This time of year can be tricky. Curriculum time is quickly eroded by a combination of sickness, end-of-term fatigue and rehearsals for the Christmas production. You still have to teach but there is an expectation that you will throw in the odd festive-themed activity as a nod towards the fact that everyone is on a countdown towards the holidays. There are many Christmas and holiday-themed activities out there, but many seem to be more time-fillers than credible learning opportunities.

Here are five of my favourite suggestions for festive-themed activities with a bit more substance.

  1. Snowman sight word bingo

The original activity is described here:

Depending on the age of the children in your class, you could adapt it by getting the children to write in their own selection of sight words from a list, or giving them a greater variety of materials to decorate the snowman card once they have finished. Alternatively, you could use the same activity for a bingo game working on tables, matching fractions or representations of time.

  1. Designing patterned wrapping paper

Each child will need a sheet of plain wrapping paper that will accept ink or paint, e.g. brown parcel paper, and coloured pens or paints, depending on the age of the children.

Get them to sketch out some designs for repeating patterns that have reflective or rotational symmetry. For younger children, these can be simple patterns created using pastry cutters or other templates and perhaps one or two colours. Older children could be given a more demanding brief, for example requiring them to consider how the use of patterns within a basic outline affects the overall symmetry of a shape.

  1. ‘Top Trumps’ with characters from festive stories

Revisit some famous festive stories with your class, focusing on characterisation. With older children, you could discuss which categories might feature on ‘Top Trumps’ cards for these characters and get the children to design cards for two different characters. Ensure there is a good mix of characters from several different stories.

Mix up the cards then re-allocate them so each child has two different cards, making sure they are characters from different stories. Then get the children to imagine what would happen if these two characters met. In what circumstances might that occur? How would they interact with each other? What would happen? Who would come out on top?

Children can work individually, in pairs or even in groups, and the output could be a discussion or role play, a script, a story plan or storyboard, or even a piece of extended writing, depending on the age and ability of the children.

  1. Christmas ornament stall

If your school holds a Christmas fayre, older children could be involved in running a Christmas ornament stall.

There are various ways to build up stock to sell. You could ask the children to bring in ‘pre-used’ ornaments that are still in good condition but that they wish to exchange. For each ornament donated a child could receive a credit to be used in exchange for a different ornament on the day of the fayre.

Alternatively, the children could make salt dough ornaments, or create ornaments from a range of reused and recycled materials, and sell these. During the production process there may be opportunities for children to work in groups and to explore the pros and cons of using a production line approach versus each child working on every stage of production.

Once the ornaments have been produced, get the children to come up with a robust pricing strategy. This can include a discussion of how to value each ornament (e.g. time spent, materials used, skill required) and setting discounts for multiple purchases.

  1. Reverse advent calendar with PSHE challenges

And, finally, a good way to help children consider some of the more serious aspects of the festive season is something like a ‘reverse’ advent calendar. Instead of finding a chocolate behind each door, the children could be issued with a challenge that makes them think about what the festive season is like for people in the wider community. Variations on this idea include a ‘wishes tree’ – you print wishes on little cards that you hang from the branches of a tree – or the ‘kindness elves’ idea described here:

The challenges or activities can be tied in with school-wide initiatives, such as joining in charity schemes to send gift boxes to disadvantaged groups or carol singing at a local community centre to entertain elderly people. You can also challenge the children to think of ways they can help at home during what is a very busy time of year, or free/inexpensive ways to make the festive season special. Older children might also respond well to the challenge of finding ways to cut down the amount of waste they produce.