You can enjoy the festive season without abandoning children’s learning
Judith Harries offers some great ways to count, make, celebrate and bake this Christmas season.
Read or tell the Christmas Story or Nativity to the children. Make a list of main characters and events. Make a collection of comic strips for children to read.
Explain that they are going to try to retell the Nativity story in four or five boxes as a comic strip. Model ideas for them to use. Reassure them that it doesn’t need to be funny but they must pick out four or five main events to include, then draw them. Can they use bubble speech to tell the story?
Collect books about Santa Claus: Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs, Dear Father Christmas by Alan Durant, The Christmas Bear by Ian Whybrow, The Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore, and a book about Saint Nicholas, the man behind the legend.
Set up Santa’s workshop in the role-play corner with dressing-up clothes, boxes for children to wrap and label, a craft table for making toys, a stable for the reindeer, a garage for the sleigh, a kitchen to make reindeer breakfast (oats and dried fruit), and encourage children to act out stories about Santa’s adventures.
Make a collection of flat pebbles and choose some Christmas characters and objects to draw or paint onto them (if your skills are rusty, cut and stick pictures).
Try some of these: Santa, snowman, snowdog, reindeer, robin, gingerbread man, elf, Grinch, tree, star, candle, pudding, candy cane, gift, stocking, snowflake, bells.
Varnish the stones once the pictures are finished so they last longer.
Encourage children to work with a partner and choose some of the stones to make up their own story. What might a snowman and a robin find on Christmas Eve? Where is the gingerbread man taking the candy cane?
Provide children with thin strips of green card, rulers and scissors. Show them how to measure and cut a 10cm strip of card and write the number 10 on it. Then cut a 9cm strip and write the number 9, continuing until they have 10 pieces from 10cm to 1cm in length.
Can they build a Christmas tree out of strips in the right order from 10 at the bottom to 1 at the top? Stick down the strips and let them decorate the tree to create a Christmas card.
Set up a Christmas-themed counting table. Place a pot of buttons in the middle, 10 white felt or cardboard snowmen and number cards 1–10.
Invite children to choose a number card or use a die, then find the corresponding number of buttons to place on their snowman. Label Christmas paper cups 1–10 and ask children to place the correct number of buttons or pompoms inside each one using tweezers. Hang up numbered pegs 1–10 onto a washing line.
Let children peg a Christmas tree decoration on each one until all 10 pegs are filled.
Use an advent calendar to challenge counting and ordering up to 24!
Cut a large Christmas tree out of felt and mount it onto a display board. Make 24 felt shapes and write or stick the numbers 1–24 onto them.
Children can place the shapes onto the tree in order, then mix them up again for the next player. If the felt doesn’t stick, try angling the board so the tree isn’t quite upright, or add velcro!
Each day invite one child to go and fetch the number that matches today’s date for an advent treat.
Find out about 10 European Christmas traditions at this BBC article. Ask children and parents to share any traditions they have.
In Italy, gifts are brought to the children on 5 January, Epiphany, by a witch called La Befana, and if they’ve been bad she leaves coal!
In Germany, children leave their shoes outside the door on St Nicholas Day, 6 December, and find them filled with presents or twigs!
In the Philippines, they decorate star-shaped lanterns or ‘parols’ and hang them outside their houses.
Make a list of traditions appropriate to your setting and try to include some in your festivities.
Talk about the different food children enjoy at Christmas – mince pies, candy canes, roast turkey and Christmas pudding.
Read A World of Cookies for Santa by ME Furman and try some of the recipes.
Create Swedish saffron buns to bake and eat with the children on St Lucia day, 13 December.
There are lots of recipes for Lussekatter dough online and you could make it beforehand and prove it ready for the children to shape the buns. Let them roll small pieces of dough into snakes and shape into the letter S. Just before baking push a raisin into the spiral at each end of the S.
Look at images of German Christmas markets online. Organise a Christmas market at your setting in a similar style.
Decorate the rooms with paper chains and Christmas decorations. Serve hot mulled wine and mince pies. Sell Christmas cards and gifts made by the children. Sing Christmas carols and play seasonal music. Wear Christmas jumpers.
Invite local craftspeople to come and sell their wares and raise money for charity or for your setting.
Make some green playdough and provide lots of dough tools and Christmas tree and holly leaf cutters.
Let children roll out the dough and make different-sized Christmas trees or leaves to decorate using sequins, shiny stars, beads and tiny strips of tinsel.
Make white playdough and add some glitter. Ask children to shape the dough into cake shapes.
Provide small plastic Christmas cake decorations such as leaves, robins, flowers, trees and so on, for children to decorate their Christmas cakes.
Finally, flavour some brown playdough with ground ginger and let the children make gingerbread men.
Watch this beautiful version of the Nativity story told by drawing pictures in the sand.
Provide children with shallow trays of dry sand or coloured glitter. Let them draw shapes, or write numbers and letters in the trays.
Can they write their name? Ask children to choose simple Christmas shapes to draw in the glitter such as candy canes, stars and trees. Take photographs of their stories in the sand.
Listen to lots of Christmas music as you enjoy these Christmas activities. Introduce some traditional carols alongside popular Christmas songs.
Make a selection of jingle bells, hand bells and chime bars, and put them in a Christmas music basket. Bring them out for children to use when you sing Christmas songs.
Try these new Christmas rhymes: Five fat snowmen standing in the snow, The sun came out and one had to go! Four fat snowmen… and I’m a little robin, round and red, Here’s my wing, and here’s my head. When the wind blows, and the air is cold, I tuck my head under here, so I’ve been told.
As Christmas approaches, it is fun to try out lots of different seasonal activities but it’s also important to continue children’s learning in all areas of the EYFS framework.
The activities here encompass most of the Early Learning Goals so that the children are actively enjoying books and making up stories, trying out role play activities, developing number and shape skills, finding out about the world and different cultures, looking at changes in materials as they bake buns, developing their fine motor control, handling malleable materials, forming letters and writing in the sand, at the same time as preparing for the fun and games of the festive season.
Open a story corner with lots of different Christmas-themed books for the children to share. Provide lots of comfy red and green cushions and throws to create a cosy reading spot.
Judith Harries is an author and teacher of music and drama, with experience of working with children aged nine months to 11 years.