December brings a lot of things. There’s anticipation. There’s excitement. There’s spirit. There are decorations and lights. There are lists and presents. And most of all, there’s waiting— waiting for the day when Christmas is celebrated. From long ago, the tradition and practice of this waiting have been called Advent. It’s all about preparing oneself for the Christmas celebration, just as the Jewish people prepared and waited for their coming Savior. Here are 12 simple Advent ideas to use in your early childhood ministry or to share with families of littles. Each idea is centered around a Scripture and reinforced with a fun activity.
- What is Advent?
If you’re going to do Advent, you need to teach kids what it is and what it means! Toddlers are developing and learning at an amazing rate, so it’s possible to help them get excited about Christmas in this way. Advent means waiting for the arrival (or coming) of a notable person, thing, or event. In toddler terms, it’s waiting for something special to happen. Kids are familiar with waiting, even when they are one or two. They have to wait on mom to change their diaper or dad to get them a snack, or their teacher to take a turn to play with them. Talk to them about these everyday things they must wait for. Then turn the conversation to waiting to celebrate Christmas. Make sure they know that we celebrate this time of year to remember when God sent Jesus as a baby. Read Isaiah 9:6a (NIrV) to them, “A child will be born to us. A son will be given to us.” Explain that this was a promise given a very long time ago. The people had to wait for Jesus to come. End your time by doing this waiting activity. Place a small snack such as fruit snacks in front of each child but tell them they cannot eat it yet. Allow some time and talk about waiting patiently. Then let them eat their snack in celebration of the Christmas season.
- An Angel Visits Mary
While all of God’s people were in anxious waiting, God chose Mary to give birth to Jesus. Toddlers can relate to this because they have a mom (or someone in their lives) who takes care of them. Read Luke 1:30-31, “But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary. God is very pleased with you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son. You must call him Jesus.’” Talk to kids about how God chose Mary to be Jesus’ mommy. And God chooses each one of us to do special things, too. We do important things when we obey God. Bring out a mirror and have each child look at themselves. Point out the eyes, ears, and nose. Talk about how God made each part of them, and He made them special.
- Mary and Joseph Travel to Bethlehem
Teach toddlers about the long trip Mary and Joseph had to take right before Jesus was born. Read Luke 2:4-5, which says, “So Joseph went also. He went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea. That is where Bethlehem, the town of David, was. Joseph went there because he belonged to the family line of David. He went there with Mary to be listed. Mary was engaged to him. She was expecting a baby.” Talk about their travel and having to go to Bethlehem to be counted for a census. Play a game similar to “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.” Line children up and do a headcount out loud. Then have them follow you all around your classroom space. Take big steps and little steps. Pretend to climb and crawl your way through a journey. When you finish, do another headcount.
- No Room
As the Christmas story continues, we know that when Mary and Joseph got to Bethlehem, there was no place for them to stay. No hotels, no motels, not a room in sight. The only thing available was a basic barn out back. So, that’s where they stayed. Luke 2:7b gives us this information when it states, “Then she placed him in a manger. That’s because there was no guest room where they could stay.” To help kids remember this detail of the Messiah’s birth, play a hide and seek game. Use a toy barn or the stable part of a nativity set and hide it in your classroom space. Have the kids look and look until they find the place where Mary and Joseph stayed.
- Jesus is Born!
Perhaps the most exciting part of the Christmas story is when baby Jesus is born. There were no exciting surroundings besides most likely the sound of noisy animals in the stable area. But what a precious and beautiful picture is painted when you read Luke 2:6-7a. “While Joseph and Mary were there, the time came for the child to be born. She gave birth to her first baby. It was a boy. She wrapped him in large strips of cloth. Then she placed him in a manger.” Have kids act out Mary taking care of baby Jesus. Use a baby doll and wrap it up in a blanket, gently placing it in a box. To further illustrate this moment, read a children’s Christmas book that retells the story of Jesus’ birth. Kids will enjoy seeing pictures that will help them understand this most important moment.
Celebrating is what Christmas is about. We celebrate because Jesus, the long-awaited Savior came. Read John 3:16 to further explain why this is so important. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.” Children learn plenty about celebrating with gifts and other traditions but be sure they know that the real reason to celebrate is because of Jesus. Kids will love a happy birthday celebration for Jesus. What better what to celebrate a birthday than to throw a party. Get some party hats, confetti, and mini cupcakes. Honor Jesus in this special way. Sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and enjoy cake!
- The Shepherds
After Jesus was born, the world needed to know. The very first people chosen to hear the good news was the shepherds who were out watching their flocks by night. Have kids pretend to be sheep by crawling around and baaing. Play the song, “Go Tell it on the Mountain” intermittently and have kids stand up and dance when the music is going, then go back to being sheep when you pause the sound. Read from Luke 2:8-10 to share what happened, “There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby. It was night and they were taking care of their sheep. An angel of the Lord appeared to them. And the glory of the Lord shone around them. They were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news. It will bring great joy for all the people.’”
- The Angels
We’re all enamored by angels. These beautiful beings are a vital part of the Christmas story as they gave messages to different people. Have kids picture angels lighting up the night sky. Have them turn on and hold flashlights while you turn off the lights. Luke 2:13-14 says, “Suddenly a large group of angels from heaven also appeared. They were praising God. They said, ‘May glory be given to God in the highest heaven! And may peace be given to those he is pleased with on earth.’” Sing some traditional Christmas songs with your toddlers to praise God just like the angels did.
- The Star
When Jesus was born, God placed a special star in the sky. Wise Men from the East followed it to find the newborn Savior. Matthew 2:10 says, “When they saw the star, they were filled with joy.” Help children recognize several shapes by showing them cutouts of familiar ones: circle, square, triangle, etc. Be sure to include a star. Make a simple ornament by cutting out star shapes from cardboard or cardstock. Hole punch the top and tie a piece of yarn through it. Have toddlers use crayons to color and decorate their star ornament as a reminder of the important star that pointed to baby Jesus.
- The Wisemen
Everybody likes getting gifts at Christmas. The giving and the receiving are both fun – mostly receiving when it comes to two-year-olds! Share about the wise men’s experience by reading Matthew 2:11. “The Wise Men went to the house. There they saw the child with his mother Mary. They bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures. They gave him gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Give each child a small gift in a paper sack to open. This could be something simple like a sucker or sticker.
- Putting it All Together
Put the whole Christmas story together (Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the shepherds, angels, and wise men). Review the different parts and use a nativity set (Little People makes a great one!) for some hands-on fun. Pass out the different pieces, and have children place them in the scene as you retell the story. Remind kids that we celebrate because God sent Jesus to earth as a baby.
- He’s Coming Again
As exciting as the Christmas story is, there’s more excitement that we are awaiting. Our current Advent is waiting for the arrival of Jesus to return. John 14:3 says, “If I go and do that, I will come back. And I will take you to be with me. Then you will also be where I am.” Jesus is in heaven now, but one day will return. And we who are followers get to be in heaven with him forever. Talk with toddlers about their very favorite things. Perhaps they will mention their special blanket or stuffed animal, a favorite snack, or mom or dad. Tell them that going to heaven with Jesus one day when he comes back will be even better than having all of those things. It will be beautiful and wonderful, an amazing treasure. Make sensory totes for kids to play in by putting together boxes of shredded paper. Hide treasures such as fake jewels or special rocks for kids to find. Remind kids that heaven will be full of wonderful things, especially since Jesus is there.
In just a few minutes, you can capture your toddler audience with the truths of the Christmas story. Make them have meaning by doing these simple Advent lessons during your holiday season, and help your kids get excited about the arrival of the Christmas celebration.