15+ Christmas Outdoor Activities for Early Years and Primary

1 November 2017 · 30 comments

in 10 Outdoor Ideas Series, Early Years Outdoors, RME Outdoors, Urban

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Here’s a few simple outdoor activities to do that can be easily squeezed into the hectic schedules in schools and pre-schools in the run up to Christmas:

1) Decorate a tree or bush outside as a bird feeding tree

  • Smear pine cones in salt-free peanut butter or lard and dip in bird seed
  • Make strings of popcorn
  • Create birdseed fatballs to hang up

Enjoy watching quietly to see which birds come and visit. If you don’t have a tree, buy a plastic one or put a branch in a large pot filled with stones or peat-free compost.


2) Look for Santa’s beard

Some lichen grows in hairy tufts. These are traces of Santa. When his beard hair falls out, it lands all over the Earth and creates lichen. Have a hunt for some in your grounds or nearby greenspace. You will find lichen growing on rocks, old wall, gravestones, trees, roofs and fences. Give the children magnifying glasses to help see the lichen better. Lichen is very slow growing so it’s best to let the children take photos rather than pick off lots of clumps. Scottish Natural Heritage have a book about lichens which is useful background reading. Older children  – 8yrs+ may enjoy undertaking the OPAL lichen survey which is free and with helpful guidance – upload your results to the national data bank as part of a massive citizen science project.


3) Set up an outdoor nativity scene for small world play

Once children have heard the Christmas story, make animals or use toy farm animals. Buy some allergy-free hay from a pet shop. Get children to think of substitute possibilities for any animals and people you don’t have. For example, the children may enjoy creating animals from natural materials such a clay, sticks and cones.  A large cardboard box turned on its side with flaps for the doors makes a simple stable which can be easily taken outside daily by children. Older children can use this to adapt the nativity and change the plot, characters or setting if they know the Christmas story really well.


4) Go for a Christmas light walk

This is best in a residential area where children can look out for all the Christmas lights and other decorations. Look the variety of lights, indoors and out. Compare this with lights that are used all year round (a good reason for another walk in January). It can be also good to consider how to create your own set of lights back inside the classroom – do parallel circuits or lights in a series work best?


5) Sing Christmas carols outside

If you haven’t time to organize a visit to a community group, then brainstorm with your class to find songs to sing in different places, e.g

  • Deck the Halls in the hall or a corridor
  • The Holly and the Ivy beside a holly bush, if you have one in your grounds. If you don’t, find the thorniest bush instead or one with berries on it.
  • Oh Christmas Tree!, near an evergreen tree, etc.


6) Light cubbies and candle lanterns

Make the experience even more of an occasion by creating little torch or candle lanterns to take with you. A lovely example of building light cubbies can be seen on this video from Upper Sturt Primary School in South Australia which extends the learning throughout the primary stages.


7) Follow the star

Set up a star trail around the school grounds. Children have to look for the laminated stars hung in different places and complete the activities written on each star, e.g

  • Do 10 star jumps
  • Touch the grounds six times
  • Walk backward 5 paces, etc.

Better still, the children could create their own ideas for a star trail. This works for all ages. Older children can create trails for younger children to follow.


8) Create natural decorations and hang outside

It is possible to create simple stars from sticks and other natural materials. It can be useful for practising tying ribbon, weaving and other fine motor skills. Think about where would be a good place to put the decorations and who would want to enjoy seeing them. If you have cold weather, then use the opportunity to create ice decorations.

If you want to consider the maths opportunities of natural decoration, then check out this blog post for ideas.


9) Go on a present hunt

Wrap up a box in gift paper. Take turns at hiding the box in different places outside for other children to find. Children can give clues such as “getting warmer” as a child gets closer to the box and “going cold” if a child moves further away or in the wrong direction. Your class may enjoy make their own gift boxes and deciding what free and found treasures should go in them. With older classes, this can be adapted to create a more complex hunt with clues and instructions.


10) Re-use unwanted decorations

If your children love the glitzy look of Christmas decorations, then reuse old and unwanted Christmas decorations outside.

  • Use Christmas ribbon and shiny material to decorate the features of your outdoor area. Weave ribbon through fences, around hanging baskets and tubs. Just ensure the material won’t dissolve in the rain and wet weather. This could be part of the fun, deciding which materials will work best. If a child does choose materials that go soggy then, let them and observe what happens. Most children learn experientially.
  • Hang plastic baubles on the fences and washing lines. Sorting, ordering and making patterns can arise through this sort of play.
  • Using guttering, roll plastic baubles down the guttering. See what happens when water is added. Use baubles of different shapes and sizes for comparison.
  • Have a look at the Advent Garden blog post, for decorating an outdoor space in the run up to Christmas. Every day in December, an extra bauble was added outside.


