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These Are the 53 Best Elf on the Shelf Ideas for Parents

These Are the 53 Best Elf on the Shelf Ideas for Parents

We asked our readers to share their best Elf on the Shelf ideas, and they served up mischievous, funny, and simple ideas you can easily recreate!


We asked for your best Elf on the Shelf ideas, and boy did you deliver! Whether you’re for or against Elf on the Shelf, one thing’s for certain: Our feeds are flooded with brilliant, easy, mischievous, laugh-out-loud ideas for your tiny visitor from the North Pole. 

In case you’re not familiar with the Elf on the Shelf (though these days, it seems like everyone is…), it’s based on a book by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell. Aebersold started this tradition with her children, where a Scout Elf is sent from the North Pole to keep an eye on your kids during the holiday season. The idea is that the Elf on the Shelf returns to the North Pole each night to give Santa an update on whether your kids were naughty or nice that day, helping Santa determine who belongs on the nice list this year.

After Thanksgiving, the Scout Elves start to make appearances across social media, when parents share the antics their elves have gotten up to. Coming up with a new idea each night until Christmas can be tiring, so we asked our friends on Facebook to share their best Elf on the Shelf ideas, and here’s what they came up with. Do you have a clever, mischievous, simple, or hilarious idea? Share a pic with us!

Simple Elf on the Shelf Ideas

1. Elf on the Shelf Ball Pit Idea

We know kids love ball pits, so why shouldn’t your Elf on the Shelf get in on the fun, too? All you need is a box, some pom-poms of various sizes, and viola!

elf on the shelf in a ball pit

2. Elf on the Playing a Game Idea

Everyone loves playing games, especially elves. Whether you have a small bowling game, Connect 4, Jenga, or your child’s favorite board game handy, set it up and make it look like your Elf on the Shelf is playing and competing against other toys.

elf on the shelf playing games

3. Elf on the Shelf Sled Idea

Nothing screams winter fun quite like sledding! Just grab two candy canes, tape them to the bannister on your stairs, and put Elf on the candy toboggan for a downhill adventure. Just make sure your kids don’t emulate your Elf and slide down the bannister themselves!

elf on the shelf candy cane sled

4. Elf on the Shelf Christmas Bucket List Idea

This super simple Elf on the Shelf idea is genius! Write out a few Christmas bucket list items for your kids, like making a gingerbread house, seeing Christmas lights, eating candy canes, or building a snowman, then do them with your kids. Your kids can then write notes to the Elf about checking off the tasks on the list.

elf on the shelf christmas bucket list

5. Elf on the Shelf Drinking Coffee Idea

Keeping an eye on the kids while traveling back and forth to the North Pole each night is exhausting, so of course your Elf on the Shelf needs a little caffeine boost! Cut a straw down to elf size, stick it in a Keurig pod, and you’ve got a to-go cup of java for your Elf. Or you can borrow a cup from your kids tea set and fill it with coffee, tea, or cocoa.

elf on the shelf drinking coffee

6. Elf on the Shelf Riding Dinosaur Idea

Got a spare dinosaur, toy motorcycle, stuffed dog, or other animal? Prop your Elf atop whatever toy you find and let them go for a joy ride.

elf on the shelf riding dinosaur

7. Elf on the Shelf Self Portrait Idea

Everyone loves a good (s)elfie, even elves! You can either sketch a self portrait or have your Elf take a selfie on your phone, then print it out for your child.

elf on the shelf selfie

8. Elf on the Shelf in Freezer Idea

Elves love the cold, right? Follow these steps to freeze your Elf and stick 'em in the freezer. Put your Elf on the Shelf inside a water tight plastic bag to prevent him from getting wet. Squeeze the air out of the bag before sealing, put in a freezer proof container, and fill with water. Freeze the container, then take out of the freezer and cut the plastic bag away down to the ice level.

