night

Have elf building a tower or blocks or legos or playing a board game with other toy friends. You can use this as a great reason to have your own family game night this evening.

elf on the shelf building blocks with Cinderella, dinosaur, and cat friends


Let elf get into the candy stash or a box of cereal. This one might be a messier set up but the kids will find it hilarious that their elf made such a mess.

elf on the shelf making a mess in a pile of cereal

Elf Loves to Read

Set up your elf reading some of your family’s favorite Christmas books. You can even add other toys like stuffed animals, dolls, and mini characters or figurines to look like elf is reading a story to his friends.

Hiding in the Drawer

Have your elf hiding in the silverware drawer or another location that your children will be looking in during their morning routine. They’ll get a surprise when they see the elf laying next to the knives and forks.

elf on the shelf hiding in the utensil drawer

Scavenger Hunt

Have your elf leave a dozen candy canes or snowballs (or whatever else you can think of) around the house. This will keep your kids busy for a while as they hunt for their treasures.

Covered in Bandaids

Anyone else have toddlers or small children that are obsessed with bandaids and fixated on boo boos?! This one’s for you. Cover your elf up in bandaids, maybe set him up in a precarious situation, and then have some fun with your kids brainstorming what on earth happened to the poor guy.

elf on the shelf all covered and playing in the bandaid stash

Frozen Elf

Have an Elsa doll? Freeze your elf in water and have Elsa look like she froze him on the scene! Perfect for any Frozen loving kiddos.

Christmas Cards

Print out some blank Christmas coloring pages and have crafting supplies at the ready to make Christmas cards with your elf today.

Baking Mishap

Have your elf get twisted up in a whisk. It will take you 30 seconds but I promise you’ll get big laughs out of this one!

elf on the shelf twisted up inside of a baking whisk

Hanging Out

Have your elf hanging from a tall light fixture in your home one day. Kids will be amazed how the elf possibly got up there and elf will have a great view to keep an eye on things from above that day.

elf on the shelf hanging off of a light fixture in kids playroom


Elf is trying to see what’s in the Christmas presents this year! Have him peeking into a gift bag or sitting on top of wrapped gifts.

Snow Angels

Using rice, powdered sugar, or sprinkles, have elf making snow angels on the kitchen counter one morning. This would be especially fitting on a snowy day!

Christmas Madlib

Leave a blank madlib by your elf and have him write a note asking the kids to help him write this story. You can find madlibs all over online or you can write your own.

Sitting in a Stocking

This is about as simple as an idea can get but your kids will surely think seeing their elf perched peeking out of a stocking is funny.

Musical Elf

If you have a piano, you can boost up your elf to sit up on the keys as if he’s playing a song. No piano, use a record player or other sound system to create a musical scene.

elf on the shelf sitting on a guitar

Movie Night

Elf has a little drive in movie theater set up using toy cars and friends. Have him drop off popcorn and encourage the family to watch a Christmas classic with each other that night.

Goodbye Elf

To say goodbye to your elf, have him leave a note behind wishing everyone farewell until next year. You can get creative on how your elf is returning back to the North Pole, too. Maybe in a toy truck or Barbie Jeep, an airplane, or a homemade sleigh.

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