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Tickling your tonsils: tuning up for festivities

It’s beginning to look a lot like....festivities! The box set and 3 for 2 offers are beginning to creep into the shops and festive jumpers are starting to appear. I haven’t heard any of the songs yet, but it can’t be long (challenge: do you remember when you heard your first festive song this year?).

With the fireworks and celebration of Diwali over it’s a reminder that there are events that we celebrate annually that have specific traditions and songs associated with them.


Bearing this in mind, I have been reflecting on how young children and children with SLCN learn the words to songs associated with traditions that only happen once a year. Children learn nursery rhymes because they are frequently exposed to them and they learn the rhythm, the actions and then the words. When learning anything the following help us all:


Seeing how it’s done by someone who knows.


Over and over again helps children to learn the rhythm and words of songs


Actions in songs reinforce learning. It also gives all children a way of joining in. Think of how popular and accessible the song ‘YMCA’ is, as everyone can join in with words and actions. Actions and gestures can also help young children to focus and keep them engaged.  If you think about how young children ask for a song they will often use the actions for 'Twinkle, twinkle little star' or 'Wind the bobbin up' rather than asking for a song by name.

Props and pictures 

Having an object or picture linked with a song can help children to learn an association with a song. You could add objects or pictures to your song bag or box so that children can choose a particular song, even if they aren’t able to say its name. This also helps children to make choices and stay involved during singing times.

Learning key words and phrases

Breaking things down into manageable chunks and learning key words can help to reinforce learning. It can also give a sense of achievement when you remember a certain section.

Slowing it down

Slowing down can help young children join in more easily as it gives them time to co-ordinate the words, rhythm and actions.

The Makaton Charity has resources that you can download for free that include many of the Makaton signs used in songs. There are also clips on You Tube and Something Special that model signing and singing festive songs.

You can also have a look at Boogie Mites Arctic Adventure that includes seasonal songs and curriculum links to support planning.

Reflecting on practice

How do you introduce new songs to children and help them learn these? Do you use actions and signs to support them? Do you have any props?

Think about any words that may be new and unfamiliar to children; you can then plan opportunities for them to have concrete experiences of these.

Take opportunities so that children can learn from new experiences and build on their vocabulary. For example, if it’s snowing, dress up warm and go outside. You only learn about snow by touching it, feeling it and seeing it. You also see young children putting their tongues out and tasting snow – you can build on their experiences.

Also have a think about how you look after your voice if you're doing a lot of singing. Your vocal chords will be working hard during the festive season and there are some simple ways of keeping them in good health:

Have a bottle of water to hand to keep them well oiled!

Sing in a key that suits you - don't push your voice by trying to reach the high notes of Hark the Herald Angels Sing!

Look after yourself if you have a cold - your voice can be vulnerable and singing can put a lot of strain on your vocal chords. Make sure you have time to rest your voice and keep your water handy.

While you are tuning up during the festive season you can think about carrying on into the New Year with I CAN's Chatterbox Challenge. I CAN's annual Chatterbox Challenge pack is now available to download. You will find lots of idea on how to run a session and activities linking to popular songs.

About the author

Amanda Baxter is a speech and language therapist who specialises in working with early years practitioners and families with young children. As a Communication Advisor for I CAN, she delivers training to early years professionals and supports them to develop their practice. She also works on I CAN’s Enquiry Service providing information, advice and support for practitioners and parents.  Amanda has worked in children's centres and as a Local Authority Early Language Consultant. 

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