9. Elf on the Shelf Fort Building Idea

Are your kids fort-building masters? Get your Elf on the Shelf in on the action. This fort is built out of Jenga tiles, you could but anything is fair game as building materials. Amp up the fun factor and have your Elf challenge your kids to build an epic fort. Then leave it up overnight and have your Elf take over the fort for their own use.

elf on the shelf building fort

10. Elf on the Shelf Hammock Idea

Again, keeping an eye on your kids and traveling to the North Pole and back every night is exhausting, and sometimes even the most magical creatures need to rest. Give your Elf a day off by letting them snooze in a hammock made out of a mask.

elf on the shelf mask hammock

11. Elf on the Shelf Hanukkah Idea

Are you a family that celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas? If you have extra gelt, this is a cute idea to tie the two holidays together for your kids. And if you don’t celebrate both, setting up a vignette like this is the perfect opportunity to teach your kids about other holidays that are celebrated this time of year.

elf on the shelf hanukkah

12. Elf on the Shelf Taking a Nap Idea

If your Elf needs a second day of napping, turn a gift box and tissue paper into a comfy, festive bed under the tree!

elf on the shelf bed

13. Elf on the Shelf Shoe Train Idea

Are your kids shoes still laying around the living room even though you asked them to pick them up dozens of times? Use them to create a shoe train around the tree. And since your kids can’t touch the Elf, it might teach them a (small) lesson about not picking up after themselves.

elf on the shelf shoe train

14. Elf on the Shelf Sleigh Idea

Does your Elf on the Shelf have a Reindeer friend? Set up a sleigh and make it look like your Elf just got back from the North Pole. Make sure to tuck a cozy blanket in the sleigh to keep Elf warm!

elf on the shelf in sleigh

15. Elf on the Shelf Getting Snacks Idea

All this hard work will definitely work up an appetite. And there’s nothing simpler than making it look like your Elf is digging into your child’s favorite cereal.

elf on the shelf snack

16. Elf on the Shelf Making Paper Snowflakes Idea

The lack of snow so far this winter really has us itching to make our own. Have your Elf create a flurry of paper snowflakes. And make sure to leave out some supplies for your kids to make their own! It’s an easy way to keep the kids occupied for a few minutes.

elf on the shelf making paper snowflakes

17. Elf on the Shelf Getting Toasty Idea

The Elf is toasty! Get it?! Just remember to keep your Elf away from the toaster…wouldn’t want any mishaps!

toasty elf on the shelf

18. Elf on the Shelf Playing Uno Idea

Your Elf can pass the time while your kids are sleeping and at school by playing Uno with some other seasonal friends!

elf on the shelf playing uno

19. Elf on the Shelf Doing Yoga Idea

Help your Elf relax and de-stress a little before a day of kid watching. A simple yoga pose will surely do the trick! 

elf on the shelf yoga

20. Elf on the Shelf Eating Pudding Idea

Chances are, if you’ve got sweet kids’ snacks around, your Elf will get into them. After all, Buddy the Elf told us all that elves love all foods with sugar in them.

elf on the shelf eating pudding

21. Elf on the Shelf Melted Snowman Idea

Okay, this clever idea made us actually LOL. A melted snowman? Genius. Just add some water to a bowl or baking dish, and add in items for eyes, the nose, arms, and mouth. Don’t forget to add a note.

elf on the shelf melted snowman

Elf on the Shelf Hiding Ideas

1. Elf on the Shelf Hiding from Dad’s Fart Idea

Okay, so the Elf isn’t hiding from your child, per se, but he is hiding from the gross smell that Dad made. Yuck! And what child doesn’t love a good fart joke?

elf on the shelf hiding from fart

2. Elf on the Shelf Hiding in Fridge Idea

The fridge is the perfect place for your Elf on the Shelf to hide. After all, it’s cold like the North Pole. But chances are he’ll get a little bored and get into some mischief while waiting for your child to find him.

elf on the shelf in fridge

3. Elf on the Shelf Hiding in Microwave Idea 

Did your Elf make a midnight snack and fall asleep with a full tummy? Just make sure you won’t need the microwave for a day since you can’t touch the Elf!

elf on the shelf in microwave

4. Elf on the Shelf Hiding with Bananas

We almost didn’t spot the Elf in this picture. She’s hiding so well with those bananas! What other foods can your Elf be disguised as?

