Playing Preschool with Busy Toddler: Christmas Unit - Symbols of Christmas (Part 1)

Updated: Nov 15

A Companion to Busy Toddler's Playing Preschool Curriculum


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I can't even believe I'm writing a post about Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year!


We've been using Busy Toddler's Playing Preschool for our homeschool preschool curriculum again this year, and I've had so much fun creating these holiday units to complement the curriculum by pairing books with learning goals and some of the activities on Busy Toddler's website. If you enjoyed my Halloween Unit: 7 Days of Booo-kish Play and Thanksgiving Unit: 7 Days of Thankful Play, then get ready to make some Christmas magic!



Author's Note: I recognize that holidays are celebrated in many different ways. I have made every effort to make this unit inclusive and adaptable to individual preferences for how ever your family chooses to celebrate. There are religious and non-religious book suggestions and certain days have both religious and secular themes so you can choose the one you want.


The Symbols of Christmas

I'll be honest, creating a Christmas unit was pretty overwhelming at first. There are so many traditions and topics to consider, that I didn't know where to start. For our family, Christmas is the celebration of Jesus's birth, but I started to think about why we do all the things we do. What are the meanings behind all of the traditions we observe at Christmastime? We decorate the tree and hang stockings and exchange gifts but when I really stopped to think about how I would explain it all to my three-year-old, I had a hard time articulating the reasons. So I did what I normally do when I want to build background knowledge about a topic; I looked for a book to help me.


I wanted a non-fiction book that explored the common symbols of Christmas and after some searching I found Stars, Stockings, and Shepherds: Discover the Meaning of Christmas Symbols which I was able to read for free with my Kindle Unlimited subscription. It attempts to explain both the religious and secular meanings of many of the things that come to mind when we think of Christmas: the tree, the lights, bows, wreaths, reindeer, stockings, candy canes, stars, wise men, shepherds and more. It uses diverse representation and mentions how certain traditions originated in different cultures.


I used this book as a guide for creating this unit and recommend it as a starting point for introducing young children to the symbols of the season (not all of which are Biblical: see footnotes for more info) but it is on the longer side with 24 symbols so I wouldn't try read it all in one sitting, but rather read the section that applies to the symbol(s) you are learning about that day,


Christmas Unit Overview

The unit begins with suggestions on ways to begin the Christmas countdown, then introduces the concept of symbolism using word pictures. After that, each day focuses on one or two symbols and includes book suggestions, learning goals and activities related to that theme. There are non-religious alternatives to the more religious topics (i.e. St. Nicholas/Santa, Wise Men/Snowmen) so 12 days actually becomes 16 days. You could choose to do them all or pick any combination of religious and secular themes.


The curriculum follows the order of the book Stars, Stockings, and Shepherds: Discover the Meaning of Christmas Symbols starting with the evergreen tree and ending with the birth of Jesus but can be done in any order. In fact, I am all about front-loading to help children get the most out of new experiences. For example, I would recommend you do Day 1 the day you go to pick out your Christmas tree (or put it up). You may want to observe St. Nicholas Day on December 6th and make the curriculum (Day 5) align with the actual date. The entire unit is designed to be flexible to suit your schedule and ways of celebrating.


For the sake of ease, I have used different colors of text to designate whether specific books and topics are religious (RED) or non-religious (GREEN) or neutral (BLACK/BLUE).


Playing Preschool with Busy Toddler: Christmas Unit - 12 Days of Christmas, Cookies and Carols PREVIEW


Counting Down to Christmas: December 1

Start the countdown to Christmas at the beginning of December and make it part of your morning calendar routine! (I realize the first day of Avent falls in November this year, but to keep it simple for children, I recommend starting on the first of the month. Here are some ideas for making the countdown tangible:


Bible Verse (religious)

For unto you is born

this day in the city of David,

a Savior which is Christ the Lord.

- Luke 2:11


Poem (non-religious)

The Night Before Christmas - Clement Clark Moore, 1823

‘Twas the night before Christmas

When all through the house

Not a creature was stirring,

Not even a mouse


The stockings were hung

By the chimney with care

In hopes that St. Nicholas

Soon would be there


Song (Religious)

Choose a favorite Christmas carol to learn (or sing the suggested carols/songs for each day's theme). Be sure to talk about the meaning and explain any unfamiliar vocabulary. Here are some suggestions:

  • Joy to the World

  • Angels We Have Heard on High

  • The First Noel

  • O Holy Night

  • Silent Night

  • O Come All Ye Faithful

  • Hark the Herald Angels Sing

  • O Little Town of Bethlehem

  • Away in a Manger

  • Go Tell It On The Mountain

  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

  • We Three Kings


Song (Non-Religious)

We Wish You A Merry Christmas - Arthur Warrell

We wish you a merry Christmas

We wish you a merry Christmas

We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year

Good tidings we bring to you and your kin

We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year



Supplies Needed

School/Art Supplies

Holiday Supplies


Household Supplies

  • Two Muffin Tins

  • Ladle

  • Scissors

  • Scotch Tape

  • Large Resealable Bag

  • Paper Plate

  • Clothes Pins

  • Cotton Balls, Q-tips or Face Swabs

  • Variety of Small Containers (oatmeal container, metal can, glass jar, plastic cup)

