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Delivering a nativity to remember with our Peterborough Pre-Schools despite a difficult year

21 December 2020

Children from Family Action’s seven pre-schools have taken part in a nativity show for the past six years. However, this year the traditional performance would be impossible. Here our Early Years Manager Karen took a break from overseeing rehearsals to explain how they’ve worked around the challenges, to deliver a magical nativity at the end of a challenging year.  

Our children first became involved six years ago after we watched a performance organised by Peterborough Cathedral – we asked if our children could perform and they kindly let them join in. The children loved it so much that we eventually decided to strike out on our own and St John’s the Baptist church stepped up and offered us the use of their church. All seven of our pre-schoolwanted to be involved so we decided to let each one work on a song, and then bring them all together for a grand performance of “We wish you a Merry Christmas” at the end.  

It was a challenge going it alone and we had to appoint a performance lead in each pre-school. I took it very seriously and the staff team still laugh because I send out a plan in October! There’s a lot of logistics involved in getting that many small children and staff to the location, but that’s also part of the joy. Our staff take the children and the parents on public transport to the venue and it became a real event as well as a wonderful learning opportunity for the children. Families would stop in town, see the lights, and have some lunch. It became a big trip out for the children and they really enjoyed their journey, singing carols and entertaining people on the bus. 

We took care to do a small rehearsal beforehand at the church because there are some practical considerations with young children. It can sometimes be a bit overwhelming for them as the church can be quite awe-inspiring and their whole world can fall apart over something small… but we don’t mind – that’s what we do as a job.  

It was always lovely as the performance attracts all kinds of different people, many of whom don’t have Christian beliefs at all, but who are happy to come together to celebrate the children’s efforts. Everyone pitches in – normally the vicar will do a prayer or blessing while we prepare and the Salvation Army also come down and entertain people beforehand.  

For us, there’s a huge educational value to the performance too as it gives children experiences that they might not have in their home lives – such as going into town or visiting a church – and also allows us to teach the nativity story and give them some idea of what it’s all about.  

But COVID-19 changed all that.  

Like most pre-schools we’ve adapted to support the children’s early education even if they couldn’t come in to their pre-school. From sending packs home and organising home learning, to the use of video conferencing and social media to do everything from reading stories to simple science experiments. We were surprised by how much people engaged and parents were overwhelmingly positive about our online learning resources. It was this feedback that led us to consider alternative ways of hosting the nativity performance.  

We knew that for some children it’s the only year they would attend the pre-school, so we didn’t want to lose the opportunity for them to take part in the event.”

Did we let it go or try something new? We knew that for some children it’s the only year they would attend the pre-school, so we didn’t want to lose the opportunity for them to take part in the eventWe decided to film each of our pre-schools performing a song – as they would have done in the church – and then blend the videos – including a group performance of “We wish you a Merry Christmas”, edited together through the magic of technology.  

It’s certainly been different from previous years as, although children aren’t as overwhelmed, it can be harder to get them to engage. But from the parents’ point of view, they’re happy that they’ve seen their children appear on the video. We hope to return to the church in the years that come, but producing the video has been good for the children, good for the parents and it means we can still have the nativity and have that magical celebration together. For me… well, I’m a huge Christmas fan, so there’s a selfish pleasure involved, but there’s also an amazing pride for me when I see our staff and children come together.  

What do parents say about the performance? 

“I still get to see the Nativity, in the comfort of my own home.” 

“Viewing the performance online means I can watch it with my whole family.” 

 “I’m happy because it means I still get to see my son and his friends singing.”

Get more stories, ideas, and inspiration to make your Christmas magic, or contact our FamilyLine for information, guidance, and support on an issue affecting your family.