Holiday Lessons and Activities for Elementary School
Elementary students will enjoy these holiday- and winter-themed activities.
Having a hard time keeping your pupils engaged before the holiday break?
The weeks between Thanksgiving and winter break can be one of the most challenging times of the year. And with all the fun and family time coming up, who can blame students for getting excited?
To help get you through the next few weeks, try mixing things up with the following holiday-themed lessons.
Handmade Sheet Music Ornaments
Older elementary schoolers have had enough time to familiarize themselves with some classical pieces. Plus, this is a holiday project that doesn’t break the bank. All you need are cardboard or paper mache ball ornaments and glue or Mod Podge, which can be found at most Hobby Lobby, Dollar Tree or Dollar General stores. The paper ornaments are typically lesson than $1 each, especially if you buy them in a pack.
If you are really on a budget or want to reduce, reuse and recycle, you can opt to have your student choose from scrap paper from last winter.
To make the ornaments, have students dip strips of sheet music — 1- to 1½-inch long strips work well — in glue or Mod Podge and paste them onto the round ornament. This holiday project comes from Take Time for Style.
You can also add extras like jingle bells and confetti, which I used as an activity for students who finished before music class was up.
Interactive Listening: Snowy Edition
Interactive listening can be made to fit any holiday, but winter-themed interactive listening is my favorite because there is so much classical music to choose from. For example, everyone knows “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson. Two of the quintessential parts of the song is the “pop” noise created by a slapstick and the horse’s “clip-clopping” done by temple blocks. Split your class into two groups and assign clappers/claves or other similar-sounding wood percussion instruments. When students must wait to play their part, I find that they listen more deeply.
Another great song for interactive listening is Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” — I focus on the movement “Winter” after Thanksgiving break. Keep students on their toes by playing Synthesia music videos for them, where the notes are shown in circles or blocks on the screen, like in the video here.
Alternatively, you can play classical winter pieces (here is one of my favorite holiday playlist) while students do other activities, such as the sheet music ornament activity above or completing snowmen coloring pages. The latter makes an excellent emergency sub plan.
“Reindeer (Hokey) Pokey”
Keep the kids up and moving around to get some of that pre-holiday energy out! One of my favorites is the “Reindeer Pokey,” a spin-off of the “Hokey Pokey.” I find that one dance at the beginning of class and one in the middle of class helps stave away the fidgets during lesson plans, especially ones that focus on solfege practice and music history.
The “Reindeer Pokey” is ideal for pre-K and lower elementary students and is one of those songs that you can play for students over and over. They got so excited about it in my classroom that they keep asking for it in the spring!
For other holiday song-and-motion ideas, check out Fantastic Fun and Learning.
Holiday-Themed Dance Cards
Make listening to winter-themed music more interesting by creating holiday dance-move cards for your mid-elementary classroom. I like to mix it up by having the students lead the dances once they are familiar with the different activities — such as take tiny elf steps, do some reindeer kicks, march like a nutcracker, etc. If your schedules allow it, you can team up with the P.E. teacher for this one.
I prefer to make the dance cards myself, or come up with the different movements with the students, but check out Toddler Approved for dance card ideas.
Bring Out the Orff Arrangements (Or Make Your Own!)
When I was in elementary school, my teacher used to bring out the xylophones and Orff arrangements as the holiday break approached. I do the same with my classes. Teachers Pay Teachers is a great reference for Powerpoint presentations that have creative Orff arrangements that include three or more instruments.
Caroling the Halls
Caroling around the school is an excellent activity that the administration is usually very excited about. Upper elementary students can carol with recorders or ukuleles with straps. Caroling can quickly become a school-wide tradition and serve as a rite of passage for the oldest grade in the school.
Steer away from religious songs (unless your school is private) and go with tunes like “Let It Snow” or “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?”
Caroling around the school provides students with valuable performance experience.
“The Nutcracker” / Tchaikovsky Lesson
If your district has the funding for a field trip, I highly recommend a live listening experience, such as a trip to see “The Nutcracker.” Many times, this isn’t within reach, so bring the ballet to your class with these lesson ideas.
- Try playing along with this interactive hand percussion video.
- Or try this basketball dance routine paired with Trepak from “The Nutcracker” by music educator Emily Church.
Share a Holiday Song
You may be surprised at how many winter or holiday songs from around the world your students know if you prompt them to share a song from their culture or family. This project is great for mid- to upper elementary students and will make all students feel welcome in the classroom.
Try this fun homework project: Ask students to write a one-page paper or PowerPoint on a holiday song that their family always sings or plays, and then have them present it to the class along with the song.
The holiday season will keep you on your toes whether you are a seasoned music educator or just getting starting. Plan ahead, but most importantly, plan to have fun. No matter what you and your students celebrate, make this season the best it can be. Stay festive and happy music-making!