How to Start Elf on the Shelf: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Elf on the Shelf has become a beloved Christmas tradition for families around the world. For those unfamiliar, it involves adopting a special scout elf doll who serves as Santa’s eyes and ears in your home leading up to Christmas. The elf doll is sent by Santa from the North Pole to watch over children’s behavior during the holidays.

Each night, after the children go to bed, the elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa how the day went. Then before the kids wake up, the elf returns to a new spot in the house to hide and watch over things again! This adds an element of surprise and excitement to the holiday season as kids eagerly hunt for where their elf is hiding each morning.

If you’re thinking about introducing Elf on the Shelf to your family this year, this comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know to get started and make it a magical experience for your little ones!

Key Takeaways:

  • Choose an elf doll and give it a name that suits your family
  • Read The Elf on the Shelf book to explain the elf’s role as Santa’s scout
  • Move the elf to a new spot each night when kids are asleep
  • Leave silly notes or get the elf into mischief for added fun
  • Remind kids to behave so the elf reports good news to Santa
  • On Christmas, have the elf return to the North Pole until next year

Selecting and Naming Your Elf

The first step is picking out your very own elf! You can find Elf on the Shelf brand dolls at most major retailers or online starting in October each year. They come in various skin tones, outfits, and either boy or girl versions.

Consider your family’s style and decor when choosing your elf. Give some thought to naming it as well – get creative and pick something festive and fun!

A few popular elf name ideas include:

  • Jingle
  • Sparkle
  • Snowflake
  • Cookie
  • Holly
  • Noel
  • Jolly
  • Merry
  • Belle / Buddy

Once you have your elf doll, be sure to read the adoption certificate and official scout elf pledge that comes with it. This helps explain their direct line of communication to Santa!

Reading The Elf on the Shelf Book

The best way to introduce kids to the concept of Elf on the Shelf is by reading the classic children’s book. Co-written by the elf’s creators, Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell, this origin story explains how scout elves help Santa manage his nice list.

The book tracks a family as they go through the 25-day tradition of discovering where their elf is hiding every morning in December. Kids will learn that the elf flies to the North Pole each night to report back to Santa on their behavior during the day.

Set aside a special family reading time in late November or early December to read The Elf on the Shelf book together. This builds anticipation and excitement as you prepare to adopt your own elf after finishing the story!

When Should You Start Moving the Elf?

The elf typically arrives from the North Pole sometime around Thanksgiving and returns after Christmas. Most families start hiding their elf beginning December 1st, but you can begin anytime in December leading up to the 25th.

Aim to have at least 25 days of elf adventures and surprises to build a meaningful tradition. Just be sure the elf has arrived before December 24th so it can fly back to the North Pole in time to help Santa on Christmas!

Creating Fun Hiding Spots

Now the real fun begins – finding clever hiding spots for your elf each night! Get creative with where you place it so the kids have to hunt around the house to locate their silly scout elf every morning.

Here are some fun ideas to get you started:

  • Hang the elf from curtain rods or ceiling fans using fishing line
  • Sit the elf on shelves, banisters, chairs or stair railings
  • Place the elf inside bowls, cups, flower vases or plants
  • Hide the elf among stuffed animals, blankets or pillows
  • Sit the elf on bookshelves, the TV, kitchen appliances
  • Put the elf in drawers, cubbies or closets with just its head peeking out

Make a game of it and see if the kids can find the elf in under 5 minutes. Take turns hiding it in a new spot each night. Get creative and use spaces they won’t expect!

Add Elf Antics and Misadventures

In addition to hiding your Elf on the Shelf in fun spots around the house, you can also pose it getting into silly situations to really bring the magic to life!

Let your elf’s personality shine by setting up playful scenes like:

Swinging from Christmas Lights

Have your elf hang upside from the tree lights or curtain rods using clear thread.

Cookie or Treats Mess

Put cookie crumbs, candy, or sprinkles around its mouth to look like its been snacking at night!

Playing with Toys

Have it play with dolls, teddy bears, toy cars, train sets, or blocks.

Making a Craft Project

Pose your elf making paper snowflakes, coloring pictures, building LEGO sets, or working on other kid crafts.

Reading Christmas Books

Make a cozy little reading nook and pose your elf looking through Christmas books or stories.

Let your creativity run wild! Just be sure to pick up any mess so the elf doesn’t get in trouble.

