The value of a School Christmas play

It’s that time of year again when children come home announcing which role they will have in this year’s school Christmas play.  Whether it be a traditional nativity or something alternative parents are spending hours searching for or making costumes and young girls bemoan the fact that they still have not been chosen to be Mary!

This year one of our local schools decided not to have a Christmas production for the older children because they lose valuable time from their academic studies and instead they are doing a simple carol service.  Certainly when I was teaching, hours of practice would go into fine tuning the nativity and in the final week most afternoon and PE sessions would be spent in the hall directing sheep and dancing shepherds!  It led me to think should the annual festive production become the topic for the 2nd half of the Autumn term?

The annual tradition certainly lends itself to covering a great deal of the curriculum:

There is plenty of scope for honing literacy skills creating programmes, tickets, posters and even writing their own story or script.  Not to mention character profiles and setting descriptions.

Art and Design Technology lessons could be spent designing and creating scenery, costumes and props, music lessons would feature the songs and musical accompaniments.

History, Geography and RE sessions could centre around the basis for the original Christmas story, plotting journeys etc ,  looking at how other countries and cultures use drama in their celebrations and even looking through the school archives of previous Christmas productions.

Science skills could be spent identifying materials to be used and investigating how best to create bright stars or what forces will have an effect during their production.

PSHE sessions may focus on reconciling differences between characters or cast members and developing social skills.

Maths lessons on investigating the best way to set out rows of chairs for the audience, calculating the revenue from tickets sales, the cost of the production and even using the creation of props and scenery for some work on shapes and measures.

Foreign language links may be a little more challenging though one of the characters in the play could be French or linking back to Geography topics children could research vocabulary and traditions linked to European festive productions.

All this will probably come too late for this year’s plays but maybe in the future it could be better integrated with the curriculum and prevent loss of valuable lesson time.  The other thing that has struck me over the years is how commercialised the annual production has become.  Companies are making significant revenue providing ready-made scripts and music to desperate teaching staff whilst costumes can now be found in every supermarket from October onwards!  What happened to the days of kings wearing a hand-made tunic with someone’s old velvet curtains hanging from their shoulders?  The charm for me of the school nativity was always the imperfections – gifts of gold, Frankenstein and myrrh made from old boxes, a runaway sheep and a star struck child forgetting their lines.  Nothing beats a child’s handmade decoration to hang on the tree or put up on the wall so why can our schools not let these festive offerings retain their old charm and given the current buzz for all things handmade make these Christmas plays child-made!