elf on the shelf banana



5. Elf on the Shelf Hiding in Candy Canes

Since elves love sugar so much, it only makes sense that they’d hide with candy canes! So grab a glass jar, fill it with the wrapped candy of your choice (don’t want Elf to get sticky!), and let your child find it. Bonus: Your kids get to enjoy the candy the next day.

elf on the shelf hiding in candy

6. Elf on the Shelf Hiding in Cereal Box

Another clever hiding tactic! Cut the face out of the mascot on your kids’ favorite cereal box and have your Elf peek through. Then sit back and see how long it takes your kids to notice the Elf watching them at breakfast.

elf on the shelf hiding in cereal box

Elf on the Shelf Mischievous Ideas

1. Elf on the Shelf with Bad Milk Idea

We love a good pun, and this is one of the best we’ve seen when it comes to Elf on the Shelf ideas! Simply draw a menacing face on your jug of milk and make it look like your Elf was taken hostage.

elf on the shelf bad milk pun

2. Elf on the Shelf Candy Raid Idea

These little guys can’t seem to get enough sugar! This Elf on the Shelf found the candy stash in the upper cupboard and used cans of veggies to get him high enough to reach the sweet treats.

elf on the shelf raiding candy stash

3. Elf on the Shelf Googly Eye Idea

Add googly eyes to all the framed pictures in your house as a fun prank the Elf plays on the whole family!

4. Elf on the Shelf Photocopier Fun Idea

Who doesn’t love having fun with the copier? We’re sure you did this as a kid (and maybe even as an adult?), so you know what to do!

elf on the shelf copier fun

5. Elf on the Shelf Drawing on Fruit Idea

These mischievous elves love drawing on things, and I guess drawing on a banana isn’t the worst thing they could do. Fingers crossed it doesn’t evolve into drawing on the walls!

elf on the shelf drawing on bananas

6. Elf on the Shelf Grating Carrot Idea

Poor carrot! Sure this Elf might be being helpful by grading a carrot for you, but adding a face to the veggie takes this vignette to a whole other level.

elf on the shelf grating carrot

7. Elf on the Shelf Playing Prank on Dad Idea

Kids sure do love pulling pranks on their parents, and as long as it’s an innocent prank, we can totally get behind it! And painting Dad’s toenails is as innocent as it gets. Write up a cute rhyme to help the kids figure out what the prank is and see how long it takes them to solve it.

elf on the shelf pranking dad

8. Elf on the Shelf Play-Doh Fun Idea

Hide the Play-Doh from your Elf, otherwise your kids might wake up to this scene!

elf on the shelf play-doh fun

9. Elf on the Shelf Snow Angel Idea

This is a great idea for when there’s a fresh coating of snow on the ground! Sprinkle some flour on the counter and have your Elf make a snow angel.

elf on the shelf snow angel

10. Elf on the Shelf Snowball Fight Idea

We love a good snowball fight, and mini marshmallows make the perfect snowballs for your Elf. This is a great idea if your family has 2 elves, or use another season figure instead. Bonus: Using holiday themed snack cakes as snowball forts make for a sweet treat for your kiddos!

elf on the shelf snowball fight

11. Elf on the Shelf Don’t Swallow Gum Idea

Now this really made us laugh out loud! While we know this doesn’t happen if you swallow gum, the look on your kids’ faces will be priceless when they see this.

elf on the shelf swallow gum

12. Elf on the Shelf Trapping Each Other Idea

Another idea if you have more than one Elf? Make it look like one is taping the other to the wall, inside the door of a cabinet, or somewhere else. It’s almost like the elves are acting out your kids fantasy of dealing with their siblings…

elf on the shelf trapping each other

Elf on the Shelf Bathroom Ideas

1. Elf on the Shelf Spa Idea

After a few weeks of scouting for Santa, your Elf on the Shelf might need a spa day to relax, rest, and recharge for a few more weeks of spying keeping an eye on your kids.

elf on the shelf spa day

2. Elf on the Shelf Toothpaste Message Idea

Now this is a good way to make sure your kids brush their teeth in the morning! Just make sure you have an extra tube of toothpaste for your little ones to use since they can’t touch the Elf.

