As we approach Christmas, here is an idea for a simple nativity that preschoolers can touch and explore. This project came together very quickly, and Owen and Jonathan (ages 4.5 and almost 2) have really enjoyed playing with it. The hay in the bottom of the tub is what really makes it fun for little hands.
I used wooden pegs for the people, and I decorated them with felt, hot glue, thread, a couple of pipe cleaners, and a sharpie. And that was it! The stable is a shoe box covered with brown paper lunch bags.
I used the bottom of a jewelry box for the manger, but Aidan discovered that Mary and Joseph can also hold Baby Jesus if they work together!
For each person, I wrapped some felt around their body and then trimmed the excess around the bottom. The I hot glued the felt onto the wood, wrapped the felt around, and glued the other end down. This is what the felt looked like after trimming. The straight edge goes around the top.
For the shepherd and angel, I added a couple of pipe cleaners for details.
The part that really keeps toddlers engaged is the hay. I bought a bag of raffia at the craft store, and Owen helped me to cut it up into short segments. Owen is an especially tactile kind of guy, and he has spent a lot of time playing with the hay – running his fingers through it, filling up the manger, covering the animals and then uncovering them, feeding the animals, etc. Yesterday he even added a couple of measuring cups to fill with hay! It has made a minor mess when they play with it, but nothing that the vacuum can’t quickly fix. (And our rule is that if you are just dumping out the contents of the tub, you are done playing.)
The tub was all set up for Jonathan to explore after his nap, and he loved it! Especially the baby.
Jonathan has been listening in to our Advent tree devotions, but at his age (23 months), a lot of it is over his head. This tub is a great way to play with him and talk about the story of Christ’s birth!