Christmas is on its way! Here we are in the season of Advent, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of Christmas. It is an exciting time for children as they anticipate Christmas and count down the days!
Here we have 24 great ideas, to help you use the Advent period as a way of getting Early Years learners outside and enjoying some festive playground activities every day. Even if it is chilly outside, getting a daily burst of fresh air and a sensible amount of outdoor exercise, is essential at this time of year.
Not only does it help children to keep fit and healthy during the winter months, but it helps to re-energise their bodies and inevitably leads to a better night’s sleep, which they really need to keep going through all the festivities (and especially so that Father Christmas has time to get down the chimney!).
The Pentagon Play Advent Calendar
One of our favourite ideas is to make your own Advent Calendar, with a different festive outdoor activity written behind each door.
Whatever Key Stage they are at, children will be excited to reveal what they are going to be doing each day
Take two large pieces of craft card, each the same size. On the first piece, mark out 24 squares and write the name of an activity in each. On the second piece, mark out 24 squares in exactly the same place as the first piece. Take a pair of scissors and cut along three of lines of each square to make them into the “doors”.
Use craft glue to stick the second piece of card over the first. Number each door 1-24. Use little pieces of blu-tack to stick each door down so as not to reveal the surprises until the doors are ready to be opened!
Decorate the calendar in a festive way with anything you like, the more sparkles the better!
The lovely thing about this idea is that it is very adaptable and you can tailor it to fit in with your lesson planning!
Here are our 24 outdoor activity ideas to keep your little ones entertained in the run up to Christmas...
1. Nativity Play
Act out the Christmas story and stage your own Nativity play on your outdoor Performance Stage. Children will love dressing up to play the parts and it’s the perfect venue for a spot of storytelling and role play with plenty of space to move around!
2. Spot the Robin Redbreast
Legend has it that the Robin got its red chest from flying over the fire in the stable where Jesus was born, flapping its wings to keep the flames going and getting a warm red chest in the process! Head out into the school grounds and see if you can spot a Robin, they usually start to appear in late Autumn.
If you have a Wildlife Area, make it a regular thing to take care of birds and wildlife during the winter. Children can make festive bird feeders by mixing nuts and seeds in peanut butter, stuffing it in small empty yogurt pots and stringing them up in the Wildlife Area.
Stringing pieces of popcorn together on string and hanging them off the trees also makes a tasty treat for the birds and will help with the Robin spotting!
3. We Three Kings
Tell the children the story of the three wise men travelling from afar to visit the baby Jesus in his manger. They followed a bright star which guided them to the crib
Can the children act out the journey of the three wise men by travelling across all the different school playground equipment? This is a great activity if you have a Trim Trail or Play Tower which requires the children to imagine travelling across treacherous lands and overcoming the obstacles!
Children can take it in turns to be the bright star and choose the route, while the others follow just like the wise men.
4. Follow the Star
Hide gold stars all around the school playground. Challenge the children to find them all.
On some of the stars you can write down star activities such as “do 20 star jumps” or “run like a shooting star” which the children have to do when they find that star.
Ask the children to make their own stars to hide, and write down their own star activities. They will have to think creatively and practice their fine motor and writing skills at the same time!
5. Shepherds and their Flocks
Have fun with a traditional game of “tag” in the playground. The chosen shepherd is “it” and must run around and try and catch the other children who are “the sheep”.
When the shepherd catches a sheep, that sheep becomes the next shepherd, and so it goes on. It’s a great way of keeping warm and getting some good aerobic exercise on a cold day!
6. Natural Tree Decorations
Send children into the school playground to gather twigs, fircones or similar natural objects, whatever they can find.
Spray them with shimmery paint or paint them red, green and gold, traditional festive colours, and attach them to ribbon to make beautiful decorations to take home for the Christmas tree.
7. Decorate a Tree
It doesn’t have to be a typical fir tree! Pick a small tree or bush that little hands can reach in the school playground and decorate it with all sorts of things. Most baubles are plastic so will be weather resistant.
If the budget is tight children could be asked to bring in old decorations, bits of tinsel etc that aren’t used at home anymore. Who can stretch up and reach the highest branches?
Aside from stretching out their bodies in the fresh air, this creates a fabulous sensory experience for all children using the playground. Can they hear the decorations jingling and jangling in the wind, or see the light reflecting patterns?
8. Mud Kitchen Mince Pies
This is the perfect time to get busy and messy in the Mud Kitchen making mince pies, Christmas pudding, “chocolate” mud yule logs or whatever other concoctions the children would like to stir up for Christmas dinner!
9. Freeze Turkey
Time to get some more exercise! Children will love running around the school playground pretending to be Christmas turkeys! Freeze when the whistle blows!
If you are caught moving you are out and must serve yourself on a Christmas platter (stand inside a hula hoop on the ground). The last person left in the game gets to be the Christmas turkey and gets a big warming hug from everyone.
10. Yule Logs
A Yule Log is a large log traditionally burnt on the hearth on Christmas Eve. Go hunting for sticks and logs, see who can find the biggest, and build a “fire” by piling them together, stacking them in order of size, in the playground.
It’s a good opportunity to look at measurement, shape, biggest and smallest, longest and shortest etc. Then why not gather round your “fire” and sing some Christmas songs together.
Decorate your Play Den to make somewhere comfy for Santa and his helpers to come and stay. Don’t forget your Outdoor Classroom when it comes to the school Christmas fair.
It makes the perfect Santa’s Grotto and why not let the children get involved by getting it ready for him in advance? Santa would love to know how much they have helped! All that lifting and moving is heavy physical work!
12. Thirsty Reindeer
Use the Water Wall to provide a drink for the reindeer - it’s thirsty work flying around pulling that sleigh! Can the children keep the water moving so that there is always a fresh supply?
