Playing Preschool with Busy Toddler: Christmas Unit - Symbols of Christmas Preview
Updated: Sep 25, 2021
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:
Make Busy Toddler’s Christmas Kindness Countdown chain
Use an Advent Calendar (we have the Melissa and Doug Wooden Advent Calendar)
Create your own Book Advent Calendar by wrapping 25 books and unwrapping one per day.
Use an Advent book: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas - Voskamp, Ann (religious), Walk this World at Christmastime - Powell, Debbie (culturally diverse lift-the-flap), or whatever piques your child’s interest like this Disney Storybook Collection Advent Calendar
Add these Printable Advent Bible Verses to your calendar
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
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
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
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
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
Kraft Paper or Butcher Paper
Washable Tempera Paint (red, green)
Construction Paper (black, white, red)
Pom Poms (including red)
Red Play Dough (or use food coloring on white)
Twine or String
Round Christmas Ornaments (shatter-proof, two sizes + two colors)
Small Strand of Christmas lights (50-100)
Wrapping Paper, Bows, Ribbon, Name Tags
Mini Stockings or socks
Tissue Paper (White, Yellow or Gold)
Two Muffin Tins
Large Resealable Bag
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
Red and Green Food Coloring
4 Cups of Uncooked White Rice
Large box or corrugated board
Straw or Paper Filler
Farm Animal Figurines
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
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.
Looking for a simplified way to explain the meanings of Christmas Symbols? Get the printable here.
Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Christmas : With Carols, Presents, and Peace - National Geographic Kids (non-fiction, but told from a Christian perspective)
Teach the Children the True Meaning of Christmas: A Beloved Christmas Legend - Anderson, Jeanne W. (told as a narrative, religious)
What is Christmas? - Adams, Michelle Medlock (religious + secular)
Walk this World at Christmastime - Powell, Debbie (non-fiction, culturally diverse)
If Animals Celebrated Christmas - Paul, Ann Whitford (non-religious)
S is for Santa - A Christmas Alphabet - Paprocki, Greg (includes religious + secular symbols, features diverse characters)
Mary Engelbreit’s A Merry Little Christmas Board Book: Celebrate from A to Z - Engelbreit, Mary (religious + secular)
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. Purchase the full unit on TeachersPayTeachers to see how to use the supplies and print 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-er-vise) 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 previously purchased this resource, my website no longer supports subscriptions. I have moved all sales of my holiday units to TeachersPayTeachers, but I have records of all purchases. Please email me using the contact page and I will be happy to send you a copy.
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, Symbols of Christmas Printable, Playing Preschool with Busy Toddler Valentine's Day Unit