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Tongues, tonsils and tinsel! Singing our way through Christmas

As the twinkling lights come on across towns and cities, the festive season is upon us. With it comes yet another opportunity to get our tinsel untangled and our tonsils tuned, ready to sing!

This got me thinking about how children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) learn the words of songs that we only sing at this time of year.

If you compare this with everyday nursery rhymes that children hear frequently, they can learn rhythm, actions and words with practice. Using this as a model, here are some tips to help children with SLCN learn songs and maybe teach us all something in the process:

  • Modelling - Seeing how it’s done by someone who knows
  • Repetition - Children can learn the rhythm and words of songs through having them repeated over and over
  • Actions - Actions in songs reinforce children’s learning. This can also help all children to join in. Actions also help young children stay engaged for longer. Think how often very young children will request a favourite song (like ‘Twinkle Twinkle’!) by using the action rather than asking for it by name​
  • Visual support - Using visual cues can assist children through song association. Try adding pictures and objects to your song bag so all children have the chance to choose a song without having to say its name. In turn, you’ll also help them practice making choices. You might want to consider using some Makaton signs to accompany songs. You can download some Makaton resources for free here. There are also clips on YouTube that model singing festive songs:

  • Key words and phrases - Reducing the content to manageable chunks and emphasising key words can help reinforce learning for children. In addition, it can give them a nice sense of satisfaction in being able to remember a certain section
  • Slow it down - By reducing the speed we sing at, we can help children with SLCN join in more easily by giving them more time to practice co-ordinating the words, rhythm and actions.

Reflecting on Practice

Think about how you introduce new songs to children. Do you use actions and signs to support them? How about some props? Try reflecting on any words that might be new or unfamiliar for children; you could plan opportunities for them to have real experiences of these.

Vocal health

Let’s not forget to look after our voices when we are doing lots of singing! If your vocal chords are working hard in the festive season, there are some simple ways to keep them in good health:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Try not to push your voice outside of your natural range
  • Take care if you catch a Winter cold – your voice can be susceptible to strain so take some time to rest it and remember, keep your water bottle handy!

Having fun with songs can be a highly rewarding way to help stimulate all children’s language development. It’s so easy to do!

Stay warm, sing out loud and have a wonderful festive season. See you in the New Year!

About the author

Jon Gilmartin is a speech and language therapist who specialises in working with early years practitioners and families with young children. As a Speech and Language Advisor for I CAN, he delivers training to early years professionals and supports them to develop their practice. He also works on I CAN’s Enquiry Service providing information, advice and support for practitioners and parents. You can contact Jon directly on I CAN’s Enquiry Service by calling 0207 843 2544 or sending an email to 

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