11) Have a special Christmas outdoor snack

Provide warm drinks such as warm spicy apple juice and warm foods such as mince pies outside. They do seem to taste extra good outdoors. Check out some more warm outdoor snacks and food options in this blog post.


12) Reindeer prints

Look online to find the pattern and spacing of reindeer hooves. Create a set of prints in the ground that disappear. Wonder with the children about where they have gone to, how they landed and so on. This is especially exciting after a visit from Santa.


13) Find out about outdoor traditions, stories and plants associated with Christmas

Find out more about holly here.


14) Winter solstice

This is a lovely celebration with lots of outdoor potential. Have a look at the Slow Family blog by Suz Lipman for an explanation of the Winter Solstice and some relevant activities.


15) Finally….

I’ve a few more Christmas posts worth browsing from previous years. Check out:

One last thing…. always remember to tidy up sparkly man-made items that wildlife may find appealing. In particular, leave the glitter indoors as it’s hard to tidy up outside and quickly becomes litter that is not okay for wildlife to ingest, edible or otherwise.

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Abbie December 22, 2010 at 14:42

LOVE so many of these ideas. The Christmas walk is genius. We are on vacation right now and it is a bit warmer so I think we might have to do this one this morning.
Thanks for sharing all these ideas.


Andrea S November 23, 2013 at 17:06

I sincerely hope you are a teacher at a Christian school, and not a public school! If it’s the latter, then you are purposefully alienating many students, and that is NOT acceptable, or constitutional.


Juliet Robertson November 23, 2013 at 17:25

Hello Andrea

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m based in Scotland, within the UK where by law, schools have to teach religious and moral education (RME). This includes Christianity and other world religions. Parents have a legal right to withdraw their children from acts of religious observation in Scottish schools.

I have been extremely fortunate to work with amazing parents and children with many different religious beliefs and have always consulted with them prior to organising Christmas activities to find out what is and is not acceptable for their child to be involved with. I try to take an inclusive and sensitive approach to the teaching of RME.

I trust the readers of my blog to be able to take the information contained in this post and apply as much or as little of it as appropriate to their context.

I hope this clarifies matters.

Best wishes


Andrea S November 23, 2013 at 18:44

Where is your blog about outdoor Winter Solstice activities then? Honestly, that would be much more fitting. This seems awfully Christian-centric.


Juliet Robertson November 23, 2013 at 19:11


What a fabulous idea!

Now that you have put this suggestion to me, I think this blog post is a definite must. Watch this space.

Thank you very much


Juliet Robertson December 28, 2013 at 13:26

OK so I never managed a Winter Solstice post this festive period. However Suz Lipman has over at her blog http://www.slowfamilyonline.com/2013/12/celebrate-the-winter-solstice-2/ so enjoy the info and suggestions posted there.

Janette A November 6, 2016 at 20:34

Andrea S. I don’t understand why you are taking such a critical and aggressive stance when Juliet has been nothing but helpful sharing her ideas. I find your attitude rude .


Maria December 12, 2016 at 14:55

What a fabulous blog. I’ve just used this with my class of 6 year olds. In the class there were muslims, hindus, Sikhs, catholics, one Jehovah witness, protestant and agnostics. It was a great way to inform them of traditions from another culture/religion. Andrea S – I doubt any of their parents will be offended or feel their child has been alienated, as they all came to watch their children in the nativity play last week and had no issues. As a community we all stayed and chatted afterwards.

Sharna Fish November 23, 2013 at 20:37

Hi Juliet
I love every idea you have detailed in your blog. Living in beautiful Sydney, Australia, we have ample opportunities to get outside in the sun and explore. I will be taking your ideas with me to the Preschool I work at and I’m sure ALL the kids will thoroughly enjoy them. Thank you so much for your creative ideas.
Best Wishes for a wonderful Christmas, Sharna Fish.


Juliet Robertson November 24, 2013 at 00:10

Thanks Sharna 🙂


Michelle Murphy November 23, 2013 at 22:35

Tinsel is deadly to birds and animals if they eat it. It should never be put outside….or used for that matter because the tree will eventually end up outside.

The other ideas are wonderful


Juliet Robertson November 24, 2013 at 00:19

Thanks Michelle

I think this is a really helpful point and perhaps one I should have flagged up in the post. Any of the unwanted decorations pose hazards to wildlife if not properly considered. Broken items should be removed promptly along with any traces of shiny litter!

