Of course plopping them down in front of a Christmas movie is an option, and sometimes that is a nice quiet thing for them to enjoy, but I'd rather keep the movies for special family snuggle time. This calls for something that is on-hand and ready to be used anytime it is needed. One Advent season a few years ago, I began collecting easy, fairly non-messy craft supplies. I don't mind a little mess as long as it is easy to clean up. I organized all the crafts into a large box, "The Christmas Craft Box". We all love to pull it out when the need arises!
Here are some of the sorts of things I've used:
:-: perler bead sets - save the pattern instructions that come with any kits and these can be made again and again. These would make cute gifts, just add a hanger so they can be hung on the tree. The only worry here is that careless hand will knock them over before they can be ironed and all that hard work is lost. You could let the kids work on these while you are ironing Christmas tablecloths and napkins and clothes near by then you could quickly iron them as they make them.
:-: foam sticker sets - The gingerbread sets are particularly fun. Watch Michael's for super sales on these - don't pay full price! The small "drums" come with hundreds of stickers and seem to last forever. We are still using stickers from drums we bought a couple of years ago. These can be used to make cards, decorate gifts, or just to make fun pictures with.
:-: glittery and Christmas colored pipe cleaners - These can be used for so many fun things. One year my kids used these to make a huge glittery garland to decorate our tree. We still use it! (Take a pipe cleaner, bend the ends together, then gently shape into and oval, do the same with the next pipe cleaner, but loop it through the first "link" before bending the ends together - keep going!)
:-: gum drops and toothpicks - My kids have had more fun making crazy creations with these. Use them like you would tinker toys (gum drops are the round "joints" and the toothpicks are the long sticks).
:-: brown paper bags - lunch size and grocery size. The kids can make puppets, vests, masks, or decorate and use for gift bags.
:-: pom-poms - all sizes! Add some googly-eyes and they can make little puff-ball creatures. Pom-poms are fun to ad to anything: gifts, cards, or just a Christmas drawing.
:-: styrofoam balls - again, all sizes! Paint, glue together, or just play with. With some adult supervision, you could hot glue little things to these and make fun decorations.
:-: Christmas stamps - You'll have to decide how independent your kids can be with paint. My older kids are fine using these on there own (with me keeping an ear and an occasional eye on them), but of course the 2 year-old needs me right with her.
:-: Christmas stickers - I'm sure your kids can think of some fun uses for these.
:-: paper, coloring books, markers, crayons - It helps to keep it all handy in one place.
:-: Christmas-themed activity books - like madlibs, highlights, etc.
:-: small, inexpensive craft kits - some require quite a bit of adult help, so consider how much you can help at a given time. I only get the easiest ones. There are so many to choose from: pom-pom creatures, felt ornaments, beaded ornaments, etc. Watch for sales, because these can get pricey when you are buying for a few kids.
Any other craft supply ideas you would like to share? How do you keep your kids occupied when you need some work time during the Advent season?