elf on the shelf toothpaste message

3. Elf on the Shelf Reindeer Poop Idea

Okay, so this technically isn’t in the bathroom, but it is bathroom related…and it’ll show your kids that everyone has to clean up after their pets! Scatter a few chocolate chips around as your Elf’s pet’s poop and make your Elf clean it up. Wanna gross your kids out? Eat one of the chocolate chips in front of your kiddos. Ha!

elf on the shelf reindeer poop

4. Elf on the Shelf Pea’d Idea

Another good pun! Spell out the message in peas and see if your kids have the same sense of humor that you have.

elf on the shelf pea

5. Elf on the Shelf Potty Humor Idea

What kid doesn’t think potty humor is hilarious?! These fun rhymes are perfect for an Elf on the Shelf bathroom idea.

elf on the shelf potty humor

Elf on the Shelf Ideas for Bringing Gifts and Playing Games with Kids

1. Elf on the Shelf Baking Cookies Idea

Homemade cookies are a delicious treat! And it’s even better if the cookies are freshly baked in the morning before your kids get up. That way, they wake up to the smell of cookies in the oven. And there’s no better way to wake up than that!

elf on the shelf baking cookies

2. Elf on the Shelf Playing the Floor is Lava Idea

Okay, we can seriously get behind this game! Playing the floor is lava in the morning is a great way to wake up and get energized for the day. Or maybe there’s only one room in the house where the floor is lava all day and the whole family can’t step on the floor in that room all day. That’ll really catch Mom and Dad off guard and the last one standing is the winner.

elf on the shelf the floor is lava

3. Elf on the Shelf Gifting Hot Cocoa Idea

Who doesn’t love hot cocoa during the holidays? Make a cute cocoa kit for your kids, with a holiday mug, a gourmet cocoa powder or a hot chocolate bomb, and some marshmallows. You can also add in some chocolate covered pretzels to stir the cocoa with.

elf on the shelf hot cocoa

4. Elf on the Shelf Giving Kids PJs Idea

If your kids get new Christmas pajamas each year, let your Elf bring them for a change. 

elf on the shelf pajamas

5. Elf on the Shelf Hitting Piñata Idea

This tiny piñata is adorable—where do you even find one that small?! Give your Elf a tiny blindfold and stick, and make it look like they broke open the piñata, spilling sweet treats out on the counter for your kids.

elf on the shelf pi?ata

6. Elf on the Shelf Scavenger Hunt Idea

There are a few ways you could set this up. You can hide candy canes or other items around the house. Or you can write a series of clues your kids need to solve leading them to a bigger gift from your Elf.

elf on the shelf scavenger hunt

7. Elf on the Shelf Tic Tac Toe Idea

This idea is good for a few days of Elf on the Shelf fun! Have your Elf start the game, then have your kid make a move. Each night, your Elf will make another move for your child to match until the game is over. All you need is bows in two colors, and tape some ribbon in the shape of a tic tac toe board.

elf on the shelf tic tac toe

8. Elf on the Shelf Toilet Paper Snowman Idea

Stack a few rolls of toilet paper. Cut out some black dots for the eyes, mouth, and buttons and an orange triangle out of construction paper. Attach them and some ribbon for a scarf on the TP. You’ve got yourself an un-meltable snowman!

elf on the shelf snowman

9. Elf on the Shelf Playing Twister Idea

This Elf on the Shelf idea is perfect for a weekend! If your family already owns Twister, have your Elf set up to help spin. And if you don’t already have the game, let your Elf gift it to your kids. It’s the perfect family activity without leaving the house.

elf on the shelf twister

Main image by PhotosByMegann/shutterstock.com

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Katelin Walling

Author: Katelin Walling is the former editorial director for NYMetroParents. She has been writing about parenting, health, finance, education, fun things to do in NYC and the surrounding area, and more for nearly 10 years. She also has 20+ years of child care experience and was a babysitter in NYC for 8 years. Katelin graduated from the University of Maine in 2011 and attended the NYU Summer Publishing Institute during the summer of 2011. To unplug in her free time, she can often be found reading, knitting (or general crafting), or whipping up a vegan treat—all with a cup of coffee nearby. See More

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