Best wishes


Coombe Mill - Fiona November 24, 2013 at 22:36

Some great ideas Juliet, I particularly love the star hunt and peanut butter cones for the birds. Thanks for linking up and sharing some fab outdoor activities with Country Kids.


Valarie November 25, 2013 at 18:53

Great ideas! It’s easy to adjust any “religious” activity to other holidays/seasons. Thankfully, the creativity, open-mindedness, and love of teachers like you bring joy and happiness to all children throughout the year.


Juliet Robertson December 4, 2013 at 20:03

Valarie – This is a very valid point. I am researching the Winter Solstice and so many of the traditions are blended into Christmas or general holiday that it becomes quite hard to know what is specifically religious and what is not. Years ago, I worked with a talented classroom assistant who was a Jehovah’s Witness. She was really helpful in terms of clarifying these sorts of matters so I may have to go to her for further advice.


Lisa November 25, 2013 at 22:23

I like these ideas! Will hopefully try set up an outdoor nativity and definitely have an outdoor Christmas snack, everything tastes better outside!


Ruth November 28, 2013 at 10:24

Love the post. I felt it was totally seasonal and not overtly Christian! Even if it was overtly Christian I would still be thanking you for sharing your ideas and inspiration, just as I like sharing in my Jewish and Hindu friends’ celebrations. One of the great things about the web is sharing and learning from each other and not having to to conform to some culturally diluted Stalinist tight rope of political correctness. I think the inclusive nature of the UK RE curriculum fosters understanding and inclusiveness and I have realised today I should be grateful for this. Thank you!


Juliet Robertson December 4, 2013 at 20:07

Thanks Ruth – I rather like the Scottish approach to RME as it is not prescriptive and celebrates and values all religions and cultural events. I think most people would recognise that Christmas is as much a cultural event as a religious event these days in Scottish society. However I do try and remember that my perspective may not be shared by parents and children that I teach so I suppose being gently cautious helps.


Kay Jo December 4, 2013 at 08:51

Loved your Christmas ideas! Made the star and attached as a bird feeding station in forest school last week with Early Years. They loved it! They problem solved how to make the star, practised their knot tying skills and thread monkey nuts, popcorn, Cheerios and dried fruit onto cotton and wool and had an altogether wonderful time! Thank you 🙂


Juliet Robertson December 4, 2013 at 09:05

Thanks for the feedback Kay Jo – It’s always good know know when ideas turn out to be useful to others. Happy Christmas to you, your children and the birds that visit!


Pinkoddy December 8, 2013 at 19:29

These are great ideas, thank you for sharing.


Catherine Williams November 25, 2016 at 19:14

Juliet, I sincerely appreciate you sharing these ideas. Will use ‘Follow the Star’ as an activity to follow the reading of ‘Little Owl and the Star: A Christmas Story’ by Mary Murphy. The Star tells all of the principal characters in the Nativity story to “follow me”, as he is on his journey to shine above the stable. We will then go outside and follow the stars to the forest school area to find our advent calendar which will begin our own period of ‘waiting’ (advent). A lovely start to Christmas celebrations. Thank you.


Juliet Robertson November 26, 2016 at 19:48

What a brilliant development of this idea! I really hope the activity goes well. Thanks for sharing – I hope it inspires others.


Allison December 4, 2016 at 17:47

Hello, Thank-you for sharing your creative ideas! I have just weaved together two big stars and look forward to sharing with the children as they made feeders to hang on the Christmas star..
Thankyou again xx


Juliet Robertson December 4, 2016 at 18:52

You’re welcome – it sounds wonderful what you have done. Happy birds too!


Nurseries in Manchester May 30, 2017 at 10:21

I love these outdoor ideas. Tree decoration is the best activity kids like to play. Thank you so much for sharing these fun loving activities.


Cameron November 5, 2017 at 14:47

Hi Juliet! Some great ideas as always. I love decorating a tree for the birds and like to link it to the story “Night Tree” by Eve Bunting. It’s basically about a family that every Christmas Eve decorates a tree in the forest. They cover it with apples, seed balls, popcorn garlands etc. as a gift to the animals. Also has carol singing and outdoor snacks! I have done it at Stramash a few times, but now wondering if we can do it another way. Thanks for the inspiration!


Juliet Robertson November 5, 2017 at 16:32

Ooh – I didn’t know about this book – it sounds like a lovely springboard into the bird tree decorations. In fact it reminds me – It would be good to check out some Christmas story books and see what outdoor activities these naturally lend themselves to.


Juliet Robertson January 8, 2017 at 00:19

Thanks for your comments!


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