Founder of @inspiremyplay, Early Years teacher for 11 years and mummy to three gorgeous girls. I'm passionate about about the benefits of play in early childhood.
Prepare for a holiday season filled with sensory delights and creative play for your little ones! In our curated list of 25 Christmas activities for kids in 2023, we'll explore festive ways to engage their senses and nurture their creativity, making this Christmas truly magical.
It's that magical time of year again when the air is filled with the sweet scent of gingerbread cookies, and the twinkling lights on the tree make everything feel like a winter wonderland. Yes, you guessed it – Christmas is just around the corner!
As parents and caregivers we all know that the holiday season is a special time, especially when you have little ones around. There's nothing quite like seeing their eyes light up with wonder and excitement as they embrace the spirit of Christmas. And what better way to make this holiday season unforgettable than by filling it with sensory delights and creative play for the kids?
That's where we come in! In this blog post, we've curated 25 of the best sensory-rich and creatively engaging Christmas activity ideas for kids in 2023. From classic traditions that have stood the test of time to innovative and imaginative ways to celebrate, we've got you covered. Whether you're looking for ideas to spark their creativity, engage their senses, or simply enjoy quality family time, our list has something for everyone. So get ready to make this Christmas season the most joyful and creatively sensory one yet as we dive into 25 delightful activities that will have your kids smiling from ear to ear!
Why is Sensory Play Important?
Sensory play is more than just a fun activity - it plays a critical role in a child's development, building the foundation for lifelong learning, creativity, and wellbeing. In fact, advances in neuroscience have shown that the first few years of life are a critical period for brain development, with experiences during this time shaping the foundations for future learning, social and emotional development, and overall health and happiness. Sensory stimulation is an important way that children get to know the world around them. Allowing them to explore freely and get messy can support them to learn more effectively and provides a whole range of benefits:
- It helps with language development. By engaging the senses, your child will learn how to describe what they’re doing and how it feels;
- It helps with cognitive growth. As sensory play develops to hands-on activities, it also plays an important role in helping children build cognitive skills involved in problem solving and abstract thinking. When young children are allowed to play independently, they are more likely to naturally exhibit curiosity and perseverance, two qualities that are crucial for success in school and, later in life, in the workplace;
- It fosters social interactions and encourages experimentation;
- There are physical benefits too. It helps with fine and gross motor skills. Through tactile play that focuses on building, pouring and mixing, your child builds on their ability to use small muscle groups and coordinate movements. Simple activities like playing with play dough helps to build your child’s gross motor skills, making those little hands stronger
You can read more about why sensory play matters in our article here.
How do I entertain my kids this Christmas?
Here are a host of fun ideas that you can try with them:
Gingerbread Lacing (with free printable)
This is such a fun festive activity and great for fine motor skills! There’s two ways that you might like to try this:
Cut out your gingerbread man/woman from a thick piece of card or laminate it. Use a single hole punch to make holes around the outside. Tie the yarn/wool at one end and thread in and out the holes.
- If this proves a bit of a challenge, an alternative is to cut up a paper straw and glue the pieces around the outside of the gingerbread man using a glue gun (PVA may also be fine). I coloured mine with a brown paint stick first too. My daughter then threaded the wool through each piece of straw without having to worry about going from back to front and vice versa.
For both of these you may want to put a very small piece of sellotape around the end of your yarn/wool to keep the threads together and make it easier to thread with. You can download this free printable here.
Snowflake Bubble Foam
To make bubble foam simply mix roughly half a cup of bubble bath and 1 cup of water together in a blender or using a hand mixer. Spoon out the foam into a tray. If there’s any watery liquid left in the bottom give that a whisk too. Once the foam disappears you can easily re-whisk it back into a foam. In fact, we actually left this in the tray for a few days then re-whisked it to use later and it was just as good as before!
Sticky Christmas Tree
This one is perfect for little ones who love decorating (and un-decorating!) a Christmas tree! To make this sticky Christmas Tree:
Cut a circle out of thin cardboard and then cut a wedge out of the circle so you can bend it into a cone shape;
- Before forming the cone shape colour the cardboard (we used paint sticks) and cover in contact paper (sticky-back plastic), sticky side out;
- Once covered bend it into a cone shape. The contact paper will help to keep it secure but you can add more tape if needed. Once the Christmas tree loses its stickiness you can easily replace the contact paper to play again another time.
We used pom-poms as decoration as they are easy to remove, which means you can play with it several times over. You could use all sorts of other craft things too.
