Imagine a class full of students excited about collectively solving a problem together. They are getting a chance to practice their problem-solving and spatial-reasoning skills all while interacting with each other. Time to get their hands dirty and have real conversations about math. Throw in a little holiday cheer on top, and you’ve got yourself a merry little math lesson!
The holidays are full of interesting math-learning opportunities. What better way to spend a recess than to investigate the geometry of building a snowman! As the temperature drops, watching the thermometer becomes an interesting measurement and data management project. Build anticipation by counting down the days until the holidays and talk about the different ways each “Number of the Day” can be constructed. (“Only 14 days left?! Why that’s only 8 days and then 6 more!”)
Your students are getting excited as the big day approaches. Let’s tap into that energy and ask questions like exactly how many sugar plums are dancing in the visions in their heads and how many gifts does one receive from their true love over the course of 12 days? How many of them are birds? How much did those five golden rings cost?
So without further ado, here are five of our favorite holiday and Christmas math activities for your K-3 class:
1. Snowman Shapes
To play Snowman Shapes, you need to give each of your students a template of the snowman. Tell your students they each need to create their own unique snowperson by cutting geometric shapes out of construction paper. Now comes the fun part! When they have glued it all together, put your students together in pairs, and have each student identify how many of each shape their partner used in constructing their snowperson.
You can make this activity slightly more difficult by challenging your students to create composite shapes. Ask your students to combine, say, two triangles together to create a rectangle, or have them overlap two circles for eyes. Another great extension is to challenge your students to include other polygons, such as pentagons, rhombuses, and trapezoids.
Why stop at naming the shapes? Take this activity one step further by including shape properties in the conversation. Have your students determine the total number of shapes that have four corners, or the total number that only have three sides! Introduce some data management by making histograms to see which shapes were the most commonly used.
2. Sharing Christmas Decorations
Time to decorate the tree! Given only a certain number of ornaments, can you always equally decorate two trees? Get your students into pairs, and have them try to determine which numbers can be split up equally, and which can’t.
Fill several sandwich bags with counters, and place them around the room. Have students work in pairs going from station to station attempting to decorate both of their trees with the same number of ornaments.
Working from the numbers alone, your students may have a hard time finding a pattern. So instead, visualize it by using a hundreds chart. Can your students find the pattern? Have them try extending it to be able to predict if larger numbers can also be split evenly.
This activity is designed as an early introduction to even and odd numbers, but you can extend this idea into a discussion on multiples. When you have two students trying to split a number of counters equally, they are, of course, also determining if the number is a multiple of two.
Ask your students, “What happens when three of you go to a station at once and try to decorate three trees evenly?” Which numbers work for three? How about four trees? Again, trying to understand the pattern can be difficult, so use that hundreds chart to help your students visualize it.
3. Hanging Up The Stockings
Get your students ready to hang the stockings by the chimney with care! In order to play Hanging the Stockings, you first need to give each student one of the stocking templates provided. Assign each student a number, and then have them create several equivalent equations that all add up to that number.
For example, if their number is 5, they may come up with:
- 2 + 3
- 4 + 1
- 5 + 0
- 1 + 4
But don’t just stop there! Now is a great time to spark a discussion about the different properties of addition. Does 4 + 1 and 1 + 4 really count as two different equations, or are they the same? Is 5 + 0 really an equation, or could you just forget about the 0 and write 5 instead? Getting students involved in these conversations and having them start to recognize these equations is a great skill!
Another great extension to this activity is to switch the focus to subtraction. What two pairs of numbers could you subtract in order to make 5? Your students may find there are many more possibilities for subtraction than for addition. Why is that? With addition you could make equations such as 1 + 4 and 4 + 1, but can you do the same with subtraction? Why not?
4. Shorter or Longer
In Shorter or Longer, your class will be directly comparing two different pieces of wrapping paper to determine which is the shorter or longer piece. This is a great introduction to learning different measuring strategies, but it also extends into many other learning outcomes.
Part way through doing this activity, your students may find that one of their “shorter” pieces is actually longer than another one of their “shorter” pieces. That may make some students pause and think. This is a perfect time to talk about the relative terms ‘short’ and ‘long,’ and how they need to be qualified by saying ‘shorter than’ something else, or ‘longer than’ something else.
You can also challenge your students to start thinking with fractions – Can they cut the paper in half? Or make the shorter piece equal to one fourth? You could also have them take a look at the pieces they have already sorted and have them estimate if they are closer to 0, one half, or the whole strip.
5. Sorting Ornaments
Sorting can be such a fun activity, especially when students get to create their own sorting rules and challenge their classmates. In Sorting Ornaments, students get to take a pile of Christmas ornaments and sort them however they want. Maybe they will use all the small ornaments, or all the red ones, or all the ones with stars on them. But whatever they choose, the rest of the class will try to deduce what their rule was.
What activity would be complete without an extension added on to it? There are so many ways to sort these ornaments, so why choose just one? Create a Venn diagram for your students to populate. First, start with a Venn diagram that has two separate circles on it. Once your students can easily accomplish that, overlap the two circles.
Once the ornaments have all been sorted, can you challenge your students to create a brand new ornament that would fit into one of the categories? Ask around for their strategies as they are crafting away.
We’ve made things really easy for you and your students and put all of these great in-class activities into one package. Click the button below to download this free resource!
Written By: Conrad Nickles
Director of Education and Lead Designer at Zorbit’s Math Adventure, using game-based learning and ed-tech to make math your greatest ally.