Ah, Countdown Calendar. How we love thee! It's been a part of my life since my mom started it when we were kids and every year, I attempt to make it live up to the standards we set the year before.
Three years ago, I made an effort to step up the impact of the Countdown Calendar by adding scripture verses that go with Advent. That made for a huge improvement in the experience, as it set it up to be more than just what "they got". It's gotten to the point that the kids will elaborate now about what the verse means as they anticipate the discussion questions I will invariably ask after reading it.
I've put up pics of a lot of the activities already (like ice skating), but sometimes I have to fly by the seat of my pants (like when the snow came and everything got a little bit crazy and off routine). In this case, I quickly whipped this out. A little bribery was well worth the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid Sequel" books that I got them to get chores done and keep them out of my hair while I got Christmas prep done.
I've also tried to set up some activities that center around others. Wednesdays were considered "Whitley Wednesdays" (though with the snow day, we lost one of them). On one occasion, the kids recorded a "Read-Aloud" book of "Santa Clause Is Coming to Town" so Whitley could open the book at any time and hear my kids read her the story. They did a neat job with it.
Tuesdays were "Touch Someone's Life Tuesday". One of the Tuesdays had the kids delivering Saltine Toffee I made for the neighbors.
On another Tuesday, we put together notes and the bags of treats for Kenjon so that he could feel the love of the Rileys while in North Carolina. The day the package arrived, he called John, Instagramed a very sweet message and picture about it, and then called to talk to the family that night. We definitely didn't put it all together to get praise, but it was very sweet to know it meant that much to him.
On the first Tuesday of December, we had the kids write cards for the troops through the American Red Cross' program. I think we'll definitely be making that a repeat tradition.
Sometimes, it's something we've already planned to do, that happens to be part of the December calendar. For instance, on this day, we attended the annual Christmas Orchestra Concert at First Baptist with Mom and Dad. It was FANTASTIC. They incorporated most of the music from the two earliest Michael W. Smith Christmas albums, which is very familiar to us, as we spent out teen/young adult lives loving it.
Occasionally, when the Schillings are around, we get to combine and have them determine what they need to do to get their Countdown Calendar "treat". With Michele's help, we devised a contest for them to get in teams and see who could toss the most mini marshmallows into their partner's mouths within a minute's time. The "gift" was slippers for all of them. That's been the beauty I've discovered over the years, that if you throw a fun activity (like "Movie Trivia", Scavenger Hunts, a Christmas Carol "Name that Tune") then, they are very happy to receive a "reward" in the form of things I'd want for them to have anyway during this Christmas season (i.e. slippers, Christmas pj's, snow gear/accessories, or classy apparel items for special Christmas events).
Unanimously agreed - the worst part of the "Countdown Calendar"....definitely when we hit the last day and there are no more...