Around this time of the year, lots of teachers and parents look for Christmas projects that will engage kids. Whether you're a mum who wants ideas for the first of six glorious weeks of Australian school holidays, or a teacher who discovered yesterday his class is supposed to do something in the Christmas assembly tomorrow, I hope these projects will suggest something that's entertaining and useful. When Christmas is over, tweak the ideas to work with a different theme.
Create a book at Storybird
There are pages of wonderful illustrations at Storybird. All you need to do is choose pictures and decide on your own story. Tip: use the search box to find other Christmas-themed books. That way you get an idea of illustrations available, as well as a chance to read what others have created. Once done, you have a book that can be embedded in a class blog, sent to Grandma, or just saved and read for pleasure. Teachers can get class accounts. Creating a book at Storybird would make a great family project - remember it's the process, not the product that's important, so encourage your kids to experiment and play with words. Find out more from my description of Storybird.
Make a reader's theatre from literature
Reader's theatre is a powerful way to help kids make connections with stories. It immerses them in a book, bathing them in its structure and language, so that they unconsciously absorb the whole book. It was always my solution for that last minute call for a performance from primary- aged school children. You can make it from zero to performance very quickly.
My suggestions for books to use as text for this project:
The Christmas Story by Dick Bruna. It tells the traditional nativity story simply and evocatively. Multiple narrators share the burden of reading, and I always throw in a couple of short acted scenes and costuming to add some bling.
Wombat Divine by Mem Fox. I love this book about Wombat, who wants so badly to be in the Nativity play but every role he tries for doesn't suit.
The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats. If you don't have this one, use the lyrics of the song for your project.
The Australian Twelve Days of Christmas by Heath McKenzie. Any twelve days book or parody works well. Or if you have time, why not write your own?
Try the Christmas picture books in your library. Look for fairly short books, and remember that rhyming works well with less confident readers. If you want more information about Reader's Theatre, link to my as yet unfinished series from Reader's Theatre (4).
Take a song and twist it
Instead of having kids stand and sing, why not have the song as background while a group does some performing or actions? You could teach the kids Six White Boomers and have the singing stop while actors do the dialogue bits, and maybe the whole group could choreograph and perform some actions to the chorus.
I've always found the shorter Christmas songs are best to use with young kids. A Book Chook favourite that's short and easy for kids to learn is one I remember as I'll Telephone to Tell Old Mister Santa Claus. When I googled it, all I found were other people trying to find it. Here are the lyrics I remember:
I'll telephone to tell old Mr Santa Claus
You want him to come tonight
He will come and see you when you're quietly sleeping
Through your bedroom he'll come softly creeping
So hang up all your stockings on the bedpost children
Blow out the candle light
Jump into bed
Cover up your head
Blow a kiss ...
UPDATE: I was contacted by Jane who thinks the verse is: 'Once upon a time, so the story goes, there lived a man who was very old, good little children he loved most dear and he still comes to see them once every year. He rides on a sleigh, each Christmas Eve night, in a cloak rosy red with a beard snowy white, and listen you children, if your very good and do as your told as little ones should then - I'll telephone and tell old Mr Santa Claus etc.'
This is great for singing and doing simple actions like sleeping, creeping, blowing kisses etc Rudolph is another that's fun to add movements to. If you want less secular songs, try Little Donkey or one verse of the classic carols. This can also be combined with Reader's Theatre for a break and an ending.
Create a Christmas diorama
Kids might like to create a scene that represents the birth of Jesus, Christmas Day in their family, Santa's workshop, or their favourite part of a Christmas book. They could set up the scene in a cardboard box, a sand tray, on a special table or a little platform. Ideas for scenery and backgrounds will abound - leave it to the kids! I found some delightful little models made from junk craft at Disney's Family Fun - a stable, and directions for animals, Baby Jesus etc and a much easier Christmas choir from paper towel tubes or children can adapt their own toys and design clothes for them.
Read and learn about different cultures
Looking at Christmas traditions and customs in different countries and comparing with their own is something kids really relate to. You could learn how to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in many languages, prepare traditional Christmas food from a different country, or make an effort to find a penpal in a country your child is interested in. With a class, transform the children's research into a performance by having individuals introduce themselves as a person from a different country, and share a little about their customs, then sing shortened versions of traditional songs as a group.
Make a card at BeFunky
BeFunky is a great online image editor that has some lovely Christmas bling that kids and chooks love. You can upload a photo from your computer, say one of the family, then add text, goodies (bling), frames, effects etc. No need to sign up or download anything. It took me about two minutes to make this card which I could save to my computer, print or share.
Use some of my Creative Prompts
Each Friday for the past several months, I've been supplying creative prompts for you and the kids. Whether you feel like drawing, playing with photos, writing stories, decorating hats, creating cartoon characters or making mud pies, there's an idea that will get you started. Find all the creative prompts so far at this first post in the series.
Focus on giving
No matter your religious beliefs, Christmas is usually looked upon as a time of giving. I think it's an excellent time to discuss what we know of our friends and family with kids, encouraging them to think of a thoughtful, special gift they can give. Does Pop love mangoes? How about a juicy ripe mango tied with red ribbon and accompanied by a short family-created poem about Pop and mangoes? Is Aunty Bonnie having a baby? Kids might suggest creating a certificate that promises her some baby-sitting time or a relaxing massage. School kids might focus on a special gift for parent helpers, or create a short video to say thank you.
Other children might be glad of your own gently used or specially purchased books, clothes and toys, so Christmas is a great time to consider donating to a charity. I've already chosen mine. It's the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation's Wall of Hands. My money goes toward helping close the Indigenous literacy gap - 4 out of 5 Indigenous kids in remote communities can't read to the minimum standard.
The 2010 goal is $150 000 and they've just reached it. I'd love to help them really surpass that goal, simply because literacy matters so much to me. I believe this is a way to make a difference in kids' lives, and give them the wonderful gift of literacy.
If you have some spare cash right now, and you'd like to donate to an Indigenous literacy project, please join me at my wall. A donation of as little as $5 can help provide the learning materials kids need.
Watch out tomorrow for still more creativity - a creative prompt inspired by The Book Chook guest, Lorraine Marwood. Today is also your last chance to enter your name in the Your Life in Comics Giveaway.
(Top image credit Morguefile, card and Hands Up poster made by bookchook)