Want to make holiday magic – without breaking the bank? Not to worry! There are tons of fun Christmas activities for toddlers without a hefty price tag. Some of the best memories can be made through simple, budget-friendly ideas. Here’s some of our favorites, helping you keep the season fun and festive without straining your wallet.
1. Christmas Story Time
There are many ways to save money on books that help make story time a cheap – or even free – activity.
Start by seeing what you’ve already got on hand that’s holiday themed. You can also check out what your library has in stock. Don’t forget to also check in local mom Facebook groups or Buy Nothing groups to see if anyone is giving away Christmas-themed stories.
Once you’ve got your books, create a special story time experience for the holidays. You can do this by reading together in a festive setting, such as under a twinkling tree or surrounded by Christmas lights that you’ve hung up in a cozy spot like a closet.
Or, you can create a fun tradition surrounding story time by wrapping up books and using them as an advent calendar. Remember, used books work just fine for this purpose!
This option is great as it not only fosters a love for reading, but also creates a nice bonding experience with you and your little one.
2. Homemade Christmas Cards
Embrace the spirit of giving by encouraging toddlers to craft their own Christmas cards for family and friends. Use basic art supplies like crayons, stickers, and construction paper to create personalized and heartwarming holiday greetings.
Not only is this a fun activity, but it also teaches toddlers the joy of giving and expressing gratitude.
Keep in mind you may get some pretty hysterical results if you leave the kids to their own imagination. When my son was almost 5, we were making holiday cards and pictures to send to a friend’s long term care center that would be given out to the older adults. This is what my kiddo came up with – as you can see, not the least bit related to the holidays. 😉
3. DIY Decorations
Get creative with your little ones by making handmade Christmas decorations. Paper snowflakes, handprint reindeer, and painted wooden ornaments are simple, cost-effective crafts that toddlers will delight in creating. You can find a ton of great Christmas craft supplies at the Dollar Tree if you don’t already have any on hand.
4. Holiday Movie Marathon
Transform a cozy afternoon into a holiday movie marathon! Many streaming platforms offer classic animated Christmas movies or TV specials that are perfect for the littlest audiences. When my kiddo was younger, I know he was a huge fan of the Curious George Christmas Special. We must have watched in 20 times in a season!
If you don’t subscribe to any streaming platforms already, be sure to check your local library – they likely have Christmas DVDs you can take out for free for the week.
Set out some snacks, snuggle up with blankets, and enjoy timeless tales like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” without spending a dime.
5. Make Reindeer Food
You know you’ll be making cookies for Santa, but what about the reindeers? You and your toddler can make magical reindeer food by combining oats with red or green sugar crystals. When it’s Christmas Eve, go sprinkle it outside for the reindeer to eat!
6. Build Gingerbread Houses
You can usually find these kits pretty cheap at ALDI or Target. But if you don’t want to spend the money on them, you can also bake your own sections for the gingerbread house out of ingredients you’ve got on hand.
Just keep in mind your kiddo’s frustration level when starting this activity. Remember that not all frostings will hold together well, so your house may look like a tornado hit it, a la ours several years back. If this is going to be a major disappointment for your little one, maybe choose another activity instead.
7. Create a Christmas Sensory Bin
Sensory bins are great for children to be able to explore object using touch. You can make a Christmas themed sensory bin with rice, dried beans, ornaments (ones that won’t break and don’t contain hooks), bows, and anything else that fits your imagination.
If you want to get really creative, you can dye some of the rice red and green a la this sensory bin tutorial so it’s perfectly festive.
8. Do a Holiday Photo Shoot
I’ll add this one in with a bit of caution, because it really depends on if your kiddo likes having photos taken. If they don’t, this is a recipe for misery. If they do (my son was a big ‘ol ham at this age) – then doing a photoshoot outside might be a fun way to engage them. And it lets you practice your camera skills.
You don’t have to have tons of fancy props or anything for this. You can try doing it on a day where there’s snow on the ground but it’s warmer outside, or going out on a trail in the woods, or find a shopping center with an outdoor holiday display set up. These are all perfect backdrops for photos.
9. Engage in imaginary play.
There are so many different ways of creating imaginary play this time of year! Is your toddler Santa and you’re working together in the workshop? Are you both reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh? Is your living room transformed into a winter wonderland, with cushions as stepping stones across icy rivers and blankets draped over furniture as magical caves?
Or maybe you encourage your toddler to become the conductor of a festive train, chugging through the North Pole. Or perhaps they’re the head chef in a pretend gingerbread bakery, whipping up delicious imaginary treats.
The possibilities for imaginative play during the holiday season are as limitless as a child’s creativity.
10. Nature Walk and Pinecone Hunt
Take advantage of the winter weather by bundling up and going on a nature walk with your toddler. While you’re out there, you can collect pinecones. Once gathered, transform these natural treasures into adorable DIY ornaments. You can leave them as-is and tie a string around them, or you can decorate them with paint and (dare I say) glitter.
With a bit of paint and some creativity, pinecones can become festive additions to your Christmas tree, creating lasting memories of a day spent outdoors.
11. Decorate the Tree
This assumes you’re already buying a tree or already have one on hand. If you did build that into your values-based budget, though, then letting your toddler help decorate the tree is such a lovely activity! It creates magical memories for them. You just have to be OK with most of the ornaments being on the bottom third of the tree, haha.
12. Make gingerbread playdough
Gingerbread playdough is an easy DIY project. All you’ll need is flour, salt, spices, vanilla, cream of tartar, and vegetable oil. (Yes, it sounds like you’re about to bake but it’ll smells amazing when it’s made!).
13. Christmas Music Dance Party
Blast the Christmas music and get silly with your kiddo! Have a dance party in the living room. Toddlers love to move and groove, and this activity is an excellent way to burn off their never-ending energy while celebrating the holiday spirit.
14. Bake and Decorate Christmas Cookies
Make a batch of Christmas Cookies together! While your toddler may not be old enough for all the steps, they might be able to help with pouring pre-measured ingredients into a bowl, mixing the ingredients, and pressing cookie cutters into rolled out dough.
After you bake them, let them cool and then you can decorate them together. Allow your little one to get messy and have fun with icing, sprinkles, and other festive toppings.
15. Christmas Decorations Scavenger Hunt
You can find a great printable Christmas decoration scavenger hunt, then all you need to do is take your little one out for a walk or drive with it! If you’ve never done a scavenger hunt before, it’s pretty simple – just find as many items as you can from the list.
You might bundle up and walk around your neighborhood, or maybe your family hops in the car in their PJs with a thermos of hot chocolate. Either way, this is sure to be a great time. Not only is it a good learning activity (seeing words/pictures and identifying them in another setting) but it also instills a sense of wonder seeing all the pretty holiday decorations.
The Bottom Line
The holiday season is a magical time for families, and you can share that magic with your kiddos without draining your bank account. By incorporating these budget-friendly activities into your festivities, you can create lasting memories and traditions that will be cherished for years to come. The key is to focus on the joy of spending time together rather than the cost of the activities. After all, the true magic of Christmas lies in the love and togetherness shared with those closest to us.