I can’t believe that Christmas morning is almost here! I’ve never, in my entire life, been this excited for Christmas. We’ve been having so much fun doing Elf on the Shelf with Molly all December long. We kept it pretty simple this year (it being our first year doing it) and just moved the elf from one place to the next. No fancy or elaborate set ups. But Molly is still sooo excited every morning to wake up and search for her elf Cocoa. The bummer is that Kevin leaves for work well before Molly wakes up so he doesn’t get a chance to see her excitement every morning like I do. So we found a way to continue the elf surprises and excitement through the day so Kevin can be a part of it too. It’s been so special for our family that I wanted to share it with you guys!
So what we do is every afternoon when Molly wakes up from her nap, our elf Cocoa has a surprise for her in the advent calendar (and yes Molly named her that, but really it was ‘Coco’ after the movie… we added the ‘a’ at the end). Her advent calendar is a box with little wooden drawers that we’re able to put different things in every day – from notes to little candies to little toys. Some days she’ll get a little tiny Moana figure, other days she’ll get a piece of chocolate, but most days she gets a note with either an experience written on it or a gift! I wanted to share some of the things we’ve given her so far and the things that will be in a future day’s drawer. I hoping it will bring joy to other families in which a mommy or daddy has to leave extra early in the morning.
I didn’t want every note to be a gift hiding somewhere. I really wanted some things to be an experience. For example, we had a trip planned to Universal Studios with Kevin’s parents earlier this week. Since it was already planned and happening, we decided to make it one of the notes in her drawer that day. Boy was she excited when she opened that one up. But it could also be a note saying you’re going to pick out your Christmas tree or go sledding! Anything that the kiddos would find fun. Things you are probably already planning! One day we baked cupcakes just like Pinkalicious does! And yes, they were pink! And another day Molly got to stay up 30 minutes later and read story after story with mommy, daddy and Riley in mommy and daddy’s bed!
And that experience actually came with a gift for Riley! I didn’t know how Molly was going to react us only having a gift for Riley, but she actually did quite well! I feel like it was a good lesson for her to learn that she doesn’t always get gifts when her brother does. And I think it helped that we got him his own version of Wonderbly’s “Lost My Name” book. She has the exact same book but with her name and has had it since she was a baby. So we thought it be cute to get Riley one of his own! Plus she just loves this book! It’s about a little girl who lost her name and goes on a magical journey to find it! Along the way she discovers letters that end up spelling out Molly! It’s such a cute personalized book and she gets a kick out of her name being in it. If you guys saw my Instagram post this morning then you saw her reading it to herself. I really think a book like this that teaches her letters is a huge reason she is so smart! She could identify that her name started with the letter M shortly after she turned one! Wonderbly has a few other personalized books that we also got for Molly! We’ve read “Molly The Elf Who Saves Christmas” pretty much every day this month. And we got her the “Where Are You Molly” book to put under the tree for Christmas. In my mind she can never have too many books! And as any of you know who watch my Instagram stories, Molly loves to read more than anything and I think having books with her name in it is what got her excited about reading in the first place! And if you guys get any of these books, use the discount code WONDER15 for 15% off! And I just read on their site that if you order by Friday you can get it by Christmas with regular shipping. If you order by the 17th you can get it expedited shipping by Christmas.
We really try to limit how much candy we give Molly so we have to get creative with this. Some of the treats in her calendar will be things like yogurt raisins. She’s absolutely obsessed with yogurt raisins! I’ve also convinced her that her daily multivitamin is a candy. Ha! I’m not even kidding, I only give it to her if she does something good for the day during the rest of the months of the year. And during December, now that we’re doing the advent calendar, sometimes I’ll put her vitamin in one of the drawers as her treat for the day. Thank goodness for yummy chewable vitamins! And every now and then we’ll put a small piece of chocolate in one of the drawers. We’ve only given her chocolate once so far and we’re halfway through the month already.
Of course we do small toys too. So far she’s gotten a little matchbox car as one of her toys. It didn’t actually fit in the drawer so we had the drawer filled with a note that said “ I have a surprise that I brought back from the North Pole for you!” And then we told Molly to go find where Cocoa the elf was sitting in our house and sure enough a little matchbox car popped up next to her. Kevin had to quickly run it over there while I took Molly to the advent calendar. But she thought it was pure magic! We also got her these little Moana figurines that she absolutely loves and will either put one in the drawer if it fits, or do something similar that we did with the matchbox car. The figurines that we don’t use in the advent calendar are going to go in her stocking on Christmas morning. And the book “Molly The Elf Who Saves Christmas” was given to her on December 2nd so we could read it all month long.
