December is filled with winter sparkle and holiday magic in my classroom! No, really, I mean it! I know this time of year gets a bad rap for feeling overwhelming, chaotic, and a bit rushed. But it doesn’t have to be! Today I’m sharing 5, practical tips for making holiday learning more fun. We’ll talk about planning December activities your students will love and how to manage the holiday hustle. There’s no need to dread the holidays in the primary classroom, come along and see how you can bring the joy back to your December activities!
Tip #1 – Embrace Holiday Themes
As crazy as it sounds, December is actually one of my favorite months in the classroom. This might sound a bit off the wall since the holidays are known for being jam-packed and hectic. As teachers, we have more than ever on our plates and things can feel a little hard to balance. While this is certainly true, I also love that this time of year also offers non-stop engagement if you align your lessons with holiday themes.
That’s right, leaning into those December themes like gingerbread, reindeer, and holidays around the world can actually make teaching easier! We all know that young students are practically bursting at the seams with excitement for the holidays. I use this to my advantage and plan all of my lessons around attention-grabbing December activities.
Not only will this make the most of your limited classroom time in December, but it will also bring a heavy dose of holiday joy into your lessons! Being intentional in choosing festive small group lessons, seasonal books, and other fun December activities will help ensure your students are engaged and ready to learn, even in the midst of holiday distractions.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, so why not embrace it and plan meaningful holiday lessons your students will love?!
Tip # 2 – Choose Low-Prep December Activities
First things first, we need to address the practical side of planning your December activities. The number one most important thing to keep in mind, in my opinion, is balancing your prep time.
With even less time in the classroom than usual, it’s all too easy to find yourself in a prep-work pickle. You know what I’m talking about…
For me, it was that time I planned all.the.things. for my classroom and then ended up running around like crazy trying to accomplish it all over the weekend. I made peppermint-scented playdough, filled treat bags with magical reindeer food, and even wound up cutting out tiny gingerbread shapes at midnight on my living room floor. We’ve all been there a time or two!
Though well-intentioned, these are the moments that cause stress and make us dread holiday planning in the classroom. So, keeping that in mind, I want to encourage you to prioritize low-prep activities wherever you can.
I know you’ll likely have some special holiday crafts or cooking projects, so balance those out with low-prep centers and morning tub activities so that you don’t end up taking tons of projects home. My go-to? Snap cube mats!
Low-Prep Snap Cube Mats
Snap cube activities are one of my all-time favorites because all you need to do is print and you’ve got an instant center activity!
And, best of all, the familiar layout and directions of snap cube mats mean they help support independence too! Activities like these will free up your valuable time to focus on small groups, while other students are humming along with their tasks. Some of my favorite options for December include:
These mats come in handy whether you’re looking to target letter recognition, working with tens frame, or learning to graph. Keep these on hand for quick and easy skills practice you can use all month long.
No-Prep Color By Code December Activities
I’m a big fan of also having some print-and-go December activities at the ready.
These types of activities come in really handy when things don’t go to plan, or if I have early finishers. I like to use these Christmas Math Counting On worksheets to fill this spot in my December lesson plan.
With multiple options, they’re easy to differentiate by skill level and even easier to use.
This festive math activity is a fun and simple way to have students use those number fluency skills!
To use, students will look at the code at the top of the page to see which number they are looking for.
When they find that number combination by counting on, they color the space with the indicated color. When all spaces have been colored, a hidden holiday picture will appear!
Tip #3 – Select December Activities that Multitask
We all know this time of year is shorter than usual in the classroom. Most of us have a solid two-week winter break coming up, but we’ve still got to ensure our kiddos make progress towards learning goals before then! One of my favorite tricks for making the most of our time is to choose December activities that serve a couple of purposes. For example, choosing lessons that target multiple subjects in one activity is a huge timesaver!
In my room, the multitasking MVP is always our lapbook activities! I love lapbooks, or flippy flaps as we call them, and we use them for just about every theme you can imagine. These come in really handy when time is limited because they offer a way to teach in-depth on a topic and use all kinds of fun activities to take a deeper dive into it.
