Last year, my kids came home from school talking about their class “Elf on the Shelf.” While I was familiar with the popular toy, I wasn’t aware my children knew about it. Their teachers had introduced the concept as a writing prompt (“What do you think the Elf does at night?”), and the children really enjoying seeing the Elf in new, funny situations every morning.
Pretty soon, they were asking for an Elf for our house. I wasn’t too keen on the idea. My children believe in Santa Claus (as linked to the legend of Saint Nicholas) and know that he “knows if you’ve been bad or good.”
“Since Santa already knows, why would he need an Elf in our house, watching?” I asked.
“He’s silly and cute!” the kids said. “We want to see where he is in the morning!”
I talked to them a few more times and finally I was convinced that that was their only motive — they didn’t see anything sinister in the Elf. They thought the idea was cute and funny and liked the weird things the Elf would “do” at night. I went out and bought our very own Elf on the Shelf.
While the concept of the Elf on the Shelf is to watch children and report their bad behavior to Santa, I didn’t want to use him in that way. I wanted to focus on the good things the children did during the day because I wanted to reinforce their positive behavior. Since the Elf is supposed to be on the lookout for good behavior, I didn’t want the kids to wake up in the morning and find that the Elf had created a mess or been naughty. (Besides, whatever mess he made, I would have to clean up!)
Together my friends and I brainstormed some way the Elf on the Shelf could be turned from “looking for bad behavior” to “reinforcing good behavior” and “helping spread the joy of the holiday season”:
- Have the Elf leave a message for each child reporting something nice he “caught” them doing the day before.
- Once a week, the Elf can leave the children a “mission” from Santa. This mission asks to do something in the spirit of the season, like collecting canned goods for the food pantry, serving at a soup kitchen, or shopping for Toys for Tots.
- The Elf can leave a special treat for the family, like a new holiday movie or book, or tell the kids that today a special event will take place, such as breakfast with Santa or cookie making.
- Instead of making a mess at night, our Elf would show up in silly places, like inside a cereal box or sitting in the kids’ chair with an (empty) coffee cup and the remote.
- Use the Elf as a story starter. Ask the kids what they think he did that night, where he went, what the Elf likes, and so on. If your child is a pre-writer, have him or her dictate the story to you. These would be wonderful to keep and bring out every holiday season to re-read!
- In that same vein, the Elf could travel. Send the Elf to friends and have them take pictures of the Elf celebrating their special holiday traditions with them. Have them write about the Elf’s travels in a special journal and, at the end of the season, you will have a fun book of adventures to read!
The possibilities for fun with the Elf on the Shelf are really endless. I never thought we would be welcoming an Elf into our home. However, the Herd loves him and thinks he’s great. They are already asking about making cookies for him and when he will be appearing at our house, so I think our positive Elf on the Shelf has a been a great success and influence!