This weekend we plan on one of the notes from Cocoa to say something about Molly needing to fill a box with toys she can give to other little boys and girl for Christmas to help make room for all the gifts Santa is bringing her since she’s been such a good girl all month. Really she has. This Elf and advent calendar thing TOTALLY works to get her to behave better. I’m honestly super sad that we have to say goodbye to it after Christmas. I need to figure out other ways to continue it (without all the surprises/gifts obviously). Any ideas? Tell me in the comments below! I’m also just hoping Molly feels good about being so good and chooses to stay that way 🙂 We shall see!
Anyway, her reward for giving away all the toys will also be that she gets to color on/in the box with washable markers to make it extra special for the boys and girls. I got this idea from some of you guys actually! A few month ago I was asking for good activities for toddlers and so many of you mentioned putting your toddler in a box with some washable markers and letting her go to town. Ha! Well I did this with Molly and she looooved it! So I know she’ll love the idea of coloring on the box to decorate it for the other boys and girls she is giving her toys to.
Something They Need Before Christmas
Something practical is always a good gift idea in my opinion! And look, I get that we don’t want to go over the top with gifts before Christmas morning, but some things Molly needs before Christmas morning. For example, we are going to a kid’s holiday party soon and she needs a cute dress. I have a couple that she’s already worn that could totally work but I thought it could be fun for Cocoa to bring her a dress one day to wear to the party. So the day of the party, when she wakes up from her nap, Cocoa’s gonna have a brand new dress that she brought from Santa for Molly to wear! And you don’t have to spend a lot. A few of the options I’m considering are below- they are all under $20 and so stinking cute!
I think a really cute idea that we’re going to try to do is put a note in saying Cocoa wants Molly to write and perform a song for her. How cute would it be if that note came with a little musical instrument. We already got Molly this mini guitar that I absolutely love that I think would be so cute for this! So maybe I’ll just have the guitar by Coco or by the advent calendar when she opens the note. Or maybe we can get her a harmonica. One of our friends came over the other day and her son had a little toy harmonica and Molly absolutely loved it! So we’ve been wanting to get her one! This might be the perfect opportunity to do it and get a cute video of her singing a song to Santa and her elf Cocoa! I also think this type of thing inspire creativity!
Anyway, I just wanted to share this with all of you guys because it’s made this December extra special for our family. I think our little system works really well for us and think it could work really well for other families too! Let me know if you guys have any idea for me fore things we could put in the advent calendar!
73 thoughts on “Making Elf on the Shelf Extra Special for Our Family”
I love that you’re doing Elf on the Shelf traditions! I never knew about it growing up (it’s not popular in Hong Kong!) but it looks so fun. I’m sure the kids love it. 😀
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
Molly loves it sooooo much. And that makes me love it too!
Where did you get the Advent box? Love it for my grandchildren.
Nordstrom. But it’s sold out. But I found a SUPER similar one here: http://bit.ly/2RtEPWO
What creative, delightful fun you are bringing Molly this month! I love all of the ideas you’ve shared for your Elf on the Shelf and Advent calendar!❤️🎄❤️
Thank you Liz! This month has been magical for us too! I never want cocoa to leave!!! Ha!
I have a friend who’s Elf on the shelf make a surprise monthly appearance! Elf reports to Santa all year and also the Easter Bunny!
I might have to do this!!!
Hi Ali! Saw your question about keeping up Molly’s awesome behavior the rest of the year…Maybe set up a different reward system for the rest of the year to keep the elf special, or a different character that reports back to the elf?! Just an idea! Love all your posts! You are such a positive person!
P.S. loved your hair in today’s Instagram post!
I NEVER wear my hair down. So I am trying something new today 😉
You should wear it down more often! I say that almost everyday while watching your insta stories.
Enjoy the holidays with your family!
When I wear it down I feel like my face looks so much fuller than it is. It Hass to be styled just right for me to like it down. But thank you so much for the comment!
I agree, you have such pretty hair and I also wondered why you dont wear it down more often. You look really good with it down, and it doesnt make your face look fuller at all! If anything quite the opposite.
