15 Brilliant School Nativity Ideas
By Phillipa Pearne
As the famous Andy Williams Christmas song goes, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year...” – go on, we dare you to name a person who doesn’t agree! But for teachers like you, the big festive cherry on top is knowing that you have produced a top-notch nativity for everyone to enjoy before the end of (a very long...) term. As Christmas edges closer, we know the pressure is on you to find the perfect nativity for your class or school. But never fear, The School Musicals Company is here! We’ve put together this handy nativity guide just for you; from tips on how to choose the right play, to advice about the best way to rehearse and stage it (with a few of our own nativity suggestions thrown in just to make life even easier – you’re welcome!) Allow us to help relieve your nativity worries so that you too can join in with the festivities, stress-free!
Find ‘the one’
There are generally two different types of nativity ‘routes’ to go down, so the first thing to do is choose which one you think would best suit the children performing yours. Are you going to choose a more traditional play? Or would you prefer to do one where the story of the nativity is just used as a base line and new characters and fresh perspectives are added in? Once you have chosen your type, you can then decide on the length, the amount of dialogue and narration, and how challenging you feel the songs should be, depending on which age bracket you’re working with.
- Choose the best KS1 nativity: For children between the ages of 4-7, think narration over dialogue. Narration can be undertaken by your stronger readers/performers, or even by an adult if necessary. If you want to include some dialogue, choose a production where the lines are only a sentence or two in length to make them easier for younger children to memorise. The length of the whole performance is key too as it’s better to choose a shorter nativity and do it well, than a longer one and find it too difficult. Something around 20 to 30 minutes is perfect, with easy to learn songs. Check out our new mini nativities – “Twinkle Town” and “Cheeky Cherubs” - which have just four songs and short scripts. Also, “A Very Special Baby – A Bubble Nativity” is 15 minutes long and “Follow The Star – A Sparkling Nativity Musical” is 25 minutes. They’re the perfect KS1 nativity concoction, whilst still managing to get the nativity message across! Winning.
- Choose the best KS2 nativity: With this age group, you can dig a little deeper when it comes to performance expectation. Think thicker dialogue, more songs that are also slightly more challenging and less repetitive and a longer overall running time. Our brilliant “The Inn Crowd – A Groovy Musical Nativity”, “The Mouse In Santa’s House” or our brand new nativity, “It’s a Census, Get Me Out Of Here” are all 35 minutes long and aimed at children aged between 5-9.
- Choose the best whole primary school nativity: There’s nothing better than getting the whole school involved in the annual nativity. But with such varied age groups, there needs to be something for everyone. The songs should vary in difficulty – simple for the little ones and a bit more challenging for the older ones – and the rest of the production should have the right balance of narration and dialogue. You can then allocate each year group a different set of characters – e.g. the shepherds and sheep, the angels or the residents of Bethlehem – for a fairer, easier rehearsal process later down the line. Our Christmas adventure nativity, “The Amazing Advent Calendar” is the ideal choice for a whole school production - it’s for ages 5-11 and has a varied repertoire of songs and speaking parts, and a complimentary abridged script to boot. And trust us when we say, your pupils will love performing it just as much as the audience will enjoy watching it.
Become an expert in staging
Let’s face it, parents, grandparents and guardians have heard the story of the nativity around a hundred times – maybe more - so it’s safe to say there won’t exactly be any spoilers! What they really want to see is their child or grandchild performing and singing their heart out. So, staging your nativity and dividing it up fairly is just as important as choosing the right play – after all, no teacher likes an upset parent. Here are some top staging tips for your school nativity.
- Divide narration to fit your cast: It can be split into small sections or one lines to bring in parts for more children. This will also give each child less to learn (bonus!). Or, with fewer children, a competent reader could read the narration to the audience. Including the editable WORD script in your purchase will help with this.
- Keep the action up front: Whenever possible, stage things as far forwards as you can. Downstage centre is the most powerful position on stage as it helps connect the performers with the audience. The last thing you want is for a child to be hidden at the back and therefore completely missed by family members, so you could also vary the levels on stage with carefully positioned blocks or treads. Depending on numbers and your stage area, a typical scenario would be to position the main choir towards the back, with all the action happening in front of them and the narrators at the front, to the side.
