It’s that time of year again! Whether you love it or hate it, Christmas music is back for the next 26 days. I love it! Besides being festive and fun, holiday music is one of my favorite language-building tools!
Developmentally, singing and speaking actually emerge around the same time. So children will likely start singing a word to their favorite tune, around the time they use their first word. Van loved one of the songs from his baby Music Together class and would often wait for the song to finish before “singing” his favorite word in the song. Many children will also begin to sing multi-word phrases in songs before they’re able to produce them in spontaneous speech.
What is this magic link between music and speech? Well many of the same neural pathways are activated when singing and speaking. Thinking about it, this makes sense. Music and speech both have rhythm, pitch, and tempo. One of the great things about music, is that it’s usually very repetitive. And we know: young children learn best through repetition and routine (And yes, I’m aware I bring this up in almost every post, but it’s because it’s that important)! Music also has built-in pauses, giving your child opportunities to vocalize or verbalize.
So how do we take advantage of this time of year when Christmas music is everywhere? It starts with you singing with your baby or toddler! Here are my tips:
1. Choose familiar songs: as great as some of the obscure Christmas music out there is, to optimize language development choose songs your child will hear often. You want your child to recognize the holiday tune playing as while you shop together or the song that happens to come on the radio in the car. This all goes back to the repetition premise- the more your child hears it, the easier it will be for him or her to learn it!
2.Invent Hand Motions: It’s usually easier for young children to imitate gestures than words so this is a great way to get your baby or toddler more engaged in the song. I’d recommend making-up hand motions that fit the song, such as moving your hand down while singing “down through the chimney”. Feel free to encourage your little one to participate by gently taking his/her hands and having him/her do one of the gestures. For example, helping your child touch his/her nose during “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. After a few practice rounds, your little one may start trying some of the motions on their own!
3.Use props: this can help your child learn what he or she is singing! Try grabbing a large jingle bell ornament from the tree when you’re singing “Jingle Bells”. Your baby or toddler will love to shake it along with the music! Don’t be afraid to get creative. You most likely have Christmas decorations that are mentioned in the Christmas songs you do like Santa doll, reindeer, etc. Just be sure to supervise and not give your child anything he/she could potentially hurt themselves with (small parts, glass, etc).
4.Focus on the chorus: the chorus is likely the most repetitive part of the song and will probably be the most recognizable for your child. So don’t get too hung up on all of the verses, sticking to the chorus will be just as fun for your little one.
5.Sing along when you hear one but also incorporate it into a routine: Just like any language strategy, consistency will help your child anticipate what’s coming. Music works wonders during diaper changes!
6.Reinforce ALL participation: did your baby make a sound after you sang “ho ho ho”? Great! Show them how excited you are by clapping, repeating the sound back to them, or singing that part again! Maybe your child didn’t vocalize, but attempted one of the gestures you did- let your child know that’s awesome too! We want music to be fun for our little ones. Even just clapping when the song ends shows that they are engaged!
7.Add some extra pauses:so you’ve sung “fa la la la la, la la la la” for the millionth time and your little one still loves it? Try throwing in a long pause before your child’s favorite part of a song. So in this one you might sing the first part of the chorus, through “’tis the season to be jolly“, then PAUSE…wait and smile expectantly at your baby or toddler. You want to build some anticipation here! I often have parents count to 5 or 10 in their heads so they’re doing a long enough pause. Hopefully your little one will do something (make a noise, wave their hands, try to sing “fa” or “la”, etc) to get you to keep singing. If not, smile, point to your mouth, and keep going anyways! Your baby or toddler will jump in when they’re ready!
8.Dance: again, keep music fun for your little one by dancing with them. You can hold them while you dance or put them down and encourage them to move their feet or clap along to the music. Even though our babies and toddlers probably aren’t singing while they’re dancing, they are listening. Not to mention dancing is great for their developing social skills!
There are so many holiday songs to choose from! Some of my favorites for language development are:
Deck the Halls
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Up on the Housetop
Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow
If you need to brush up on some lyrics, lyrics.com has all of these and more, or you could always do a quick google or you tube search!
So y’all, don’t be afraid to embrace the Christmas music this year! Doing so is great for your child’s emerging expressive and receptive language skills and, you’re going to hear it non-stop for the next month anyways!
Having trouble remembering all of these strategies? Feel free to download my free cheat sheet available on my new Free Parent Handouts page!