Hi Ali! Love following you + your blog! Your kids are gorgeous and so sweet! We love our Elf too (although I woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night because I forgot to move it..oops)!! My girls are 5 and 2.5 years old. It’s so wonderful seeing them get so excited about trying to find her hiding spot each morning. We do an advent calendar with treats as well. It’s so fun for them! We have the Elf on the Shelf Birthday tradition book which comes with a Birthday outfit for your Elf too. Maybe you could do that for Molly? Incorporate it as a special part of her day. Happy Holidays to you and your beautiful family! ✨🎄🎁🎅🏻✨
I totally feel you on forgetting to move the elf! One morning I had to run downstairs before I got Molly to quickly move it before she came downstairs. I was in a panic! Ha!
Love these ideas! My daughter is 12 and we still do the Elf, I’m pretty sure she “knows”…but we have a silent agreement not to discuss the authenticity of the Elf. hahahahaha
But, regarding forgetting to move it…this might not work this year, but maybe next year. If you forget, and Molly freaks out. You simply stand there a little perplexed and tell her “I’m sure that she reported to Santa, because that is her job…but I’m guessing she sat down in the exact spot to see how you would handle it? You don’t want her to see you upset do you?”…….boom! my daughter calmed right down and was good with it. I explained to her that sometimes the Elf just needs to see that her reaction is good and isn’t going to throw a fit.
Also, you could tell her that the weather was probably terrible in the north pole and she hit some flying traffic…most likely she heard Molly getting up and just plopped right down where she was before because it was easy.
If you are convincing, she will believe you. 🙂
And one time, ours fell off the shelf while we were watching TV! OMG did she freak out! hahahahaha, so I freaked out with her “what do we do, we cant touch her…who do we even call to help us?” Then I very boldly stated, “Get the salad tongs, I think that we can do it that way since we won’t be touching her with our skin”……ahhhh I don’t know who loves these memories more right now, me or her!
BUT I did see a GENIUS picture this year…..Elf with medical tape on his/her leg, signed by Santa and the Reindeer…with a note saying “I broke my leg and have strict instructions not to move for XX weeks!”
And ours leaves on Christmas Eve to go back to the North Pole with Santa.
Love following you and your family! Merry Christmas to you all!
Thank you for the tips if I forget to move her! OF COURSE the Elf can’t fly back if the weather is bad! 🙂
And I saw that saw picture of the elf with the broken leg! Ha!
Perhaps check out the Kindness Elves for all year long incentive. A blogger developed them and you can find them sold by her on Etsy. I hope that helps. You have the most adorable family, God bless you all!
I will have to check her out! Thanks for the suggestion!
I saw your question on having elf on the shelf year round? I saw a cute idea on Pinterest on having an “elf-cam” (this particular one was made out of a black ornament) that your elf could leave after Christmas to monitor Molly all year long since your elf has to go home to the north pole! That way she thinks the elf is watching her even though the elf isnt around. It’s a fun & cute idea!
Omg! An elf cam! That is too cute! I bet I could find something like that on Etsy! I’m going to look for one!
I think a potential problem with an Elf cam or even just using daily rewards or threat of not getting a reward is that it has the potential to teach the child to be good in order gain something or because someone else is watching. This doesn’t tech our kids intrinsic motivation for behaving well or being kind but instead, they are good in order to receive something. It gets really tricky and I know it’s hard when kids are little but we try to make behavior about our relationship, between me and my kids or between my kids and their siblings or them and their friends. We are kind because how it makes the other person feel (or because it brings glory to God, but I realize not everyone has the name Faith as us) and we have a lot of conversations about how behavior can hurt or help our relationships with those we love. Of course we discipline when nessesary and my kids can loose privileges but I think rewards, Santa, “be good in order to receive this fun thing” etc can make their external behavior good but their heart, which is where our behavior comes from, is left unchanged. Does this make any sense? I’m not saying you are doing all of these things or even that the elf on the shelf or advent calendar is bad, I’m just sending a word of caution to make sure our kids are learning to be intrinsically good and kind, because that’s the type of goodness and kindness that will stick with them and will be around when no one is watching. I am totally inspired about how intentional you are with your kids and please don’t read this as me judging your parenting. Just throwing an idea out there.
I totally hear what you’re saying about trying to teach them that they should be good even when no one is watching. I think that lesson may come a little bit later for Molly. She still so young right now. But then again, maybe now is the time to start teaching that. I have no idea!
