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Nativity Sets Children Will Love

By Sue Careless

SMALL CHILDREN often mispronounce Nativity sets as ‘activity’ sets, which is fine in one sense. Those designed for youngsters are meant to be handled and played with. For a hands-on experience, forget ceramic, glass or porcelain and bring on fabric, wood or durable plastic.

We gave a wooden toy creche to William, our two-and-a-half-year-old grandson, when he came to our home for a visit. As we adults were unpacking it from its box, William was as quickly repacking the figures into his backpack. There was almost no time to set it up “properly” on the wooden tray that came with it – nor anywhere else for that matter. 

But this told me William really liked the set. Like most preschoolers these days, he goes almost nowhere without his backpack. His most prized belongings go into it and that day the figurines and dismantled stable would be zipped up and safely carried to his home.

Biblically and theologically it also made sense. The Christmas narrative is full of travel. After all, Mary and Joseph had to travel from Nazareth in northern Israel down to Bethlehem. Later they would have to pack up and travel further, south and west down to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of young boys – “The Flight into Egypt” as it is called in works of art. Eventually the Holy Family would return north to their home in Nazareth. And we all know of the long journey the Magi made coming from the East and then returning home but by a different route. Of course the greatest journey of all was our Saviour’s journey from Heaven down to earth, but I will let greater minds than mine tell that story. I’ll just note that packing and unpacking and packing up again was all part of the Christmas story. 

The wooden set we had chosen for William came from a creative toy company called Melissa & Doug. It lacked a donkey and could use more sheep and camels. But this would not be a problem. William owns some wonderfully detailed Schleich animal figurines, which he could easily add to his creche. When our own children were small I remember discovering a toy dinosaur worshipping at the manager. But then surely all Creation should reverence the Christ Child.  

Quality wooden nativity sets are great for kids as they are easy to hold and play with and usually don’t break. Just make sure they are not too small, to avoid choking, and are well-sanded to prevent splinters. Avoid any harmful resins. Water-based non-toxic paints and eco-friendly bamboo are ideal.

Fabric is another possibility for very young children – just no buttons or wires and again, not too small.

Below we have listed some nativity sets sold by well-known toy companies. You may prefer to make your own creche or purchase one at a local craft sale. Just ensure the set is child-safe and age appropriate. Lego, arguably the most popular toy company in the world, does not – to the best of my knowledge – sell a nativity set per se but there are numerous examples online of creches made using Lego blocks and Lego mini-figures so children five and up can construct their own.   

While most churches now display beautiful creches inside or outside their walls, homes where children live or visit would do well to have their own child-friendly sets, as would all Sunday schools.



Pockets of Learning

Nativity House Manger Set

Ages 1-5

This delightful creche is made from colourful fabric with safe unbreakable pieces. Just the right size for toddlers. All the pieces can be neatly stored in the sturdy stable, which has Velcro closings and a handle so it is easy to carry around. An angel and star are attached to the stable. Pieces include: Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, a manger, 3 wise men, a shepherd, a cow, a donkey and a sheep. If you lose a piece, the company will replace it for free! Pockets of Learning also carries a Noah’s Ark.

Cons: Only one shepherd.

          No camels.

Cost: $ Reasonable price



Melissa and Doug 

Wooden Nativity Set Ages 2-6

This child-friendly, wooden nativity set provides a “please touch” holiday experience. The four-piece stable is easy to assemble and the 11 figures encourage your child to re-enact the events of that Christmas Day long ago. A retelling of the Christmas story is included on the package.

Durable pieces can be set up on a wooden tray that is initially part of the packaging. The chunky figures stand up fairly well on hard surfaces and are easy for smaller hands to manipulate. The images are not stickers and do not peel off. Child-friendly yet looks great. The company also carries a Noah’s Ark.

Cons: Because the pictures are only on one side, when you set up the scene each figure can only be facing a certain way. Some parents would have liked a few more animals. Baby not removable from manger.

Cost: $ Reasonable price



Fisher-Price Little People

Deluxe Nativity Set

Ages 1-5.

If you press down on the angel you will light up the star and hear “Away in a Manger.”

12 figures included: Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, Angel, Three Wise Men, 2 Donkeys, Camel, Sheep, Cow. Also includes stable, palm trees, hay bale, donkey’s cart.

Cons: No shepherds.

Cost: $$$ Pricey




Nativity Stable with

Manger Building Set   

Ages 4-8

The functioning lantern provides enough light to create a nighttime scene.

Set includes five figures, plus stable, lantern, lamb, palm tree, shooting star, haystack, bonfire, and other accessories.

Cons: Wise men not included. They can be purchased as a separate set but only with one camel. Choking hazard with small parts. Not suitable for children under 3. (Playmobil also makes a basic set for toddlers called 123 Christmas Manger Playset.)

Cost: $$$ Pricey

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