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Holiday Math Makes Practice Merry!

By Shari Edwards on December 12, 2012
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

As we were reading "The Night Before Christmas" the other day, we were doing some wondering together. Several students wanted to know what sugarplums were and how they could dance in children's heads. Teachers have NO problem understanding the concept. They see it in their classrooms every December!

I love this time of year but, in a classroom, it can get a little crazy! I can't control the sugarplums dancing around in my students' heads, but I can use the excitement to my advantage! Here are some inexpensive ways to give students practice with math concepts in a festive way. They are sure to engage students for a few minutes a day during this exciting month!



Counting up, Counting back Stars Cut apart a garland made up of plastic shapes like stars or use other tiny shapes. Find + - dice or make them by writing +1 to +4 and -1 to -4 randomly on a block. Students play in partners. Each player takes five stars to begin the game. Remaining stars are placed in the middle. Players take turns rolling the die and adding or subtracting that many stars from the middle pile. (I want students doing the mental math as they keep track of how close they are to the goal.) The object is to be the first one to get to 15, or another number depending on the students' needs. The first student to get to exactly 15 stars calls out "15 Stars!"

student counting stars

Counting up — Put table scatter or colorful beads in a tub along with a die. Students take turns rolling the die and taking the amount shown for their pile. The first one to go over 30 (or what ever number you choose) wins and the game starts over. (I want them preparing their minds for counting up mentally.)

table scatter and dice for math gamecounting

Making Arrays

Roll a Christmas Array Find or create 36 large Christmas shapes and a large die. I found some cute foam cut-outs in the dollar section at Target to use for this activity. Students roll the die for number of rows and again for quantity of shapes in each row. Ask students to state their math understanding after each array but repeating the “rows of” phrase with the correct total aloud. My 2nd graders like to do this because of the size of the shapes.

Christmas shapesstudents work on giant array

Bake Up an Array — Look for silicone bake ware with gingerbread men, or other holiday shapes, on it and some medium sized plastic Christmas balls. Students choose a Christmas recipe card with an array on it such as “4 rows of 2 equals _. The partners take turns choosing an array recipe and making the array by placing the balls into an array and figuring out the total amount. Ask students to state their math understanding after each array but repeating the “rows of” phrase with the correct total aloud.

bakware with Christmas ballsarrays

Groups of…

Stocking Up on Candy Canes Pick up 6 little stockings and 36 colorful candy canes for this activity. Students roll a die once for the number of stockings and again for the amount of candy canes that go in each stocking. Ask them to state their math understanding together after each turn by saying:
"_ groups (stockings) of_ (candy canes in one stocking) equals _ candy canes total."

candy canes and stockings

Place Value

Trade to 100 — Cut a plastic bead garland into tens and ones. Give pairs of students 20 of the tens and 30 ones along with a die. Students take turns rolling the die and taking that many single beads. When they get more than nine "ones" they trade ten single beads for a string of ten beads. The object is to get to 100.

garland cut in tens and onesboys rolling for tens to one hundred


  • Keep a gallon bag, close by, with a few extra game pieces. It's a good place to put lost and found pieces when you aren't sure which game they belong to.
  • Emphasize student engagement and the importance of BOTH partners staying involved in BOTH turns. The partner waiting for their next turn should be the "checker" during that time.

Engaging students during December is definitely a challenge we teachers are up for! Get out there and make "The Dance of the Sugarplums"  WORK for you!

How do you engage students during the Great Holiday Countdown?


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