Learning with a Living Nativity 

by ZSL on

Whilst helping pull the last bits of tinsel and snow together ahead of the launch of this year’s Living Nativity at ZSL London Zoo, Discovery and Learning Officer Sarah Duffy reveals what she loves most about the event and how the Christmas story can be used to continue students’ science and geography learning. 

Living Nativity at ZSL London Zoo

It may seem early to be thinking about Christmas but here at ZSL London Zoo we’re working away like Santa’s little helpers to get the site ready for this year’s Living Nativity event. 

Set around the story of the ‘first ever Christmas’, the Living Nativity is an immersive education tour for Early Years and KS1 students that takes groups on a festive journey around the zoo. The tour includes all the key characters of the story - the wise men and their camels, Mary in a stable and the shepherds with their goats – with the final addition of Santa in his snow-filled grotto. 

With the Father Christmas finale, it isn’t the most traditional retelling of the Christmas story, but each character the children meet brings the magical tale alive, with many introducing the groups to different animals. As someone who travels all over the world, old St Nick in particular has some very wise words on the wildlife he sees along his way – and why he wouldn’t see animals like a kangaroo hopping past his house in the North Pole. 

There are many ways in which the curriculum, beyond religious studies, can be woven into the Christmas story. 

By focusing on the animals of the tale, it’s easy to incorporate information about the habitat they live in and how they’re adapted to live there. Groups love to hear about the three kings’ camels and why they make such good travel companions in the desert. Father Christmas introduces students to the adaptations of different species across the globe, from his own eight reindeer to polar bears and penguins.

Geography can play a role in the tale as well, as we discuss with groups where in the world the story takes place and what it’s like there, and Santa uses a globe to illustrate his Christmas Eve journey.

Running since 2003, Living Nativity has proved to be hugely popular and it’s a joy to put on for us too. Though set up is a mammoth task – including everything from organising dress rehearsals to setting up thirty fake trees in one of our classrooms – the gasps that we get when children walk into the fairy-lit, snow dusted forest of Santa’s grotto are well worth every effort. My favourite part will always be playing the role of the elf that welcomes groups to this part of the tour as you’re able to get fully immersed in the festive fun!

The event has been honed over the years to be as magical as Christmas-ly possible - whilst also using the story to expand upon the curriculum. We continue to have brilliant feedback from teachers and pupils alike - “all of it was absolutely fantastic couldn't fault any of it if I tried!” – and we are looking forward to welcoming another sleigh-load of students this year for our next Christmas adventure!

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