How to make Alina’s advent activity chain with kids.

Three kids means one chocolate candy inside the advent calendar becomes a daily hassle. And painting has been all the rage around the castle these days. So here’s what we did and how we did it.

The “why” is always more convoluted, though this time it includes something like wanting an advent calendar tradition- a new one that must be carefully handmade every year as a cooperative acitivity rather than one which we take out of old boxes. Add to that the inspiration of a traditional advent chain in which you snip off each box as the day passes (oh the joy of watching the chain get shorter!) and it was clear something new was in the air.

watercolor paints
old newspapers
a clothing iron
printout of “alina’s advent chain” (see below)
cotton thread and needle or sewing machine
long piece of twine or ribbon
shape stencils (if you prefer)

Alina’s Advent Chain (PDF)

First the kids painted some old newspapers we had lying around the house. Free style painting always looks good when hits are at the wheel. We set them aside to dry.

Then I printed out the advent chain printable and snuck away to a secret corner to cut out the numbers and activities. I like to give the gift of surprise concerning our activities for the day- and the kids tend to look forward to it more that way.

Next I made a few notes for myself in my planner about what activity would take place on what day- some activities require a bit of prep work.

To finish the advent chain pieces, we borrowed some neat tips from Michele on how to iron painted newsprint. The kids enjoyed crumpling and “scrunching” their painted newsprint and then I took out the iron and ironed the crumpled paper flat. Occupational hazard: newsprint and watercolor dust still on my fingertips.

Scissors appeared and the kids cut squares and rectangles from the ironed, painted newsprint. I cut a sample size for them as a model. No sense in being surprised that they can’t guess the right size if I don’t show them.

As I scurried back to the sewing room with the rectangles and dates and activities, I left out some newsprint and watercolor for the kids so they could paint some more wrapping paper. Meanwhile, I threaded my machine with white thread on top and red thread in the bobbin to add a little zest.

To close the packets, I folded over the rectangles with the fold at the top and placed a number inside the right folded area. I sewed around the loose edges, binding them together, pausing to insert a tightly-folded activity into each packet before sealing it shut (and backstitching to secure it).

I went through this process for all 31 days (we are doing 31 days because the holidays really continue up until the new year).

Then I got a piece of twine and placed each date in reverse order starting with 31 at the top and 1 at the bottom. Once I knew where I wanted them, I used a marker to make little notches in the exact location on the twine.

Finally, I went back to the sewing machine and attached the packets to the twine using the notches as a guide. Since a super-long chain was prey to pulling little Milla hands, I ended up sewing two uneven chains which sit side by side (with the help of a little washi tape) along the old ikea bookshelf that has travelled through four different apartments and seven states with me.

I love the colors, the tiny details, the way in which our calendar this year isn’t another overwhelming space of red and green gooeyness. The kids are already wondering what is in each day and have spent time picking their “favorite color day”. Who knows- perhaps our advent chain will emerge as an opportunity for perfecting our counting and number recognition?

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