*Do remember pom-poms can be a choking hazard so make sure little ones are supervised whilst playing.*
Hot Chocolate Oobleck
Incase you’re new to oobleck it’s a non-Newtonian fluid, which means it acts as a liquid one minute but turns to a solid under pressure! It’s an amazing sensory experience and fascinating to play with!
We made ours chocolatey by adding 1/4 cup of cocoa powder and combined it with 2 cups of water and 2 cups of cornflour (also known as cornstarch).
This is fascinating to explore just with your hands but is also great fun for some pretend play 'hot chocolate making' using ladles, mini marshmallows and mugs.
Once finished, leave the oobleck at the bottom of the PlayTRAY, drain off the excess water and allow to dry with the lid off it. It will turn solid, which makes it easier to dispose of. It also makes a great base for a dinosaur or safari small world!
Foliage Printed Decorations
Making homemade Christmas tree decorations is such a great activity to involve the whole family! To make these clay ones we first used cookie cutters to cut out shapes from white air-dry clay.
We then pressed bits of cypress into the clay to make prints and used the blunt end of a skewer to make circle indentations to be like berries. The skewer was also useful to make a hole at the top so we can hang the decorations.
Once the clay was dry we painted over the print carefully with a thin paintbrush and watercolour paint.
You can also seal theses with a coat of Mod-Podge if you want but we didn’t and they’ve lasted well over the past few years. They look so lovely hung up on the Christmas tree or you could use them as gift tags!
This is just one of the activities in our advent activity ebook. The ebook is free with every purchase you make from our shop during November.
Winter Farm Small World
Small worlds are a wonderful way to engage children in play. I've written about the best resources for small world play in another blog post which you can find here. My kids love a small world farm and so here is a wintery version for the Christmas season:
Icing sugar and desiccated coconut are super easy ways to make pretend snow. Mixing equal parts shaving foam and baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) is another way we love. You can also switch the shaving foam for white hair conditioner and that works well too (and smells lovely!);
- We made our frozen elements by sticking the PlayTRAY segments in the freezer (did you know the PlayTRAY is freezer safe?!);
- The frozen mud can be made using chocolate pudding mix or by mixing 1 cup of flour, 1/4 cup of cocoa and and 1 cup of water, before putting into the freezer for a few hours. This slowly thawed throughout the day to make a fun, messy place to play!
- The farm animals are mainly @schleichofficial - they do a great farm multi-pack and the little wheelbarrow is @playmobil.
Craft Punch Christmas Tree
We used craft punches to make this Christmas tree! Not only is this a great work out for little hands, these make really cute Christmas cards! We used a flower punch but a snowflake punch would also work well, as would other shapes I’m sure.
First we punched out all the shapes we needed using a variety of different greens. Depending on your punch, little ones may need a bit of help with this. Next we added a triangle of glue to the card and stuck all the paper shapes on to make a tree.
We added a foam star for the top and a bit of brown card to create a pot for the tree. 🎄
Decorate a Christmas Jumper
We like to take part in Christmas jumper day in aid of @savechildrenuk.
Simply cut out a jumper shape from cardboard and add sticky contact paper to the back so that the sticky side is facing upwards. Draw patterns over the jumper using a permanent marker and provide craft materials to decorate. The lines are optional- you could leave it completely blank for them to design how they like. However, following the lines does provide an extra fine motor challenge, especially when using things like sequins- it’s harder than you think!
The great thing about this activity is most craft bits will come off easily so you can re-design your jumper as many times as you like! Then just replace the contact paper when it loses its stickiness.
Christmas Tree Symmetry Challenge
For this activity I used painter’s tape down the middle and then built half a Christmas tree using lolly sticks and felt balls. You can watch our short youtube tutorial below.
Cotton Wool Ball Snow
For a low mess, easy option for pretend snow try cotton-wool balls! These are really fun to set up with construction vehicles. My littlest loved loading them up and moving them around the tray and clearing the road of snow 🚧 If you fancy making the little houses and scenery yourself you can download the printables here.
Wool Wrapped Christmas Tree
This simple Christmas tree craft that makes a lovely decoration. It’s also great for fine motor skills. You will need - cardboard, paint sticks/felt tips, green thick yarn/wool, pom-poms. What to do:
Cut a Christmas tree shape from cardboard;
- Colour the trunk in brown;
- Wind the yarn/wool around the tree, being careful to keep it tight. When it’s well covered, cut the wool and tie a knot at the back;
- Glue a star on the top cut out of cardboard or use a foam sticker like we did;
- Add pom-poms to your Christmas tree using PVA/ white glue.
