December is filled with holiday goodness, but translating those holidays into classroom activities and lessons isn’t always so easy. The teacher-tested holiday lessons and activities below have all been classroom proven and student-approved. Show a little kindness, celebrate the holidays, and spread some love this holiday season!
Holiday Lessons and Activities for Kids
Christmas Activities for the Classroom
Idea by Jennifer, 1st Grade Teacher, Queen Creek, AZ
We use upside-down ice-cream cones to make Edible Evergreen Trees. I begin by giving each student a cone-shaped sugar cone plus a cup of green icing. I show students how they may ice their cones with the icing, press small candies into the cones to represent ornaments and lights and set on white paper plates to dry. (You can also provide small, snowflake shaped candies instead of colorful candies.) When all the trees are complete we place them together on a table that’s been covered in a white paper tablecloth (to represent snow), take a photo of our Evergreen Forest, and use to make holiday greeting cards for home and to send to elder care facilities.
Idea by Laura, 1st Grade Teacher, Akron, OH
At holiday time, my students enjoy creating Footprint Angels. To make one angel, each student traces one of his or her feet onto white paper and both handprints (fingers closed) onto yellow paper. (Instruct children to trace around the fingertips to represent feather tips.) The foot shapes serve as the angel’s head and body and the hand shapes (glued behind the foot shape) serve as wings. The children cut out their shapes, decorate them with glitter, crayons, markers or whatever we have on hand. (Tip: This is a good chance to use up any extra art embellishments you have on hand.) To top off each angel, I visit my local craft store and purchase doll hair in different colors. Each child can select the hair that most resembles his or her own hair color. Once everything is glued in place, we add a piece of yarn at the top so they can hang them on their doors. These angels serve as a reminder to children to reach out to others in caring and helpful ways.
Questions for Santa
Idea by Katie, 1st Grade Teacher, West Roxbury, MA
I read the book Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera (2010, reprinted edition) and then we brainstorm a list of things we’ve always wanted to know about Santa Claus. (Even children who do not include the notion of Santa Claus in their celebrations usually have questions about him and his mission and purpose.) Based on our discussion, I then have children write their questions to Santa. (I make it clear that these letters are not typical letters asking for gifts, but rather letters asking for information.) I then have children swap letters with classmates and have children respond to the questions as if they were writing a reply from Santa himself. (If any actual research is necessary, I help children with this.) We then share the letters and responses aloud.
Idea by Sharon, Kindergarten Teacher, Flowery Branch, GA
My favorite holiday craft to do with students is to paint reindeer sweatshirts. For each sweatshirt, you’ll need a red, white or green sweatshirt and fabric paints (two shades of brown, white, black, red, blue, green, and yellow). You will also need pom-poms (for noses) and large googly eyes. We begin by using brown paint to coat the bottom of each child’s right foot; we then have the child press that foot in the middle of his or her sweatshirt front to serve as the reindeer’s head. Then, we paint the children’s hands with a different shade of brown and press those on either side of his or her deer head print so as to make the antlers. We use fabric glue to add pom-pom noses and googly eyes. Children can then use paints to add a strand of lights between the antlers, or use white paint to add snowflakes. The children wear their shirts for our winter recess party where we gather together for a “Dear Deer” class picture that we use as gifts for family members.
Literature Based Holidays
Idea by Julie, 4th Grade Teacher, Akron, OH
I view holidays as a meaningful way to build skills across the curriculum. For example, I use a set of reproducible pages that tell about different holiday customs around the world to strengthen reading comprehension by having students answer follow-up questions in writing. (If you don’t have a similar set of pages they are easy to create by doing a bit of research on the Internet and then using your findings to assemble a brief summary for each holiday.) I also visit the library to borrow holiday-themed books for those students wishing to learn more about a particular holiday celebration or custom. Because of the multicultural makeup of our classroom, many students are willing to offer oral reports on different holidays and traditions they celebrate at home.
Idea by Jessica, 3rd Grade Teacher, Florence, AL
During the holiday season, I get permission from parents to read aloud the book The Best Christmas Pagent Ever by Barbara Robinson. This book uses the theme of the Christmas story to explore topics of bullying, acceptance, and patience. The book delivers a wonderful message all children and adults can benefit from.
A Mexican Christmas
Idea by Kathi, ED TECH/ECE Teacher, Montgomery, AL
To celebrate the Mexican Christmas Eve tradition of Las Posados, I have my students use red and green tissue paper and streamers to turn an ordinary brown paper bag into a piñata. To fill the piñata, students bring in one treat for each child; we divvy the treats up into individual, self-sealing lunch bags and place the bags inside the piñata. I tie a jump rope around the neck of the filled piñata and take the piñata outside. I toss one end of the rope over a tree branch and pull on the rope to raise and lower the piñata, just as described in the story. Each student gets three tries at breaking the bag by swinging a plastic bat at it. When the piñata breaks, each child scrambles for one plastic bag full of treats (which is better than having loose treats scattered on the ground, plus every child receives the same number of treats).
