Advent for Kids: Practical tips for engaging students

Written by Stacy McNerney, Partner Success Lead, Hallow, [email protected]

Children often enjoy a magical–and meaningful–experience in the weeks leading up to Christmas, thanks to trusted adults in their lives.

Parents, grandparents, teachers, and more play a critical role helping children embrace the excitement of preparing for Jesus’s birth.

However, many everyday holiday activities are more focused on Christmas than Advent. It can be challenging for adults to know how to help children understand the liturgical season of Advent. Kids are bombarded with more secular holiday stimuli that are willing to bypass the period of waiting for Christ to plow full steam ahead to December 25.

Not only is Hallow a tremendous resource to support children in prayer during Advent, but with numerous former teachers and ministry leaders, we’ve got lots of ideas for ways to make Advent more meaningful for your little children, grandchildren, and students in your life.

Introduce Simple Advent Prayers for Children

Advent prayers, like all prayers, need not be overly complex or polished. Deliberately making time for God and for conversation with Him can help children draw closer to God during Advent.

Try a simple line of prayer that you can repeat each day in the morning (or tweak the wording to focus on the day ahead if prayed at night):

God, be with me today. Help my heart be open to the ways Jesus is at work in my life as I wait for His coming. Amen.

Participate in Las Posadas

Las Posadas is a more involved prayer but is absolutely worth the time. The Mexican tradition recalls the journey of Mary and Joseph before Christ’s birth.

Many churches celebrate Las Posadas and re-enact the Nativity over nine days beginning December 16.

Even if you can’t participate in Las Posadas, it’s still a good tradition for children to be aware of. It reminds them of the importance of hospitality and welcoming in those most in need.

“Just like the Holy Family needed help 2,000 years ago, there are people today who need our help and we need to open the doors of our hearts and let them in,” writes Rafael Lopez of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute.

You can also help children learn about Advent traditions in other cultures.

Try Mary on the Mantel

Mary on a Mantel, found in our Ultimate Catholic Gift Guide for Advent and Christmas 2023, is a clever way to appeal to the sense of wonder in young people.

Similar in concept to Elf on a Shelf, Mary on the Mantel is an interactive way for kids to prepare for the arrival of baby Jesus. Versions for parish and group use make it easy for teachers and parents alike to introduce.

The Mary doll is available in different tones, reminding children that Mary appears to people as they are.

Mary on the Mantel is most popular with littles, but older children can lend a helping hand.

It also provides the inspiration for Hallow’s 2023 Kids’ Advent Challenge. This challenge begins on Dec. 4. Redeem your NCEA educator discount and join the waitlist so that you can do the challenge with your students.

Make Christmas Music Your Background Sound

You can make simple holiday moments a bit holier with some music.

Hallow offers Advent and Christmas playlists that can bring the sounds of worship to activities like cookie baking/decorating, tree decorating, or gift wrapping.

You can also turn on music during car rides, opting for traditional Christmas music instead of Santa-focused tunes.

You might be surprised at how a religious hymn can stick in a child’s head or prompt conversation about the season’s meaning.

Make and Light an Advent Wreath

Advent wreaths (and candles) are beautiful, hands-on opportunities for children to participate in the waiting for Jesus that is the foundation of the Advent season.

Older children can use crafts and household items to create a wreath, while younger students can paint or color cutouts of candles.

For parents with an advent wreath at home, children can help light the candles, teaching them about the significance of each candle and reinforcing the meaning of the entire Advent season.

Pro tip: Salt dough provides a cheap and easy way to make the foundation for a wreath.

Create Your Own Advent Calendar Garland

Advent activities for kids can be simple, economical–and impactful. A great example of a creative way to help children take an active role in Advent comes from Reddit user Tassy820.

She explains how she turns the concept of an Advent calendar into a craft that helps to decorate her family tree.

I bought dollar tree white paper stars or ornament shapes, whatever they had that year. We strung a line for the garland, numbered each one 1-25 with watercolors (so the numbers were barely visible). I decorated the 25 with red and green glitter. We used mini clothespins and pinned them up. Every day when my daughter got up she decorated that day’s star with markers, fingerpaint, crayons, whatever. Watching the garland fill up helped her see how long she had to wait.

Celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas

Teaching children about St. Nicholas–the real, historical man as opposed to the cartoon-friendly “Jolly old St. Nick”–can help children appreciate and understand Advent in a new way.

The Vatican’s website describes St. Nicholas as a defender of the weak and as the patron of children and young people. He is known for his generosity and goodwill, traits that can sometimes get squeezed out of the secular celebration of Christmas.

Prepare for the arrival of infant Jesus by preparing for the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6. Children can actively participate by leaving a small gift for a friend or classmate.

This also can be an opportunity to introduce children to the concept of a novena. Pray the novena to St. Nicholas with them for nine days leading up to his feast day.

Hallow wishes you all a blessed Advent and joy-filled Christmas!