- Use your exits: Bring people on and off from every possible entrance and exit, perhaps even through the auditorium. And keep practising the logistics to avoid chaos! (Then again, a nativity wouldn’t be a nativity without a little bit of chaos, would it?!)
- Stay animated: Use repeated actions and movement within the songs. Not only does it make it more interesting to watch, but it also helps children to remember the lyrics.
- Keep scenery simple: For your backdrop, whilst a huge acrylic painting of the entire city of Jerusalem with added LED lighting and the odd flashing shooting star here and there would be, well, impressive, a simple ink blue backdrop covered in shiny stars – made by the children – can look equally effective. Using only one backdrop throughout will also mean that no stage hands will be needed for scenery shifting. Simplicity is key here - all in the name of doing yourself a massive (time-saving) favour.
Thinking about filming or streaming your nativity. Have a read of our blog
Make rehearsals fun again
Rehearsing is all part of the fun – it’s a great bonding experience for the children and a great way to teach them the story and message of the nativity. After all, once you’ve performed the nativity, you’re very unlikely to forget it. Here’s how to utilise precious rehearsal time and, most importantly, make it enjoyable for everyone involved.
- Do strategic casting: For a whole school nativity, you may have allocated each year group a different set of characters, as mentioned before. For example, one year group could play the animals, another year group could be cast as the wise men and their entourage, and so on. This would make for a simpler rehearsal process where each year group would have one-off scenes and songs which they could rehearse independently, before coming together nearer ‘opening night’ to join things up nicely. Did we mention “The Amazing Advent Calendar” would be perfect for this sort of set up?
- Keep rehearsals short and often: This is so that the children don’t lose concentration or get bored (we’ve all seen it...). Start with small groups and save the bigger, longer rehearsals for later, once everyone knows what they’re doing. Another way to make the children feel involved is to keep talking through the story so that it’s always fresh in their minds and almost becomes second nature, whether they like it or not (just kidding). This will also give them a good understanding of the whole story, rather than just the part they play in it.
- Avoid (potential) logistical nightmares: The more you practise the coming on and off stage and making transitions from scene to scene go smoothly, the more polished your nativity will look. Make sure you have plenty of teachers and teaching assistants on hand to help with the younger pupils too.
- Use the CD or Downloads: Doing this for the performance as well as when learning the songs means you can have your hands free and can move about and direct the children. The sounds used on the backing tracks will also help to create the atmosphere of the nativity, though do have a spare CD player available in case of the dreaded ‘technical issues’.
Make a list (and check it twice...)
To ensure everyone enjoys themselves (yes, including you) here is your final checklist:
- Avoid auditions: Right from the off, relieve nativity stress by skipping the audition process. Whilst it may seem like auditions could be helpful when it comes to casting, it might work against you and open up a big can of emotional worms for the children, especially the younger ones. If you’d like to have one or two singer soloists, listen out in singing time for children who are good, clear singers. Maybe invite children to sing a verse of a song on their own, but only as part of a fun lesson. This will give you a good idea of who is confident enough to do a solo. After all, we are not expecting them to be professional West End performers.
- Don’t do it alone: You’d be surprised at how many people are willing to help when it comes to a traditional event like this. Everyone wants it to go smoothly! Give the children their lines to take home and learn with the help of their parents. Parents will also expect to help with costumes and some are even happy to give up their time to assist with stage scenery. Also, don’t be afraid to ask teaching assistants for help with keeping the children in check during rehearsals – there is a limit to how loud one teacher can shout!
- Don’t expect perfection: That applies to both the children and you! If there are mistakes on the night, so be it. It’s all part of the nativity charm! The most important thing about performing and taking part in a nativity is that the children and the audience have fun. The nativity is usually a family occasion where parents, grandparents and guardians come to support the children. If your play has produced a magical Christmas atmosphere, then your job here is done and you’ve managed to create something wonderful that everyone will remember for many years to come. So give yourself a huge pat on the back (and pour a large glass of mulled wine!)
Planning a Christmas Assembly? Read our blog 11 Christmas Assembly Ideas For Primary School (theschoolmusicalscompany.com)