Booking the Holidays
Idea by Jennifer 1st Grade Teacher, Arlington, VA
At my school, we explore many different holidays including Diwali, Christmas, and the Solstice. To address all these different celebrations, we make holiday books including one page dedicated to each holiday. The pages include facts that answer the core questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how, plus a companion page featuring a student-made illustration of that holiday. Making and sharing our books is a fun way for students to learn and celebrate a variety of holidays, while also offering them a chance to showcase their individual traditions and practices.
Hanukkah Activities for the Classroom
Idea by Sarah, 5th Grade Teacher, Carrollton, TX
To help my students learn about the traditions of Hanukkah, I have them read a few books about Hanukkah and complete some related activities, such as:
• Completing Venn diagrams that compare their traditions with Hanukkah traditions
• Writing creative stories related to Hanukkah (about a dreidel coming to life, etc.)
• Making their own menorahs by gluing nine plastic beads to painted paint stirring sticks and then fitting birthday candles into the beads.
• Learning about the dreidel game by exploring the meaning of the four letters on the dreidel, then making our own dreidels and playing the game with tokens and chocolate coin gelt for winners.
Counting on Hanukkah
Idea by Roxanne, 1st Grade Teacher, Rancho Cordova, CA
To celebrate Hanukkah, I teach my first graders how to play the dreidel game. We sing the classic song, “I Have a Little Dreidel,” and then we use raisins to play the game in small groups. In addition to celebrating the holiday, the game offers practice in addition, subtraction, and game skills.
Idea by MaryEllen, 5th Grade Teacher, Kingwood, TX
To help my students learn about Hanukkah, I read aloud the book Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel. We also make dreidels and play it with the correct rules so they can see how Hershel actually fooled the goblins. Sometimes I also make potato latkes for them to sample.
The Shape of Traditions
Idea by Renee, 2nd Grade Teacher, Tomball, TX
For holiday traditions, I always have my students trace a symbol of the holiday they celebrate—a stocking if they celebrate Christmas, a menorah if they celebrate Hanukkah, a kinara if they celebrate Kwanzaa— or a snowman if they do not celebrate any particular holiday. Then, students use the inside of the shapes to draw pictures representing the traditions they engage in when celebrating their holidays. The students then write a short paper describing their traditions or plans. The students then present their work to the class before displaying for all to enjoy.
Idea by Estefania, Teacher, Doral, FL
For Hanukkah, we make Pretzel Menorahs.
You’ll need: bread; cream cheese; plastic knife; pretzel sticks; raisins; carrot sticks
Step: 1. Spread a piece of bread with cream cheese
Step 2. Place eight pretzel sticks across the bread to form the menorah. Leave room in the middle.
Step 3. Place a carrot stick in the center to represent the shamash, or service candle used to light the others.
Step 4. Press a raisin at the end of each pretzel and carrot stick to resemble flames. Eat and enjoy!
Idea by Lori, 1st Grade Teacher, West Bloomfield, MI
To celebrate Hanukkah, I have students create acrostic poems. First I have students use puffy paints to print the word Hanukkah vertically down the left side of colorful pieces of construction papers and then use each letter to write a word related to Hanukkah. We then display our poems together to form a colorful wall display. Students can create acrostic poems to honor any holiday or celebration.
Kindness and Community Service Activities for the Holidays
Idea by Natalie, 5th Grade Teacher, Smyrna, DE
As the season of giving approaches, my school creates an Angel Tree. We adorn a tree with pictures of angels (recycled from greeting cards) that have been mounted on construction paper. (You can also spray paint a large tree branch white and place in a large pot or jar and hang angels from the branch.) We use the back of each angel to note the name of an item that’s been requested from a neighborhood child in need. Faculty members who wish to participate choose an angel and purchase the item noted. They then drop items off anonymously at an agreed-upon central location for other faculty volunteers to distribute. Each year, the tree has not one angel left hanging.
Community Feast and Treats
Idea by Lisa, 1st Grade Teacher, Lakeland, FL
During the Winter Holidays, our teachers and lunch staff get together and create a special feast for our community, many of whom are in need. We open the lunchroom for lunch and teachers and their families serve the families who attend. We also deliver dinners to those who cannot drive to our school. In addition to the feast, our teachers also adopt needy families who otherwise would not have gifts at the holidays. We each buy the kids a pair of pajamas, a book, and a toy. We get stockings stuffed with essentials needed like shampoo, conditioner, toothbrushes, etc., and have a big party before winter break for those families to attend. We even have a PTO parent who dresses as Santa and who passes out treats at the event.
