Six fun ways to incorporate Christmas into your teaching this December

As the month of December approaches, the spirit of the holidays will probably start to make an influence on your students. Perhaps they will become livelier, more talkative, and more eager to get creative.

That's where teachers creativity comes into the picture, to help bring out the potential that this new energy carries. Preparing and adapting fun and engaging Christmas-related activities is the crucial part of creating a great holiday atmosphere in your classroom.

If you are a new teacher, before making any plans, remember to consult your older colleagues about your school's policies and rules about celebrating holidays that are rooted in religious traditions. Ask them what their strategy to teach about holidays is. Many schools have opted for strictly secular curriculum, which doesn't allow religious imagery or anything related to worship to be included in holiday activities and lesson plans.

Here are some creative and inclusive activities you can try in your class.

Making pine cone Christmas trees

Making miniature Christmas trees out of pine cones is so rewarding because these miniature fakes can look very attractive. Also, it is so easy. You just have to find the cones (black pine cones look the best) and paint them green. Light touches of white can be added to create a snow effect. In the end, add decorations made out of play-doh, beads, or other materials.

Besides providing students with a rewarding craft activity, these Christmas tree miniatures may also be a good solution for classrooms which don't practice having a big Christmas tree.

Christmas cards

Christmas cards are one of the holiday craft classics, and children just love making them. Options about what to put on a card are endless. For a touch of personalization, make hand-printed cards - always a favorite with adults to whom the card is intended to since child’s handprints make such precious memories. And even more conveniently, a green print of a hand can serve as a Christmas tree canopy!

STEM Christmas activities

Incorporating Science, Technology, Engineering and Math assignments and challenges into Christmas crafts are becoming quite popular. It may not be obvious at first, but objects that are the result of STEM activities can be really attractive and Christmas-y. For example, look at these sparkly, glittery math and chemistry inspired shapes and objects.

Learning about other Christmas season holidays

Depending on their home and school environment, younger students may not even be aware of the existence of other holidays that come around at the same time as Christmas, such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Also, maybe they don’t know that Christmas is celebrated in various ways all around the world. Try to find a light and fun way to talk about Christmas-time diversity. Including a lot of visual resources will help you achieve the goal.

If you are looking for easier options for celebrating Christmas Around The World then check out my Christmas Around The World Booklet, Christmas Around The World Scavenger Hunt, or Christmas Around The World Research Project. 

Create a unique Christmas school newspaper

You can create a special holiday edition of a school magazine – even if there is no official magazine in your school, your class can have its own this holiday season. Depending on what skills you’d like to boost, you can have them create it with the help of the computer and then print it out, or it can be hand-written and hand-painted. Things that can be included inside are illustrations, favorite holiday songs, and interviews with students on how they celebrate Christmas and other holidays. This is another great way to celebrate cultural diversity. 

Remember kindness 

Children will be very focused on presents around Christmas time. Sometimes they get so obsessed that they can’t seem to think about anything else. To curb this a bit, together you can list ten kind things that we can do for other people.

The Christmas special episode of the Bear in the Big Blue House show could be a good addition – in this episode, the tenants of the Big Blue House provide a home for a homeless dog, and all while studying various holiday customs and of course mindfully exchanging gifts.

Hopefully, you will manage to remind your students that, regardless of variations in customs and material things involved, the essence of all holidays is to bring more love and kindness into our world.

Have a lovely Christmas season!

How to Have a Christmas Movie Day with Santa's Movie Theater

Christmas has a special place in my heart. Along with the magic of Christmas that is inherent in many young peoples childhoods, it also became a time of hope for me as an extremely ill and pregnant first-time mother. My first born was due December 23rd, 2016 and I suffered the whole pregnancy with hyperemesis gravidarum. A condition that saw me hospitalized many times, with IV fluids being my only form of hydration. I was unable to eat, drink, or be merry, so the light at the end of the dark tunnel that was hyperemesis was very timely aligned with Christmas and all its joyful associations. I gave birth to my beautiful daughter precisely one week before Christmas. It was the best gift in the world. Now, Christmas is a time for celebration in our household that symbolizes more than just the magic of Santa but also embracing the best gift of all, our health. To make the most of the festive season we have started a range of family traditions. The new one this year is having a festive movie day, enter Santa's Movie Theater. 

The concept of Santa's Movie Theater came to me while I was thinking about the importance we should place on quality time with one another. Gifts are great and all, but the true magic of Christmas comes with the gift of one another's time, not money. For parents, Christmas is a time that can often be financially horrific. By starting traditions such as a movie day, rather than starting traditions of lots of costly gifts, it sets parents up for a more relaxing holiday season. After all, all kids really want is for their loved ones to be happy, not stressed and broke. For teachers, the same goes. The financial cost of being a teacher is already high, embrace classwide traditions so that you don't have to spend big bucks at Christmas time. 