I just saw your insta post! Totally keep it going but use maybe a beanie baby. You can change out the beanie baby by theme (ex: January-penguin February-red bear). Anything like that. That way it keeps her interested and behaving. 😍
Well that’s a great idea! I love the idea of the character changing. Maybe a snowman in January and Cupid in February? And then a little leprechaun in March? This is exciting!
Totally! Make it your own thing!! As long as it works…it’s a parenting win!! 😍😊
We do the same with Franklin (elf) he just moves to different locations throughout the house. Every once in a while he will do something extraordinary like take a bubble bath (marshmallows) in soup cup. But just to see the look on our two girls faces trying to find Franklin everyday is so precious. I don’t want to ever forget this. Merry Christmas to your family.
I admire that you do the more elaborate set up every once in a while! I definitely want to try to do something like that next year! But this year the elf just moves around! Ha!
At the beginning of the month next year you could bring the kids Christmas pajamas to wear for the month.
Another idea for an experience (that’s free!) is to drive around one night to look at Christmas lights
Oh my gosh! I absolutely love the idea to drive around and look at Christmas lights. That’s for sure going to be in a note in one of the drawers coming up! Thank you so much for the idea!
I feel like the reason Elf on the Shelf is so popular is because the children love feedback and the attention of the notes they leave. What if you just wrote daily notes to her to encourage to do things/fun activities/ reward her accomplishments.
I think you’re so right! It’s the excitement and enchantment of it all! Maybe a weekly note could be something we could keep all year long.
With my siblings, we left the elf on the self out until the middle of January and then the elf came back every month to report back to Santa. It seemed to work pretty well because we would remind them every time they were getting a little reckless, that the elf was going to come again. Just a thought! It was also fun to keep Christmas around a bit longer.
I’m definitely going to do this! A Monthly check in is for sure happening in our house!
We have the elf on the shelf and we bought the birthday book and outfit to do for our children as well for those months!
We have the birthday book too!
Love this! Which Multi vitamin do you give Molly? I need to find a good one for my 2 year old! Thanks so much!!!
We’ve been giving her one called picky eater multi. But we’ve used other ones too. There are so many good ones out there!
Love all of these ideas. I’m wanting to try out the kindness elves next year. Did you already link the marching PJs that you and Molly are wearing? They are the CUTEST!
Thanks! These are the PJ’s 🙂 http://bit.ly/2rehn4k
I love you as a mom! You’re for sure a role model for young women who want to start families! Little Molly is so precious and smart too! That advent calendar is amazing and I just need it for myself (I don’t have kids yet)! But one of my friends does monthly sticker boards for their kids. Different kinds of good behaviours get you stickers. You could tie in Cocoa by like getting her to come pick up the sticker sheet once a month and deliver it to Santa or something!
P.S. – your hair looks amazing in your stories today!
Thank you Alysa! So sweet of you to say
When my son was younger, I did a sticker rewards chart for good behavior. I wrote down specific behaviors such as saying “please and thank you,” using words and feelings instead of yelling or throwing tantrums, brushing teeth, getting ready for school, etc. He’d get a star sticker for each good behavior. Then he’d get a reward each week for getting say 20 stars. Like going to a special park or a movie night with lots of snacks. He now has a Melissa and Doug responsibility chart. He gets a raffle ticket for each chore or behavior he completes (we only put things that he has difficulty doing like getting ready for school each morning). He can trade in his raffle tickets for a prize in his closet. His birthday is five days before Christmas so all of his gifts go into the closet rather than opening them all at once. He then earns them throughout the year via good behavior.
There is also an Elf on the Shelf: Birthday!
She will appear on her birthday for sure!
🥰🥰🥰 I would get a different stuffed animal for each season!! To change it up but carry on the same concept! “Elf has to go back to the North Pole with Santa now that Christmas is over, but his friend, _____ will be here instead!” You can come up with a new story line and be creative with it! And then get a new one for summer time (or sooner if you feel Molly getting bored with it)!
Hi! I follow mumma_of_triplet_girls in England and she just storied about Tempo.books. They take your Instagram pics and also comments, if you want, and turn them into beautiful hardbound books. I thought you might want to know. And I love that you talk about mom bod. My tummy came out ok after my son’s birth but I have stretch marks on my breasts and the sides of my butt. Fun fun fun! Love you and your family, merry Christmas to you all!
Sorry mumma_to_triplet_girls !
