5 Strategies to Keep Students Engaged During the Holidays

The holiday season is a time of joy, festivities, and, let’s face it, a bit of distraction in the classroom. As a dedicated special education teacher, you know the importance of keeping your students engaged and excited about learning, even when visions of sugarplums dance in their heads throughout all the holiday activities. Fear not, because I’ve got you covered with five proven strategies to maintain an engaging and productive classroom environment during this festive time of year. 

Interactive Holiday Lessons

The magic of the holiday season presents a wonderful opportunity to infuse creativity and excitement into your lesson plans. Consider incorporating holiday themes into your curriculum – whether it’s math, language arts, or science. Engage your students with interactive projects that tie in holiday elements. Imagine transforming a math lesson into a gift-wrapping challenge or turning a reading assignment into a festive story-writing adventure detailing their own traditions they celebrate. By weaving holiday spirit into your lessons, you’ll not only capture your students’ attention but also make learning a memorable experience.

Word of caution though: do not make these fun activities TOO exciting, you want them to fit more seamless into what you are already doing.  If you have students that are doing fun activities for the entire month of December- you are going to be tired and your students are going to start showing some behaviors (neither of which we want for you!)

My favorite way to do this is through adapted books. Since I use adapted books already, what better way to bring some festivities and learning together by just using adapted books.  Students find it fun to learn about holidays they celebrate as well as ones others do.

Click here for the holiday adapted books I like to use- all of my students are very engaged during the holiday season with these!

​Adapted books take school activities and makes them seasonal activities. Students can get excited about the upcoming holidays while still focusing on academic skills. 

 Virtual Exploration

Another great way is to embrace technology and take your students on virtual journeys that explore holiday traditions from around the world. With the wonders of the internet at your fingertips, you can virtually transport your class to different countries and cultures- and what a fun way to embrace diversity in your classroom!

Show them how Christmas is celebrated in Sweden or how Hanukkah is observed in Israel. Engage them with interactive quizzes and discussions about the diverse ways people celebrate. This not only broadens their horizons but also keeps them curious and engaged in learning beyond the classroom walls. You can even have groups of students work on learning about various holidays and sharing their knowledge with the class.  I love having students do research or project-based learning this time of year, and then instead of the laborious task of writing- have them record their new knowledge using technology!

Flexibility and Sensitivity

While the holiday season is full of joy, it’s essential to remember that not all of your students celebrate the same traditions. In a diverse classroom, sensitivity to various cultures and beliefs is crucial. Take the opportunity to educate your students about different holidays and traditions, fostering an environment of inclusivity and respect. By doing so, you not only create a safe space for everyone but also teach valuable life lessons about understanding and acceptance.

Some great ways to promote sensitivity is to use picture books, have families in if they are willing to, or even ask students in other classrooms to explain their traditions, if they feel comfortable. This sensitivity should be happening from the beginning of the year- but more often than not there is a large emphasis on the Christian holidays around this time.  If you find yourself doing mostly Christmas activities, this is the perfect opportunity for you yourself to learn about other cultures! It may seem like extra work at first, but the more you include all students the less behaviors you will have and it will become easier year after year!

Family Engagement

The holiday season is all about bringing people together, and families play a significant role in this.Many times families would love to share their own traditions with the class, but are not sure how to go about coming into the classroom.  The best way to start this is to offer a time that parents can come in as well as a list of activities they can do with the class.  For example, parents can read picture books, share photos, or even engage in some of their traditions.  Every year we light the candles of Hanukkah in my classroom because I can from a family that celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah.  

Not only does this reinforce the importance of education, but it also adds an extra layer of joy to the holiday season. And this does not only pertain to young students, older students can engage in this as well! 

And the best part, if you have been struggling to connect with families, I am sure that many would be honored by the invitation and this would only foster your relationship! 

Consistent Schedule and Routine

While the excitement of the holidays can lead to disruptions in routine, maintaining consistency in the classroom schedule is key to keeping students focused. As a special education teacher, you understand the significance of structure for your students. By adhering to a consistent routine, you provide a sense of stability and predictability that can help mitigate the distractions of the holiday season. Ensure that core learning time remains intact while allowing for some holiday-themed activities to be seamlessly integrated.

With all of the fun distractions you and the school are planning, it can lead to chaos in your classroom, but you can counteract that with keeping some things the same. You can do fun math worksheets, but make them holiday themed! Click here to see the Christmas or Hanukkah set.  Students have so much fun with these, they sometimes do not even realize they are learning!

Incorporating these five strategies into your classroom during the holiday season can make a world of difference in keeping your students engaged during the holiday season and excited about learning. Interactive holiday lessons that infuse creativity, virtual exploration broadens horizons, sensitivity fosters inclusivity, family engagement strengthens bonds, and a consistent schedule maintains focus can bring holiday cheer while still keeping your sanity in tack.

As you embark on this joyful journey with your students, remember that the holiday season is not just about tinsel and twinkling lights. It’s also an opportunity to create lasting memories, deepen connections, and inspire a love for learning that transcends the classroom. So, go ahead and deck the halls, but don’t forget to also infuse your classroom with the magic of education during this wonderful time of the year. Happy holidays and happy teaching! 🎄📚🌟

PS. When the holiday break is over, and you are ready to return full blast into school- that transition can be tricky too. Read another blog about how to make that transition as smooth as possible here.

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