For those on a shoestring budget, take this blog post and DIY your own Santa's Movie Theater. Yes, I have developed a resource for this that is an original concept I have come up with, but I am more than happy for you to get inspired by this and make your own set-up. The more joy spread, the better. However, this idea may not be copied for commercial purposes, that'd be a Grinch move (before he got into the festive spirit, not cool man, not cool). 

Right, now let's get started. First off what makes a Santa's Movie Theater a theater is the popcorn. Let's be real, we all go to the movies for the delicious treats as well as the actual film. 

To replicate the feel of a theater, you will need to set-up your own mini theater cafe/ treats station. For mine, I included candy canes, reindeer fruit, gingerbread people, popcorn, reindeer snacks (carrots), and hot chocolates. 

For the hot chocolates, I created a separate drinks station where the hot chocolates could be ordered and collected. 

If you are a parent or caregiver doing this at home and you want a bonus idea, then go a step beforehand and bake the gingerbread people yourselves. Children love to cook and decorate. It's such a fun activity for families to do with one another. 

Alternatively, if you are a teacher, a bonus idea is to make the popcorn as a class and discuss the steps involved in cooking popcorn. You can document your popcorn journey as you go for evidence of learning. 

I opted for strawberries for my cafe. This was less to do with me being loaded (I'm not) and more just because they are in season here in New Zealand at Christmas time. The sign has a strawberry on it, but this is just a fruit symbol. Any fruit will do, the reindeer aren't picky.  

To make the mood cozy, you can add a pile of cushions and blankets for your child or children to use. Even if, like me, you live in a place where it is summer at Christmas time, it's fun to get all cozy and watch a Christmas movie. Of course, the cushions and blankets aren't reserved just for the kids (nor are the gingerbread people for that matter), we like to get cozy too. 

For our family set up, I used Santa Cash, and everyone got $10 worth of it. I used the pricing shown on the Santa's Cafe Menu and told everyone to choose what they wanted. 

My five-month-old laughed and opted for his usual milk, my twenty-three-month-old made a beeline for the popcorn and redecorated the living room while having the time of her life, and my 338-month-old took it seriously and ordered a hot chocolate and gingerbread person. I too ordered a hot chocolate and a gingerbread person. Unfortunately, the kind and lovely theater staff lady had ended her shift when I went to order mine, and the theater staff man just sat there eating his own gingerbread man and drinking his hot chocolate. I'll tell you, as fun as this theater is it is terribly hard to get good staff around here. 

To get everyone's orders, create order forms so you know how many of each item you will need. 

After you've set up your cafe, you will need to get your actual movie theater itself sorted. A screen of some description with access to your Christmas favorite, cushions or couches, blankets, and of course a sign to let your well-meaning neighbors or fellow teachers know that you mean business when you are at Santa's Movie Theater. 

To make the setup as real as possible, pop up a Santa's Movie Theater sign, make Admit One tickets, and put up an opening hours sign. You could also make a get your tickets here sign for dramatic effect. 

If you want to be really extra then make some job ID cards too. Younger children absolutely love these as it's a fun chance to incorporate pretend play with Christmas, two of the best parts of childhood, wrapped up into one ball of fun. 

Right, now you are good to go. Pull the curtains, tuck yourself into a comfortable position, grab your treats, and enjoy! The memory of this moment will be talked about for decades to come. 

Loved this idea but don't want to DIY it? Head over to my Santa's Movie Theater digital download to get all the printable resources featured above. 

How to print two per page in Adobe Acrobat

When I set up a new dramatic play center for my daughter in our home I tend to more often than not have a very limited amount of space available to use. We live in a tiny home for a family of four that houses two work from home adults and two very active little explorers. When I was teaching in the classroom, I was fortunate that I had tons more space available to me to set up such centers. Not all classroom teachers have this luxury; if this is you then welcome. I'm here to help you regardless of whether you are a home-based teacher, classroom teacher, or a free-range life educator (mama or other caregivers) with your small space issue when printing out one of my
dramatic play centers

First off, you will need to open your PDF file in Adobe Acrobat.

from here go to file

click on print 

Select multiple and make sure you have selected: two pages per sheet, page order: verticle, and orientation: portrait. Make sure you enter here which pages you want to print at the half size by entering their numbers in the pages to print section. 

then select print.

And that's it! Enjoy your freshly printed dramatic play set. 

