Christmas is oh so close! There’s baking to be done, letters to write and homemade gifts to finish. With a little one underfoot, it’s difficult just to get through your daily chores, let alone complete all those Christmas "extras."

What you need are some distracting activities for your biggest fan – your under-four-year-old who wants to spend every waking moment interacting with you. Here are some ideas that keep your youngster close at hand, but help you gain some precious extra time to complete your "Mommy-only" tasks.

Fun with sprinkles

Tape several Christmas cookie cutters to a piece of paper, placing a few strips of tape on the outside of each cookie cutter. Next, place the paper on a firm surface, such as a cutting board. Using a cotton swab or paintbrush, spread Elmer’s glue over the paper that’s inside the cookie cutter. Now it’s your child’s turn: Provide your child with a small plastic bag of multi-coloured cake sprinkles and let them place the sprinkles into each cookie cutter shape. (The sprinkles should almost cover the paper, but not pile up on top of one another.) Carefully remove the cookie cutters and leave the paper on the cutting board to dry. When completely dry, shake off any excess sprinkles. Display your child’s colourful craft on the fridge or message board.

Older children can participate by tracing Christmas cookie cutter shapes onto a sheet of paper in pencil, or by drawing free-hand patterns. After spreading glue on the patterns, let them add cake sprinkles to the shapes to complete their decoration. Leave flat to dry.

For tiny tots, sit your child in their highchair and fill the tray with multi-coloured cake sprinkles. Show them how to eat the sprinkles, just a few at a time, by licking their fingertip and dabbing sprinkles up off the tray. It’s a fun opportunity to teach colour recognition by asking questions such as "What colour are you eating? Can you find all the red ones?"

Christmas puzzles

Make puzzles by cutting up several old Christmas cards and mixing the pieces all together. Keep the puzzle pieces very simple – just cutting each card in half may be challenging enough for your little one.

Older children can participate by decorating a shoebox with a Christmas theme to store all the wonderful new Christmas cards you’ll receive this year.

Pretend play

Surprise your child with a special gift to fuel their imagination. For girls, fill an old handbag – one with plenty of compartments – with plastic necklaces, a lip balm stick, play money, a ring of keys (real or plastic), tissues, a small hairbrush and perhaps even a toy cellphone. Place a child-safe mirror in the room near you so you can encourage your daughter as she dresses herself and her dolls up for an outing.

Boys, as well as girls, may enjoy a doctor’s kit. Fill a suitable bag with lengths of bandages cut from an old sheet or tea towel, (lengths of tape-style, hook-and-loop fasteners, if you have them, will help keep the bandages in place), a magnifying glass, a bag of "medicinal candies," a little "prescription" notepad and pencil, and a small ruler for splinting limbs. Teddy Bear’s about to get some extra TLC! Or maybe your kitchen will host a hospital ward full of "sick" stuffies!

Magnet mural

Let kids build their own Nativity diorama on the fridge or on a metal cookie tray. Cut a simple hillside and manger backdrop from coloured paper, and tape this to the fridge or tray. Use a collection of inexpensive magnets from a dollar store, or create your own by gluing magnetic strips to scrapbooking figures or figures cut from colouring pages. Other fun themes are a Christmas tree, with magnets serving as decorations, a zoo, an underwater or jungle scene, or city streets bustling with mini cars.

Older children can participate by creating their own magnet figures from paper, or using modelling clay.

"Stained glass" ornaments

Collect a selection of transparent plastic lids from disposable food containers. Cut tissue paper of various colours into small squares and triangles. Paint the surface of each plastic lid with liquid starch or glue, then allow your preschooler to place the tissue paper on each lid. When dry, drill a hole near the edge of each lid and thread with pretty ribbon. Hang your child’s creation on the Christmas tree or tape it to the window.

Older children can help by cutting the tissue paper themselves and keeping their youngest sibling well-supplied with paper!

Messy marvels

Sit your child in their highchair to minimize the mess, then let them try finger-painting on the highchair tray using instant pudding or plain yogurt, or sculpting with mashed potato.

Older children may enjoy sculpting with candy clay. To make the clay, mix together three cups of powdered sugar, ¼ cup of corn syrup, ¼ cup of softened margarine, vanilla, food colouring, flavouring and ½ teaspoon of salt. Finished creations can be eaten immediately or kept for posterity, as the clay dries rock hard.

Catherine Wilson is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2010 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.

Our recommended resources

Join our newsletter

Advice for every stage of life delivered straight to your inbox