Give a Grab Bag
Idea by Laurel, 3rd Grade Teacher, Gloversville, NY
For many years, come holiday time, we’d engage our students in a typical practice of purchasing grab bag gifts for each other, but now we’ve left the grab bag idea behind and instead we invite students to buy a gift to donate to Toys for Tots. Last year alone, we were able to collect 40 new toys to donate to the organization, thus making someone else’s holiday a bit brighter. And the recipients weren’t the only ones to benefit. Our children got to experience firsthand how good it feels to give instead of just receive.
When Giving is Receiving
Idea by Stacey, a 2nd Grade Teacher, from San Antonio, TX.
Each holiday season, our school engages in a variety of community service projects. Our student council holds a food drive and collects stuffed animals for children. Our staff collects new household items, toiletries, sheets, shampoos, soap, etc., and puts gift baskets together for families in a local homeless shelter. We also bring gently used clothing and new toys for the children living at the shelter. We find that placing our attention on helping others is the best gift we can give our students—and ourselves!
Shoeboxes of Caring
Idea by Meaghan, High School Teacher, Montague, PEI, Canada
My class and my whole school plan a variety of community service projects during the holiday season. As a classroom we’ve put together shoeboxes of treats for kids in need (small toys, books, edible treats, etc.) as well as a Family Holiday Dinner Basket that our local food bank distributes. My school also conducts a schoolwide food drive by collecting nonperishable items bundled in grocery bags for distribution to local families in need.
Idea by Dawn, School Counselor, Baltimore MD
At our school, we promote kindness toward our community all year long, not just at the holidays. Throughout the year we collect food to be donated to our local food bank. We also collect personal hygiene items and toys for homeless families and shelters in our community. In addition, we hold a coat and blanket drive for the local women’s shelter.
Our school also has established a Random Acts of Kindness Club dedicated to cleaning the neighborhood and creating Thank You packages of appreciation for local fire and police stations. In addition, we anonymously adopt several local families and pitch in to provide them with food and gifts during the holiday season. I am very proud of my students and their ongoing passion for helping others.
A Twist on Dickens
Idea by Kelly, 3rd Grade Teacher, Lake Forest, CA
Because our school is very diverse and multicultural, I decided to write a play that incorporated all of the different celebrations the students in my class encounter during the winter. Titled “A Winter Carol,” my play parodies “A Christmas Carol” with the Scrooge character rewritten to be students who think Christmas is the only thing to celebrate. Ghosts of Eid, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Las Posadas visit the students to teach about the traditions and celebrations related to these holidays. In the end, the students realize that embracing everyone’s culture and traditions is truly the reason to celebrate.
Student Led Decorations
Idea by Julie, 4th/5th Grade EBD Teacher, Pinellas Park, FL
I teach a classroom of emotionally and behaviorally challenged students. During the winter holidays, I allow each student to make and display classroom decorations reflecting a holiday or tradition of their choice. They also research and write about these traditions in order to share their findings with the rest of the class, as well as with other classes in our school. This project fulfills multicultural and historical standards while effectively engaging students in a way they enjoy.
Encourage helpers with this idea by Phyllis, a 2nd Grade Teacher, in Beechwood, OH.
At the beginning of the holidays, I issue each child a large, white paper plate. I then have the children decorate one side of the plates as self-portraits; on the other side of the plates, I ask children to write a sentence telling one way they are willing to be helpful in the classroom. (Tip: We first brainstorm a list of helpful ideas for them to choose from.)
For example, they may write:
- I can wash the desktops.
- I can straighten the library books.
- I can clean the gerbil cage.
I punch a hole in each plate and place them together on a loose-leaf ring. Then, each day I choose one helper plate; that student becomes Helper for the Day and performs, among other tasks, the job he or she recorded on the back of his or her plate.
This idea comes from Laura, a 1st Grade Teacher, from Akron, OH.
Our school has found much success with a variety of drives designed to collect goods and resources to share with those in need. We hold a canned food drive for the St. Vincent dePaul’s Society. We also invite students to become “Change Bandits” by searching their homes (with permission) for any loose change they can find. We donate their “loot” to the local children’s hospital, along with toys we collect during our Toy Drive. In addition, we collect items to send to our troops for the holidays as well as money and items for the local pregnancy shelter. There is always plenty to do and plenty to go around.