Go beyond the basic with opportunities for SEL and deeper understanding.

Kids in winter hats huddling together

Right around winter break, everyone's thoughts start to turn to the upcoming time off and family celebrations. In school, little kids are tracing their hands to make turkeys, while older students might be taking final exams. No matter what's on the schedule, it's a great opportunity to make a little space for some social and emotional learning that leans into the spirit of the season rather than skating across the surface.

Highlighting the history behind various winter holidays encourages inclusion and lets kids learn about different traditions from each other. Also, focusing on friendship, family, and kindness fosters the feelings of connection that we hope all kids experience, especially during this time of year. And planning some projects before -- or during -- the break can keep kids in touch with some SEL-inspired creativity.

Check out the individual activities below, or print out these cards and drop them into a jar. Try one, two, or 10 to keep kids thinking and creating while school's out!

Activities to Learn About Holiday Histories

Since kids everywhere celebrate different winter holidays, it's a great idea to encourage them to embrace that diversity and learn about each other's traditions. Use the resources below to learn more about familiar holidays or discuss ones you might know less about.

Activities to Learn About Gratitude and Kindness



Underneath the festivities, winter holidays almost always involve gatherings and togetherness. Tap into that deeper current of connection with the activities below.

Also, consider these fun offline activities for gratitude and kindness:

  • For a fun offline activity, decorate a large cardboard box. Use it to store gifts for local charities. Put in toys to donate, food to give away, and more! (Grades PreK-12)
  • For another offline option, decorate a gratitude jar as a class. Whenever someone feels grateful, they can write or draw the reason on a paper and put it in the jar. Read the results each week. (Grades PreK-12)
  • Create a Kindness Challenge! Think of a way your classroom or school can show kindness to each other. How can you help each other or make the day better? Share ideas and make a plan to get the challenge started. (Grades PreK-12)

Activities to Learn About Creativity and Connection



Sometimes the best way to access the personal meaning of the holidays is through creativity. Let kids make, bake, and write their way to the spirit of generosity and connection that's the backdrop of the season.

  • Use some around-the-house supplies to make it snow inside. Follow the instructions from Kidsburgh and watch the blizzard begin! You can use the jar as a way to practice deep breathing and mindfulness as kids watch the snow settle. (Grades PreK-2)
  • Make this Tinkergarten tree of thanks together, and start a gratitude practice in your home or class. (Grades PreK-3)
  • Make "snoball" cookies with this winter-inspired video and cookie recipe from The Kids Should See This. Though this one won't work at school, you can send it home for kids to do over break! (PreK-12)
  • Have students use this writing prompt from Education.com to reflect on what winter means to them and how they know when winter has arrived. (Grades 1-3)
  • Kindness rocks! Write inspiring notes on rocks and leave them for your friends, family, or community to find. (Grades 1-6)
  • Use these questions from Family Tree Magazine (or write your own) to interview a family member. Write down or record their answers, and share with the whole family. (Grades 3-6)
  • Read this poem by David Young. Then, as you think about your mother or another caregiver, identify some of the everyday ways that person shows you love. Show your appreciation with a note or hug. (Grades 5-12)
  • After you read this poem by Alberto Rios, write about your own family legend or story with as much detail as you can. (Grades 6-12)
  • Make a paper model of the solar system that helps students visualize Earth's yearly orbit around the Sun. How does the darker time of year affect us? How do our celebrations contribute? (Grades 6-12)
  • Have students read this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, then write one sentence that captures its theme. Students can also write about the role of love among our basic needs. (Grades 6-12)
  • Participate in Storycorp's The Great Thanksgiving Listen! Interview an elder or loved one in person or virtually, and share your own unique oral history with the world. (Grades 9-12)
  • Have students explore and record their family's history -- there's never been a better time. Use this guide from Atlas Obscura for tips and inspiration, then get recording! (Grades 9-12)

Also, consider these fun offline activities for creativity and connection:

  • Use some art supplies to create a bouquet of "forever flowers" for a classmate or family member. Write notes or draw pictures to go with them. (Grades PreK-2)
  • Students can write down some family traditions, whether they're for holidays, birthdays, or other special reasons, then share with the class. (Grades 2-12)
  • Over the break, have students create and send out a family newsletter. It can be digital or a real, physical object. Tell them to try including a variety of stuff: news, interviews, history, recipes, and more. (Grades 3-12)
  • Over the break, students can take some time to curate their best family photos and put them into a digital (or physical) album. Create a theme or just choose your favorites. Ask kids to share when they get back from break! (Grades 3-12)
Christine Elgersma

Christine Elgersma is Senior Editor, Learning Content, Strategy which means she manages the newsletter about learning, edits writing about learning, and loves to learn. Before coming to Common Sense, she helped create ELA curriculum for a K-12 app and taught the youth of America as a high school teacher, a community college teacher, a tutor, and a special education instructional aide for about 18 years. Christine is also a writer, primarily of fiction and essays, and loves to read all manner of books. When she's not putting on a spontaneous vaudeville show with her daughter, Christine loves nature, music, and almost any form of dark chocolate.