How to make a play mailbox

The excitement of collecting the mail is an age-old fun tradition for children. They are yet to be bitten by the sting of adulthood that brings with it the postal expectation of bills, bills, and more bills. It's a beautiful, creative time in little explorers lives. To make this time even more magical, I've created a mailbox freebie printable to set your little explorer(s) imagination on its course to creative freedom (not that they needed much of a nudge). It's a super simple and easy printable to use. 

Supplies Needed

> printer 
> paper 
> old cardboard box 
> craft knife 
> tape 
> scissors 
>  tack/putty 

Step One: download the free mailbox printable here.

Step Two: print the mailbox printable.

Step Three: find an old cardboard box that you can reuse. Here's my cardboard box beauty which also happens to double as undeniable evidence of the love I have for Kmart (down under version of Target really).

I've intentionally reused instead of buying new because a) I've striving to consume less and b) I want you to be reassured that new isn't an essential ingredient for children to have fun (in fact they will probably destroy a new box to the point of looking resued in 0.000348 seconds anyway). But use whatever works best for you.

Step Four: trim the two pages if desired

Step Five: put tack/putty on all four edges of the two pages and then stick them onto the box on two opposite sides. Leave enough room at the bottom of the collection side to cut-out a collection flap.

Step Six: Cut-out a collection flap using your craft knife. I did a bit of a rough job, I think my craft knife is nearing retirement.

Step Seven: push in two opposites of the top flaps of the cardboard so that they are flush with the inside of the box.

Step Eight: fold down the last two flaps as usual and then tape them down.

Step Nine: stand back and soak in your latest creation.

Adaption: if you don't have a box that will easily fold the flaps down, or if you do this and the gap is too big for the post slot then you will need to sellotape all four flaps as they would usually go and then cut-out with your craft knife a post slot.

My daughter loves her mailbox. We use it along with her Post Office Dramatic Playset for imaginary play time. If you want your own copy of this set then click here to check it out on my website

How to encourage random acts of kindness in your classroom this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of the most precious holidays because of its emphasis on one of the most valuable and uplifting feelings - gratitude. Doing good deeds is an essential part of being grateful. Random acts of kindness are uncalled for selfless acts performed to make other people feel good, without expecting anything in return.

There are several ways to encourage and catalyze random acts of kindness in your classroom this Thanksgiving.

7-day Gratitude Challenge

Ask your students to create a list of five things they are grateful for from the top of their heads. Then in the coming days, ask them to think about and write down one thing they are grateful for each day, the one that makes the greatest impression on them on a particular day. To make the task more engaging, you can ask them to create the list in the form of a poster. You can analyze if their lists have gotten more profound as they dedicate more time to thinking about things they're grateful for.

Ho'oponopono: "I'm Sorry, Forgive Me, Thank You, I Love You!"

Saying these four magical expressions has become more popular in recent years through the practice of Ho'oponopono. Originally, Ho'oponopono was a traditional practice of "setting things right," of resolving conflicts and "errors of thought" within individuals and families in Hawaii and Oceania. The now-popular Ho'oponopono is something of a new age spin-off of the original practice. In the modern version, it comes down to repeating these four important words "I'm Sorry, Forgive Me, Thank You, I Love You".

Without diving deep into philosophy, ask your students to stand in line. One student should turn towards the other and say these words (they don't have to be in a particular order). It is incredible how simple but profound words can open little people's hearts. Watch the mood and emotions change as this chain of kindness comes to an end.

The art of writing thank-you notes

Thank-you notes used to be common. Now, with instant messaging options, they are going extinct, but it is amazing that along with forgetting about thank-you notes we seem to be forgetting to thank each other enough altogether.

Help your students learn how to write proper thank-you notes. Besides practicing kindness, it is a good skill to have in life.

Thank You Letters for School Community

Here's the first opportunity to practice those Thank-you note skills. Talk to children about jobs and chores people in the school community do every day in order for your school lives to run smoothly. Imagine together how a janitor's day must look like. Try to really imagine yourself in their shoes. Then after a discussion, write short letters of gratitude and deliver them to people in the greater school community: the janitor, food staff, the gym teacher, or the principal.

Good-doers society

Ask students to form small groups - "secret societies" made out of two to three kids that will do random acts of kindness for other students. Whether this means leaving a candy or a flower on their desk, or cleaning their table, or leaving anonymous positive notes, the only rule is that others must not discover them. At the end of the week, groups can "confess" the things that they have done if they wish. Children will love doing the undercover tasks. This way, you're subverting the usual secret mischief stereotype and using it to do good. You will see how profound effects the secret good-doers societies will have on your students in the long run.

Looking for a low prep option this Thanksgiving? Why not check out my Thanksgiving Celebration Study? Students love this resources and learn so much about Thanksgiving from it.