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13 Quick Elf On The Shelf Ideas For Parents Who Just Can't Deal With One More Thing To Do

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For years, our children have made it onto Santa's nice list every year with the help of Sprinkle, an elf that does not live on a shelf. Instead, Sprinkle lives in my closet and climbs into the air conditioning ducts to spy on the kids. No one sees him, because Sprinkle is super sneaky. Okay, so Sprinkle is actually imaginary. I've just never had the time to hide an elf every night, and my kids never minded. But if your children insist on a real elf and you're similarly time-strapped, there are some quick Elf on the Shelf ideas that are almost as easy as going the imaginary route.

As it turns out, this year I might have to make the transition from invisible elf to the shelf-sitting variety myself. Everyone at my house was content with the Sprinkle arrangement until recently. Our third grader was miffed when I explained that Sprinkle had taken on another family of younger children, hoping the Nesmith children would be ready to self-govern a bit thanks to their advanced ages, and now she wants an Elf on the Shelf like the rest of her friends. We ordered it and Sprinkle's going to be so mad.

It's not like I'm the only parent to give in on this one: Introduced to the U.S. market in 2005, 11 million households were home to an Elf on the Shelf by 2017, as CNN reported. And of course, millions of those Elf owners have come up with millions of quick, easy ideas that you can use as inspiration or outright steal. Some of them are outrageously involved, but others, like these, will only take a few minutes out of your evening to achieve.

1. Elf Greetings

It's only fair that Santa's elves would announce themselves so little ones know they're being watched. Add a little Christmas flair by using baby powder or confectioners' sugar for "snow" and write a simple message to your kids. It can be neutral or you can choose something a little more ominous like "Santa's watching," depending on how your kids have been behaving as of late.

2. Troublemaker Elf

Don't let your children think these sprites are saints just because they're Santa's monitors. Elves like a little harmless vandalism (like the rest of us), and with easily removable dry erase markers, you can go to down on your family photos.

3. Yoga Elf

The Elf on the Shelf

Elves need lots of flexibility to get into all those nooks and crannies. Kids will love seeing their little friend working on his fitness. You can repurpose this idea and put him in a different pose each morning. Maybe your kid's wake time and Elf's yoga session just happen to fall on the exact same hour.

4. Baking Elf

The Elf on the Shelf

Endear your new friend to your child by baking some Christmas cookies with him. And googly eyes just make everything better. Go to town and put them on all the ingredients and utensils used to make said cookies, from the sprinkles to the mixing spoon.

5. Crash Landing Elf

The Elf on the Shelf

Santa's helpers like to make an entrance, but sometimes can't stick the landing. You can easily make it look like your elves crashed into the Christmas tree on the way in by literally sticking them into the tree (head first), and folding up a couple paper airplanes, one for each elf.

6. Film Buff Elf

The Elf on the Shelf

Elves essentially have the house to themselves when everyone's asleep, but sometimes they can't keep their eyes open either. Doesn't everyone fall asleep in front of the television? This elf looks cozy in their tub of popcorn.

7. Snow Angel Elf

It's good to have a few quick and easy ideas ready for those mornings you forget to reposition your Elf, so toss some flour on the counter and help him make "snow" angels for your child. Be forewarned, you'll have to figure out how to clean all the flour off your elf afterwards, but any leftover flour you can just say is snow from the North Pole.

8. Caught Red-Handed Elf

Put Spiderman to work with a little bit of cling wrap when your Elf has a difficult time keeping himself on the nice list. It's also possible Spidey and Elf haven't met yet, so of course a superhero might mistaken the elf as an intruder.

9. Storytime Elf

Have your elf read a story to a collection of your kid’s favorite toys. It’s a quick way to stage the elf, plus you’re also reinforcing the importance of reading. For a little extra festivity, choose an elf or Christmas-themed book.

10. Elf Fan

Dangle your elf from the ceiling fan with a bit of ribbon or some tissue paper. It’s a simple way to hide the creature, but it could take your kid a little extra time to find this one. You may need to drop a hint and say “Look up!”

11. TP Snowman

Draw a quick face on a roll of toilet paper, and it can become a snowman head for your elf. Stack him on top of a couple more TP rolls, and now you have a hilarious (but still very festive) scene for the elf. It’s equal parts mischief and magic, and something your kid will not soon forget.

12. Elf & Cereal

Throw the elf in a cereal bowl. Sprinkle some cereal over it, then arrange the box nearby. This might be the easiest way to stage the elf ever. Plus, it gives your kid a funny surprise at breakfast time.

13. Toasty Elf

Attach a piece of toast to your elf. Make some pun about feeling “toasty.” Your kid will totally crack up, and the whole scenario only takes a few minutes to create. And other than the loss of one piece of bread, it’s free.

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