13. “Reind Ears!”
Let children make their own reindeer ears out of craft materials, then head outside into the playground and pretend to be Rudolph and friends running around pulling Santa’s sleigh!
14.Jingle Bell Rock
Use your Outdoor Music Equipment to play some festive tunes. Can the children tap out the notes to “jingle bells”? Can they make a sound that sounds like Father Christmas’s sleigh flying through the air, or the bells jingling around a reindeer’s neck? What other festive sounds can you make?
15. Build a Nativity Scene
Tell the children the story of Christmas. There are many lovely books out there aimed at young children which describe the story of Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem where baby Jesus was born. Then let them get busy building their own life-size Nativity scene!
An Outdoor Classroom or Playhouse is the perfect venue for this. They can make animals with cardboard boxes, paint, cotton wool, paper mache and a little imagination!
Otherwise they can use toy farm animals. See if you can source some hay or straw from a pet shop to scatter around. Dress dolls and teddies as all the different characters and ask the children to plan and think for themselves as to what they can use.
Even just a large cardboard box can be made into a lovely crib! Moving all the items around is good physical exercise for little ones and they will love being creative in the fresh air and building their very own beautiful scene. Make sure you take plenty of pictures and why not invite families to take photographs in the scene at the school fair if you have one?
16. Christmas Tuff Spot Table
A superb outdoor Christmas activity, is to set up a Christmas sensory Tuff Spot Table.
Cover the table in loads of festive greenery, holly, berries, moss, pine cones, bits of fir tree and other seasonal items such as orange peel, cinnamon sticks etc.
Let the children explore all the different textures and scents. Include some magnifying glasses to look at the details more closely. Encourage children to go out around the school grounds and find some of the items for themselves, including any mini beasts that might want to join in at this time of year!
17. Carol Singing Stomp
Head off for a walk with your class around the school grounds singing Carols and bringing good cheer.
This will fill their lungs with fresh air and help them to learn all the words too! You could walk across to the kitchens to treat the cooks to their favourite cheerful Christmas carol!
18. Santa’s Little Helpers
Keep your children busy in the playground helping Santa to gather presents to transport in his sleigh. If you have a Play Ship or similar imaginative play area, pretend it is Santa’s sleigh!
You can use colourful bean bags, cardboard boxes and containers of various shapes wrapped in wrapping paper. Hide them all over the playground and ask children to run around and find them and bring them back to the “sleigh”.
Set them challenges to look for specific colours or shapes, and to sort the presents in order or size or per shape, colour or weight.
19. Pretty Playground!
Use Christmas ribbons and any other shiny materials to decorate the features of your outdoor space. Fences look festive with colourful ribbon and tinsel weaved through them.
Planters look perfect draped in tinsel too and really lift the spirits when it’s grey and dark outside! Hang plastic baubles on the fences and on string tied up to your den posts.
Sorting, ordering and making patterns can arise through this sort of play. You will need to make sure that the materials you offer are fairly weather-proof. Engage the children in talking about what items will work and what might get ruined in the rain. Talk about why and let the children experiment, find out and decide for themselves.
20. Ho Ho Holly Wreaths
Let your children get creative making a festive holly wreath or table decoration. They can walk out into the school grounds to gather festive greenery, or set them a homework task to bring in a bagful.
Use cubes of oasis to stick the greenery in as a table decoration or candle holder. If you have twigs or wire piping, twist it around to form a small circle and weave the greenery through it.
They will look super hung on the classroom door or if children make individual ones they can take them home to decorate the Christmas dinner table.
21. Frosty the Snowman
This activity relies on cold weather so you will need to plan ahead and strike when you know a frost is coming. The idea is to fill your outdoor Water Table with water and let it ice over so that the children can explore the texture and characters of icy or frozen items, and this leads to scientific discussion of temperature, water properties etc.
Ask the children to add to the water several different items that they would like to see frozen, so that they can discover what freezes and what doesn’t. Try mixing in, for example, glitter, food colouring, washing up liquid or soap powder.
Add some berries and leaves and see what happens when the water freezes. Send the children off on a scavenger hunt to find items around the school grounds that they would like to try suspending in the frozen water.
If the weather just isn’t cold enough, use ice cube trays instead, freeze them at home and bring them in in a cooler box for the children to explore, and watch what happens as they melt.
22. Water Wall Christmas Race
Using the guttering on your Water Wall, roll baubles of all different shapes, sizes and textures down the guttering. See what happens when water is added. Do they travel any faster or do they sink? What type of bauble travels the fastest and why?
23. Sparkly Sand and Magical Water Tables
Mix glitter into the sand or water so that it sparkles like the stars. Let children use large brushes dipped in the Water Table to paint sparkly stars on paper or on the ground. Use plastic star cookie cutters or any other Christmas themed cookie cutters to make patterns in the sparkly sand.
24. Reindeer Food
Children will love mixing some extra special reindeer food in the Mud Kitchen. Mix porridge oats together with glitter and see how it sparkles and catches the light.
Ask the children to transfer small amounts into little cellophane or paper bags to take home. They should tie a ribbon around to close it and make their own beautiful label. Explain to them that the idea is to scatter a handful of the food on the ground outside their house on Christmas Eve.
It is so sparkly that the reindeer will see it and know where to land, and they can have a tasty treat while Father Christmas is busy! If you have a Rope and Pulley system in your playground, engage the children in pretending to be Santa feeding his reindeer, transferring the reindeer food across the playground to their feeding trough. It doesn’t matter if they spill a bit, it makes for some interesting patterns on the ground and the reindeers will always come and eat it up!
We hope that you have fun together with some of these festive activities, and we wish you a very Merry Christmas!