In December, our lapbook activities include:
To use these activities, we fold up a manilla folder in a special format and fill it with writing prompts, coloring pages, lists, graphs, and important facts. Typically, I read a few books on our topic when we get started and then work on some of the activities for our lapbooks in groups. These are lots of fun to work on in small groups since they often inspire plenty of conversation among the students!
I love that these activities also provide a visual record of everything we’ve learned. Students will be able to flip back well after we’ve finished and reflect on what we learned about. These make a great holiday keepsake that parents absolutely love year after year! Take a closer look at exactly how we use these holiday lapbooks!
Tip # 4 – Add December Activities to Your Writing Center
Does your writing center get less love from students than other stations in your room? I know that for me this used to be a constant problem.
I noticed that kiddos were far more likely to use the building center, art area, and dramatic play. While this is understandable, I wanted to inspire my students to choose the writing center all on their own. The answer? Thematic writing materials!
Imagine being a student and entering the classroom to find a winter wonderland of writing prompts and activities that magically appeared overnight.
It will feel like Santa and his elves snuck into the classroom and sprinkled a bit of holiday magic all over your writing center! Your students can experience this excitement too, all you need to do is swap out your materials for some fun December activities.
Some of the resources I like to use include:
- Build and Write Playdough Mats
- Finish and Write Picture Prompts
- Draw and Write Directed Drawings
- Letter Tracing Cards
- Vocabulary Tracing
- and more!
These festive writing prompts and activities are super helpful when it comes to inspiring your students to write all month long. Not to mention, they look great displayed on a bulletin board or bound together in a holiday writing journal. By choosing writing prompts and activities that tie into the seasons or upcoming holidays, you can count on full engagement from your students!
Tip # 5 – Choose Engaging December Center Activities
If there’s any time in the classroom when things can get a little rowdy, it’s usually during centers. This is when I’m often working in small groups, or this time of year, completing one-on-one assessments. This leaves the rest of my students working with partners or independently. If the activities I assign during this time don’t grab their attention, it’s a recipe for getting off-task. Avoid this dilemma by choosing center activities that you know your students will be excited to use!
Pattern Block Activities
One of my favorite manipulatives for center time are pattern blocks. Students love building with them and they can be used to practice all kinds of important skills.
We use these pattern block mats in our December activities to focus on matching shapes. Students will spin the spinner, find a pattern block that matches, and use it to build the picture. They continue until their holiday shape is complete.
When they’re all done, there is a follow-up counting activity to see how many of each shape they end up with.
These pattern block mats are similar, except instead of a spinner, students will use dice. A perfect chance to add in some subitizing or extra counting practice. Both activities come in 2 options for differentiation.
I like to print and laminate the full-color version for each set to use with pattern blocks throughout the month. The black-and-white version is a little trickier and great for those students who need a challenge.
Holiday Shape Games
Are your students working on 2D shapes? Mine too! This is a big topic to tackle and we use fun games all year long to help facilitate learning. In December, I love using these holiday shape games during center time. Some of our favorite activities from this resource include:
- Clip Cards – Students play independently by looking at the picture and clipping the matching shape with a clothespin.
- BINGO – Students can play in small groups or as a class. They will cover up the shapes that are called out until one person has a straight line or the entire board covered.
- Shape Discrimination Cards – Students will play independently. They will look at the picture in the middle and cover up all the matching shapes around the sides.
- Puzzle Cards – Students can play independently or with partners. Students will match the shape to the picture and put the puzzle pieces together.
Since these games and activities are versatile, they’re also great for independent learning, fast-finishers, and small groups! They also make great early finisher activities too!
Planning Your Own December Activities
So, how are you feeling? Ready to tackle planning your own December activities? I know this time of year is busy, but planning your lessons shouldn’t be a hassle! By choosing low-prep activities that use fun holiday themes, you’ll be all set for a fun-filled month of learning. And. . . you will even save so much time that choosing one or two holiday activities that require a lot of prep won’t be so daunting or stressful.
If you’re looking for even more activities for December, or want to get a head start on January, head over to my TPT Shop to find all of these resources and more! Happy Holidays!
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