Elf Notes and Messages

Another way to have fun with your elf is by having it leave friendly notes and messages for the kids to discover along with where it is hiding.

Craft short notes using Christmas stationery, small cards, or strips of paper. Write the notes in Christmas-themed fonts, glitter pens, or fun colored pencils. Then tuck the note somewhere near where the elf is positioned that morning.

Cute ideas for elf notes include:

  • A note reminding kids to be good
  • A poem or rhyme about the holidays
  • A wishlist suggestion for them to give Santa
  • A joke or riddle
  • A coloring page for them to complete
  • A word search with Christmas words
  • A mad lib fill-in-the-blank story

Make sure to switch up the handwriting so it looks like your elf wrote the notes! This adds to the belief that the elf flies to the North Pole at night.

Reinforcing Good Behavior

A big goal of Elf on the Shelf is to encourage kids to behave in the weeks leading up to Christmas by having them think Santa is watching!

Use your elf as a positive reinforcement tool. Remind children that the elf didn’t report any bad behavior to Santa last night when it returned from the North Pole.

You can also have the elf leave notes praising the kids for good listening, being kind to one another, keeping their room clean, etc. Let them know this information was passed along to Santa already!

If misbehaving does happen, use it as a teaching moment. Explain that the elf still loves them but had to report the incident to Santa. Have them help you write an apology note asking for forgiveness. This helps reset their behavior.

Christmas Eve Sendoff

On Christmas Eve, have the kids bid a fond farewell to their hard working scout elf. Remind them it must return to the North Pole to help Santa get ready for the big night!

Create a ceremonial sendoff by having the children write letters or make cards thanking the elf for spending December with them. Let them tuck these mementos beside the elf in its final hiding spot.

Then have them say goodbye and good luck before going to bed, knowing it will depart to the North Pole once they fall asleep. Make sure to hide the elf before they wake up on Christmas morning!

Putting Away Your Elf Until Next Christmas

After an exciting month of adventures, your scout elf will be ready for some well-deserved rest!

On December 26th, have the kids pack it away in its box along with any notes or crafts they made so these special keepsakes are preserved until next holiday season.

Store the elf where it will be safe and undisturbed for the year. Mark your calendar so you remember to unpack it again next November!

Many families tuck their sleeping elf away into a closet corner or shelf, slipped in holiday decoration storage bins, or kept up high in the back of bedroom closets.

Wherever you store it, make sure your children understand that the elf will lose its magic if they touch or play with it outside of the Christmas season. It needs uninterrupted time to recharge in the North Pole!

Frequently Asked Elf on the Shelf Questions

What if we forget to move the elf?

Don’t worry if you occasionally forget to move your Elf on the Shelf! Just tell your kids that the elf must have been very tired and slept in late before returning to the North Pole. Or say you caught it napping so let it rest instead of waking it.

The key is keeping the magic alive however you can if you slip up. Their imagination will fill in any plot holes!

Can the elf stay forever?

While kids often get attached to their elf, explain that it can only stay until Christmas Eve. Santa needs all scout elves back to rest and reenergize at the North Pole until next holiday season.

Promise them that their elf friend will return again next Christmas! Keeping the tradition to a limited December timeframe preserves the excitement.

What if we lose our elf?

You can contact the official Elf on the Shelf Scout Elf hotline at 1-855-MY-ELF-NOW if your elf gets lost or damaged. Or visit Santa’s official workshop at to “adopt” a replacement.

For unofficial elf dolls, any similar style toy or doll can pinch hit if needed! Just use your imagination and most kids will be none the wiser.

What if the kids touch the elf?

Gently remind them not to touch the elf or else it risks losing its special Christmas magic! If it accidentally gets handled, tell kids not to worry and that you’ll write a note to Santa explaining it was an accident.

Have them help write the apology letter so they learn for next time. Most importantly, don’t overly scold them — this should be a fun tradition not a stressful one!

Bringing the Magic of Elf on the Shelf to Your Family

And there you have it – everything you need to know to introduce your family to the whimsical world of Elf on the Shelf! With a little creativity, you can create a beloved Christmas tradition filled with mischief, laughter, and excitement.

Approach it with an openness to have fun and let your elf’s personality shine. Don’t worry about perfection. The silly moments and surprises will become cherished memories your kids look forward to year after year.

Embrace the holiday magic as you watch your children’s eyes light up each morning when they race to find where their sneaky little scout elf friend is hiding next. Those looks of wonder and joy are what the Christmas season is all about!

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