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.
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.
4) Go for a Christmas 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).
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.
Make the experience even more of an occasion by creating little torch or candle lanterns to take with you.
6) 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.
7) 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.
8) 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.
9) 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 chose 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.
10) 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.
11) Find out about outdoor traditions, stories and plants associated with Christmas
Finally I’ve a few more Christmas posts worth browsing from previous years. Check out:
- All I want for my reusable Christmas is…
- All I want for a natural Christmas is…
- A Christmas Tree Enterprise