Tuesday Teacher Tips: Classroom Gift Exchange—Stuff the Stockings

Welcome to the Tuesday Teacher Tips series! Each week we’ll highlight teaching and learning resources, ideas to use in the classroom, as well as things to ponder as you go about your teaching day.

Over the years I’ve struggled with gift giving in the classroom over the holiday season. I think I’ve done it all—drawing names, having kids bring a generic boy or girl gift, book exchanges, and Secret Santas. And, of course, there have been many years when I’ve done nothing at all.

But my all-time favorite is “Stuff the Stockings.” A few weeks before holiday break I ask each student to bring in a big sock, not a fancy, decorated Christmas stocking, but rather a regular, everyday sock. Most bring in one of dad’s long tube socks, and there are always a few ingenious ones who bring in one of their huge hockey socks.
Some years I’ve gotten really ambitious and made a bulletin board in the shape of a fireplace and then stapled the socks to the “mantle.” I’ve even created a red and orange “fire” blazing in the hearth with tissue paper. But, honestly, some years I’ve just staple those socks to any bulletin board space I can find. Above each sock I make sure to write the student’s name, because after awhile all of the socks look the same!

Students are asked to bring in one small gift for every student in the class. The gifts are meant to be inexpensive—pencils, eraser tops, stickers, candy canes, etc. I’ve had kids bring in all kinds of cool things that they found in bulk at the dollar store.

The beauty of this exchange is that if a student doesn’t bring gifts in, no one notices. And if a student doesn’t have money, they can make something. One year a student drew a little picture for each student in the class, while another student made ornaments for everyone.

As students start bringing in their gifts, have them fill each sock that is “hung by the fire.” The day before holiday break, the students take their sock off of the bulletin board and dump everything out. They love all of the little treasures inside!

To put a spin on this holiday exchange, create a math theme for the gifts. Some ideas to give the kids: rulers, dice, deck of cards, math story problems written on index cards, puzzles copied off a website, recipes, or little pads of paper.

Do you have some ideas of little, inexpensive things that would work for Stuff the Stockings? Do you have other ideas to create a math theme? We’d love to hear what you think!