If your little one struggles with wrapping the wool, hold the cardboard for them so they only have to deal with the wool. The wool needs to be kept quite tight to stop it slipping off the cardboard when you’re finished. If you don’t have any pom-poms you could use beads or sequins or anything similar you have in your craft stash.
Advent Activity Calendar and ebook
Ever since my girls were little we’ve planned a festive activity for every day of advent. It’s become a really special tradition that we all look forward to. Last year we thought we’d share our tradition with you by creating this printable activity calendar and e-book bundle. Our Advent activity ebook includes 24 fun family activity ideas that will make the lead up to Christmas a magical time! Alongside this you will receive our calendar to print, customise and open each day and a bank of Christmas printables to accompany some of the activities. And we’re giving this ebook away for free when you buy one of our products during November.
Winter Chickpea Sensory Play
It’s no secret that dried chickpeas are one of our favourite sensory play materials! They are so satisfying to scoop and pour (for grown-ups too!) and are a bit easier to contain than rice and other grains. They also last forever to reuse over and over. You don’t have to colour them but it makes a fun change and it’s so easy to do!
To colour dried chickpeas all you need is a bag or jar, a squirt of ready-mix tempera paint and a lined tray to lay them on to dry. The chickpeas dry super quick, but if you’re in a hurry you can put them in the oven on a low heat to dry out for 5 minutes.
Frozen Themed Play Dough (and other PlayTRAY Inspiration!)
I wanted to share some ideas of how you might fill your PlayTRAY if you’ve bought one to gift this Christmas. If you need more ideas or details and links to the resources we use then it is all detailed on our blog here. Play Dough kits are a great resource. This one is Frozen themed but you could switch it for another theme or interest. You can scroll through the instagram post below to get other inspiration:
Winter Magic Milk
We love the swirly patterns you can make in the magic milk experiment. You can give it a wintery feel with some snowflake cutters and some blue and purple colouring! If you’re new to magic milk it is basically a tray with a thin layer of milk (ideally full-fat) with some blobs of food colouring added to it. You then need a cotton bud/q-tip with some dish soap/ washing up liquid on the end and dab it into the food colouring. The dish soap reacts with the fat in the milk, and makes the colours swirl around and form patterns. It’s a lot of fun and one of my kids’ favourites! If you want to keep the play going for longer I suggest using complimentary colours like purple and blue, otherwise it quickly becomes a murky mess!
DIY Artificial Snow
We have tried a lot of different ways of making artificial snow and this is by far our favourite! It’s so simple to make combining roughly equal amounts of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and shaving foam. It has a great texture and is cool to touch initially, just like snow! If your snow loses it’s ability to form snowballs over time you can revive it by adding a squirt more shaving foam.
To fill the PlayTRAY base I used 4 cups of bicarb and roughly 4 cups of shaving foam. In the U.K. it is pretty hard to get large bags of bicarbonate of soda in the supermarket but you can pick up KG bags of the stuff cheaply on Amazon (it’s also great for fizzy experiments so worth having a stash in the cupboard).
Countdown to Christmas Printable
You can download this printable for free here.
Sticky Christmas Tree
This activity is great for fine motor skills and a chance to get creative using any crafty bits you already have at home. All you need to do is cut a Christmas tree shape out of a piece of cardboard and stick a piece of contact paper (sticky back plastic) on the back so that the sticky side is facing upwards.
Draw lines over the Christmas tree to follow as this is great for precision and fine motor skills. You could also leave it blank and see what they come up with themselves. The beauty with this is that you can quite easily remove all the bits and redesign your tree many times over and eventually replace the contact paper when it loses its stickiness 😊🎄🙌
Festive Water Play
A super speedy sensory play tray but hours of fun- honestly mine played with this for ages! Sensory play is so important developmentally. It builds nerve connections, supports fine motor skills, language development and social skills. It’s also great for keeping sibling groups entertained!
We always try to get as much use as possible out of our sensory play so as to limit the waste. Luckily with the PlayTRAY lid it’s possible to put this to one side and use it several time’s over. Other ways to repurpose the ingredients include drying out the orange slices (if they remain intact), freezing the cranberries to use another day for play or using them to make some bird feeders.