I’m all about rocking the mom bod! I don’t know that the pouch at the bottom of my belly will ever go away. And you know what, I’m totally OK with that!
First, I just want to say I love your Advent Calendar and all of he little things inside for your little girl. We definitely need to do something like that next year.
I have four kids all under the age of 8. We definitely enjoy having them mind all the time and the Elf on the Shelf really helps. When the holiday ends we continue by monthly check ins from our elf. We do this by having or Elf send little cards or trinkets in their mailbox. (Each one of our kids has their own little mailbox in their room.) They love the idea and we send mail back and forth for family. They also get kids book subscriptions and magazines. I place them in their mailbox when I receive them. 🙂 I hope this makes sense. My three youngest (4,3 and 11 months) have all decided to bounce off the walls this afternoon!! 😊
4 kids under 8!!! I wish I could give you a big hug right now and tell you what an awesome mama you are! I truly can’t imagine! And I think it’s so cute that each one of your kids has a mailbox in the room that the elf leaves letters in. I love that idea so much! I definitely want to do something similar!
Ali, I just wanted to say a few things. 1. I love following you on Instagram! I love how real and honest you are! 2. Thank you for being so vulnerable and posting your motherhood journey. For some reason knowing other moms are going through similar situations or have gone through similar situations makes me feel like I am doing a good job at this mom thing! 3. I love the Advent Calendar idea and look forward to trying it out next year with my will be 2 year old (next year!). Totally saving this post for reference! And lastly, you asked for ideas on something similar to elf on the shelf for Molly all year long. I don’t have any special tips, but I used to be a toddler teacher and I introduced a very special puppet. (It was a duck that quacked). I gave him a name (Waddles was his name) and said that Waddles was going to be watching them and if they wanted him to talk, they had to be good listeners, gentle friends and I threw in good eaters (we had a hand full of picky eaters at the time). I told them Waddles would hide every morning and would come out at circle times to report to the teachers how they were doing. There were never really any consequences, but usually if they were good in the morning Waddles would pick a special friend who was extra good to pick a special activity for the afternoon play time. It actually worked! (Toddlers closer to 2 got it a lot more than the younger ones but even eventually the younger ones caught on and started looking for and pointing out where Waddles was hiding.) Not sure if it would work year round but thought I would mention it. Hope you have a fantastic day!
Waddles! Too cute! Thank you so much for taking the time to share this idea! I’m loving all of the suggestions you guys are giving me!
My daughter is 12 now and interested as much in the elf (I think she’s on to me LOL) but I still move it daily. When she was younger I would bring him back on her birthday and she always looked forward to him ‘checking in’.
I like the idea of the elf checking back in once a month and on her birthday! And I love that you still do it with your 12-year-old daughter!
I love your hair down too. As a mom to a two year old VERY active boy, and living in the High Desert which is windy I mostly wear it pulled back too.
You should take a read of Dr. Marvin Marshall’s ‘Parenting Without Stress’ I’m in mid-read. There are good points regarding rewards or not and how to have your kid make a choice bc they want to. The book is on sale for under $10! Kevin should read it with you. We are making it a joint read.
Love the activities in the Advent Calendar!
Thanks Kristina! I was like it down when I first pilot but then quickly stop liking it once the (style) starts falling out.
And I will look into that book. However, I barely have time to keep up and read all the comments on my blog, which is super important to me to do, so I don’t know how I’ll find time to read a book. But this is super important so I’m going to check it out and try to find time to read it!
Sticker or magnetic charts are great for behavior and rewards. My daughter has one where the kids actually set their own goals….like, ‘get dressed on my own with only one reminder’, ‘do one kind act every day’, ‘pull the comforter up on my bed in the morning’, etc. then, they put a colored dot when they do the goal. When they reach a certain number of dots on the chart, a number actually set by them, they get a surprise. She has the chart hanging on the refrigerator toward the bottom. Some people say you should not ‘reward’ what should be normal behavior you expect. But I look at it as an incentive. I mean, there are incentives in school….the child who behaves well one day gets to be line leader the next…..and don’t we all have incentives at work? I like the idea of the Elf reappearing and reporting back to Santa throughout the year. I remember being the best little girl ever when Mother would tell me….’Santa is watching!’ Haha
I like the sticker chart idea as well! I’m definitely going to start something like that with Molly soon!
To remind Molly that Elf on the Shelf is still around you could take pics of Cocoa on “vacation” throughout the year and make them into post cards with sweet messages. Cocoa can sporadically send them to her all year.
