Top tips for surviving Christmas

Tim Head

Tim Head is an assistant head in a large Nottinghamshire Primary School, with 17 years of teaching experience working in large Primary schools across the East Midlands. One of the organisers of the Primary Rocks Live conference, he loves to share his passion for all things teaching and edtech through the #PrimaryRocks Twitter chat, as well as presenting at educational conferences. Tim is a keen blogger, and has written for the TES, Teach Primary and Innovate My School.

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Image credit: The Santa Clause // Walt Disney Pictures. Image credit: The Santa Clause // Walt Disney Pictures.

Christmas is a double-edged sword; both a time for celebration and a powder keg ready to explode at any point. Many a teacher will spend Christmas party day waiting for the inevitable fight/argument over the last jaffa cake/sickness through troughing too many crisps.

One thing is for sure, and that is you cannot walk into Christmas activities with your eyes closed! What for most children is a time of excitement and fun, for others is sensory overload.

Our preparation for Christmas starts with that thought in mind. The school SENCo circulates a reminder in mid-November, a set of questions to consider about the pupils in our care. These include questions like:

  • Do you know what Christmas is like for this child? What takes place? What traditions events will take place at home? Where? Who with?
  • What sensory sensitivity issues might need to be considered?
  • Does this child know what will happen in school? How will routines change? How will we share these with the children?

These may seem like common sense, but can often get overlooked during the busy run up to Christmas. For children for whom these issues affect, it can make a huge difference between their enjoying the festivities and it all going a bit Pete Tong! How many times do we end up dealing with negative behaviour around the Christmas period?

Let’s face it, if you abandon the curriculum, give them sensory overload of decorations and fill them full of sugary treats at a party, then don’t be surprised when something kicks off. I know I am sounding a bit of a Scrooge, which is not my intention at all. For me it is that old saying… Fail to prepare: Prepare to fail!

While we are at it, it’s not just the children who find Christmas difficult. What about your staff? They are just at risk of Christmas meltdowns. Nativity play rehearsals can cause tensions over who has the hall. Organising their own festivities at home, or planning visits to far flung family, can weigh heavy on their minds. That is even before they have considered the never-ending list of presents to buy.

Christmas can be a time of financial hardship for some staff. This can manifest itself in school as meltdowns about children’s behaviour, or a fallout with other members of staff over the most trivial things.

Stressed teachers, over-stimulated children and lack of structure all add to the danger of spoiling the fun. So what can be done?

1. Try to maintain a ‘normal’ (if such a thing exists) timetable as long as possible. By all means do Christmas themed activities, but link it to your curriculum and make them worthwhile for learning.
2. Spend a little time planning for those children with additional needs. Whether they are sensory issues, social care issues or anything else.
3. Keep a sense of humour and a plentiful supply of goodies in the staff room. Happy teachers are far more equipped to deal with Christmas issues in good humour.
4. Remember, while a DVD is an easy activity, is it a worthwhile one? There are plenty of Christmas activities that link into Christmas films. Active watching helps maintain normality.
5. Don’t confuse ‘fun’ with an easy life for teachers. Yes, we are all tired at the end of term, and no, marking isn’t what we want to be doing, but that doesn’t mean doing nothing.

My go to Christmas activities:

By spending a little longer on curriculum, by preparing children thoughtfully for the changes in timetable and predicting the pitfalls, we can survive! That way we can actually enjoy those final few days of term. Just don’t forget that horrible feeling of de-Christmassing the school on the last day before you get to break up for Christmas (always such an odd feeling!).

Merry Christmas Everybody!

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