*Close supervision required for this activity. If you’re at all concerned they may try to eat the cranberries, cut them in half.*
Puffy Paint Christmas Tree
Have you tried puffy paint before? It’s a combo of shaving foam & PVA (school glue) and it is such a fun texture to paint with! When it dries, puffy paint is squishy and soft to touch. It’s so easy to make and this Christmas tree version is perfect for toddlers and preschoolers. To make puffy paint you need:
- Shaving foam
- PVA/School glue
- Food colouring
Mix roughly equal amounts of shaving foam and glue together, don’t worry if it’s not exact. Add a drop or two of food colouring and mix until smooth. We added pom-poms to the Christmas trees but you could use sequins, buttons or whatever you have in the craft stash!
Playdough and Pasta Christmas Trees
Play dough and pasta is always a fun combo and perfect for this decorate the Christmas tree activity!
Colouring pasta for play activities is so easy- just place the pasta in a bag or tub with a squirt of ready mix paint and give it a good shake. Then lay it on a lined baking tray to dry. We chose festive colours and even used some silver and gold paint.
Coloured pasta lasts for ages so you’ll find this a handy resource to reuse for play and craft activities. You can find more pasta inspiration on our colouring pasta blog post here.
The Nutcracker Craft
The Nutcracker is such a Christmas classic and last year we enjoyed creating some tutus for these cute little ballet dancers. You can get find these dancers and the nutcracker soldier on our printables page here. There’s 3 ways we made these:
- Super simple- fold a cake case in two, flatten it and cut a hole at the top to slide the dancer in;
- Use a dropper to add water coloured with food colouring to a coffee filter. Alternatively felt tip over it and use a dropper to add water so that the colour disperses. Once dry, fold it in half and cut a hole in the top. We made ours a bit like snowflakes by folding it several times and cutting shapes out before unfolding;
- Colour a doily with watercolours. Once dry fold it in half and cut a hole in the top to slide the dancer in.
We then attached lolly sticks to the top of our characters so that they could dance them like puppets. If you’re feeling really adventurous you could also make a cardboard theatre to perform in!
Another gingerbread activity with a number twist this time! These little felt balls became buttons for the gingerbread men and I laid out some numbers to practice some careful counting. This could be adapted for all sorts of mathematical activities, e.g finding two gingerbread men that have 5 buttons altogether...
Numbers are from @curious_columbus (we love their magnetic numbers and letters!) and the felt balls are from Amazon.
Leaf Christmas Trees
Here’s a cute little festive nature craft using leaves picked from the garden and buttons. If you don’t have red buttons you could use pom-poms instead or sequins. We cut the leaves in half and then stuck them in layers with PVA glue (white school glue). It’s best to leave the glue on the leaves to dry first and then add the buttons as a separate step to make it easier for little ones. We made a little star to go on top with a yellow leaf and a star hole punch (sadly couldn’t find our big one so it’s teeny tiny!). We also collected some sticks and used a bit of tape to stick them to the back of our leaf Christmas trees. 🎄🎄🎄
Sticky Wall Wreath
This took minutes to throw together- sticky back plastic with the sticky side upwards taped to the wall, a circle to follow (drawn onto the sticky side) and then some nature bits collected from the garden, as well as some dried orange that we had.
Christmas Play Dough Fun
Making your own play dough might seem a faff but if you use a no-cook recipe it’s so quick and easy you definitely won’t look back! You can get our recipe here. Some tips I’ve picked up along the way:
- Invest in some measuring cups to save time weighing out ingredients;
- Buy cream of tartar in bulk from Amazon. It works out much cheaper than buying those tiny packets you get from the supermarket;
- Buy gel food colouring for brighter, more intense colours (also available on Amazon).
This Nativity Luminary makes a heart-warming feature for the dining table! There isn’t much required with this printable. Simply curl the paper back around on itself and glue the two edges together to make a cylinder shape. Place over and around a battery-operated tea-light to give a warm glow and backlight the scene.
You can get this luminary on our printable page here.
A special Christmas breakfast has become something of a tradition in our house and the favourite of all are Santa pancakes! These are so easy to make using strawberries for his hat, whipped cream for his beard and blueberries for his eyes and mouth. An alternative option, using less cream, is to make reindeer pancakes. Simply cut a smaller circular slice of pancake for the nose, smaller pieces for the ears and additional pieces for the antlers. You can then add whipped cream and blueberries for the eyes and a strawberry for the red nose.