Love reading all your blog posts and I’m not even a mom!
But an idea I have for elf on the shelf is to keep it going is to maybe have a love elf in February for Valentine’s Day and then an Easter elf on the shelf over March/April and then let it pop up before any birthday. 😊
Hey! Have you ever heard of the fairy door? There is so many cute styles and colors to choose from. You place it above the baseboard and it looks like a small door for fairy’s to come and go. I used mine to get rid of pacies and to help my kids to sleep in their own bed. They would leave there pacie at the door before bed and in the morning it would be gone and a small coin or chocolate kiss would be in its place. They would even get small gifts for sleeping in their bed so many nights in a row.
Also, you can get fairy dust and make footprints and order small fairy sized envelopes with rhinestones to make kids think the fairy left a note.
You should look into it!!!
Let me know if it could help!!!
I’m responding to your story about how to keep up with good behaviour all year.
I had been a babysitter for two years and one child I had regularly was very misbehaved in the beginning. I started a chart and she would get a reward.
Used her manners, we would go for a walk or the park. Her choice.
Every small piece of good behaviour was always rewarded with something small.
Back in the summer time she was doing so good with going to bed, getting up for school etc so I took her to see a movie of her choice. The reward never has to be overly big. But sometimes she got really good rewards and some were small. We kept track by having a chart and if she was good for the whole week, there would be stickers (shopkins) and on the days that didn’t have a sticker or fewer stickers. Anyway, it all depended on how many stickers she got.
How bout a note to go got a walk or drive to look at Christmas Lights
Love all the surprises that were chosen!
Molly’s been alot more ‘nice’ than ‘naughty’
Elf on the shelf knows all.
Sending a smile 😉
At the beginning of the year you could do a reward chart for Molly. Don’t give her something every day she is good except maybe a sticker. After she collects so many stickers you could then do a reward of an ‘experience’. If it’s something you already had planned, she won’t know any different. And maybe every other month have Cocoa appear one morning for the day. Let her know Santa is always watching. I think that’s part of the magic of Christmas! Good luck! My niece just turned four and she is a pistol! (Her name is Bristol and so her brother calls her Bristol the pistol.) girls are tough and 3 is worse then 2. Do what you have to to keep your sanity!
A good thing Is a sticker chart. If she gets a sticker for every day in the week you give her something small works well with potty and behavior. She can pick the stickers and put them on the chart.
Or less story time if she isnt be having.
Well my 3 yr old just informed me tonight that Cinderella (our elf) is creepy and she would like me to ask it to leave. Haha that didn’t last long!! Enjoy it with Molly… I’ll have to come up with another fun tradition to start!
You asked for ideas to extend the Elf on the Shelf idea throughout the year to encourage her to behave.
What if you found a non seasonal toy (like a barbie or stuffed animal instead of the elf) and she got notes and things from that “toy” weekly or twice a week throughout the year? (I think daily like you do for Christmas is a bit too much work). You could adjust it based on her needs: if she’s having a hard behavior week or is having trouble adjusting to something have the toy leave something a few extra times that week to give her some positive reinforcement/ encouragement. And say its a Holiday like Easter or her Birthday it could leave something every day instead: even when Riley turns one this toy could help Molly get excited and prep for his Birthday (ex: the toy could leave Molly supplies so she could make him a Birthday card, write and perform him a Birthday song ,etc)
Hopefully that made sense!
There is a Birthday Elf on the Shelf! She would love it! You could also buy different outfits for your elf and have her stay year around for all the holidays. I have seen outfits on ETSY for them!
Regarding your desire to have your Elf on the shelf stay all year long; my sister who has a few kids under 5, will use smoke detectors or anythinf in the ceiling as a “camera”. We call them “Santa Cams”. That way, it gets their attention and it’s easy to spot on the ceiling. Also, you can use that tactic anywhere you go!
Hope you find something that works for you!!
Something that I LOVED doing with my girls when they were little was a rock jar. I bought a bunch of colorful rocks (marble size) and put out a mason jar. For good behavior or doing a simple chore they could pick out rocks to put in the jar. Once the jar was full we would give them a small prize or as you mentioned take them to do something we would have anyways (a movie etc). It was super fun, motivated good behavior and most importantly was tangible meaning they could “see” the jar filling up. They also had a blast picking out the rocks from all the colorful choices I had. 🙂