  • Brownie Pan or Sheet Tray

  • Children's Medicine Syringes, Eye Droppers or Turkey Baster

  • Contact Paper

Food Supplies

  • Penne Noodles

  • Red and Green Food Coloring

  • Vinegar

  • Baking Soda

  • 4 Cups of Uncooked White Rice

Other Supplies

  • Playing Cards

  • Dice

  • Large box or corrugated board

  • Medium box

  • Stuffed Animals

  • Straw or Paper Filler

  • Farm Animal Figurines

  • Sensory Bin

Optional Supplies

  • Washable markers

  • Tissue Box

  • Peppermint Extract or Essential Oil (not safe for children under 2.5)

  • Ingredients for Ornaments: Cinnamon, Apple Sauce, Glue

  • Ingredients to Bake and Decorate Sugar Cookies

  • Kitchen Utensils

  • Chalk

  • Hole punch

  • Candy Corn

  • Pretzel Sticks

  • Large Marshmallows

  • Chocolate Chips

  • Shaving Cream

  • Puzzle

An Introduction to the Symbols of Christmas

Shared Reading Stars, Stockings and Shepherds, Discover the Meaning of Christmas Symbols - Chabot, Shersta

Talking Points: What is a symbol? A symbol is something that stands for or represents something else (i.e. heart = love). What are some things we do at Christmastime? Why do we do them? We’re going to be learning why we celebrate the way we do!

Learning Activity: Draw simple symbols on Post-It Notes of what you will be reading about (tree, gifts, music note, wreath, candy cane, bell, star, dove, angel, cross, etc). Spread them out and read the heading on each page. As you read, ask your child to find the matching symbol. Note: word pictures are so helpful in helping children retain new information.




Easy Activity: Draw the same symbols on a large piece of butcher paper and tape it to the wall. Hide the Post-It Notes around the house and let your child play Busy Toddler’s Christmas Post-It Match. As they find them, remind them of the word that each symbol represents (crown = king, shepherd's hook = shepherd). You'll be learning more about each symbol later so don't expect mastery. Extension: When you’re done, let them color it like Busy Toddler’s Giant Christmas Art.



Book Substitutions:

Christmas Unit: 12 Days of Christmas, Cookies and Carols

I hope this preview gives you everything you need to start the Christmas countdown and time to gather your supplies. My next post Playing Preschool with Busy Toddler - Christmas Unit: 12 Days of Christmas, Cookies and Carols is the continuation of this unit and explains how to use the supplies and a day-by-day guide to teaching your preschooler about Christmas symbols and traditions.


Because of the time and effort I've devoted to making this a quality resource, access to this content will require a one-time subscription fee to view the blog post (no expiration). Here's what you'll get:

  • A curriculum for teaching about the symbols of Christmas and their meanings in the style of Playing Preschool (see my Playing Preschool with Busy Toddler: Halloween Unit freebie for what you can expect)

  • A hand-picked list of suggested books with four or more substitutions for each

  • Guiding questions of things to talk about with your child

  • 16 days' worth of low-prep learning activities + easy activities

  • High-quality photos of activities and/or links for more examples

  • Suggested activities for the day(s) after Christmas when you need to put things away (or just sit-ervise) after the holiday hustle.

  • A printable version to download is now available

Access the full Christmas Unit: 12 days of Christmas, Cookies and Carols HERE

Note: If you have trouble accessing the blog post after you have purchased, you may need to log in and/or refresh you browser, then return to blog post to access it.

Footnotes: Regarding the book Stars, Stockings, and Shepherds: Discover the Meaning of Christmas Symbols I want to point out since it has recently come to my attention that this book was published by a Mormon publisher so some of wording is reflective of that (i.e. it refers to "the scriptures" as opposed to "The Bible" and refers to God as "Heavenly Father) and emphasizes things like the importance of family ties (bows).


After re-reading it through this lens, I didn't find it offensive to my Christian values, but I did want to mention it so you can be sure to rephrase anything problematic according to your theology. The biggest discrepancy I have is that it fuses Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus into one person whereas we hold that Saint Nicholas was a historical figure (the man) and Santa Claus is a magical one (the myth). Also, some of the symbols are not Biblical (i.e. reindeer, drums) so it is a bit of a stretch to give them religious meaning, but they are common symbols of Christmastime nonetheless.


Similarly, Teach the Children the True Meaning of Christmas: A Beloved Christmas Legend

has ties to the The Church of Latter Day Saints and aims to give religious and secular meanings of common Christmas symbols. It uses Santa as the narrator and focuses on fewer symbols.


Visit my website to shop holiday Book Lists and discover new favorites based on your child's interest.


See Also: Playing Preschool with Busy Toddler Thanksgiving Unit, Playing Preschool with Busy Toddler: Halloween Unit, An Introduction to Playing Preschool with Busy Toddler


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