When I was growing up, I had an Advent Calendar every December. Every night before bedtime, I remember opening another window to see a Christmas scene or a verse of scripture or poetry. It was something that marked this time as different and special. It helped me count down the days until that magical night when we would go out in the middle of the night to the church, to celebrate light in the darkness.

When I had kids of my own, I hoped to carry on the tradition, but there isn’t a large Catholic population where we live, and none of the stores carried them. This year, I’ve been thinking a lot about that simple tradition from my own childhood – perhaps because I’m looking forward to Christmas, then a few weeks later I’ll get another dose of magic in Walt Disney World.

This week I decided I wasn’t going to let some store determine what I traditions I could and couldn’t share with my kids (so there!), so I made a simple Disney Countdown Calendar, built on the idea of those Advent Calendars of my childhood.

Simple Disney Countdown Calendar

Make a Simple Disney Countdown Calendar

As this was a spur-of-the-moment project, I used materials I had around the house:

  • Red and black construction paper (for a Mickey Mouse theme) cut into 2-inch by 3-inch squares (More or less. I didn’t measure.)
  • Scissors
  • Black and white markers
  • Roll of adhesive magnet
  • Magnetic whiteboard from my office

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On each square, I wrote the name of a place, activity or event we have planned for our upcoming Disney trip in alternating white and black marker.

Disney Countdown Calendar Cards

Next, I cut six strips of adhesive magnet, approximately 15 inches long to hold the cards on the magnetic whiteboard. I could have also cut individual pieces of magnet for each square.

Then I arranged the squares on the whiteboard in an alternating pattern and used the strips of magnet to secure them.

Finally, I numbered each square, starting with 30 and going all the way down to 1 – the night before we leave for our trip!

numbered cards

Using the Disney Countdown Calendar with Kids with Autism

One of the things I’m especially excited about with this project is that it plays a dual role. For our neurotypical kids, it’s a way to count down to our Disney trip. For our kids on the Autism spectrum, it also gives them a way to preview our vacation and do a dry run through our itinerary, step by step. That way, if something – like “Ride Space Mountain” for example, causes anxiety, we have plenty of time to talk about it and alleviate those fears – or reassure them that they don’t have to go on any ride they don’t want to – well before we’re standing in the queue and wondering why our child is suddenly melting down. I would much rather prevent anxiety meltdowns than deal with them after they’ve started!

What are your favorite ways to countdown to a Disney vacation? Share them in the comments below!