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Fun Music Therapy Ideas for the Holidays: Something Other Than Jingle Bells

The holiday season is a great time for music therapists because there are so many themes we can work off of. We can explore different holidays during the month of December, discuss wishes for the new year, reminisce about family holiday traditions, the list goes on! Here are a few interventions that I’ve found success with this month in my early childhood, older adult, and adult day program groups.

12 Days of Winter

This is a really fun one to do with all ages and abilities. Using the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas”, we discuss all the different activities we enjoy in the winter! For my older adult groups, we’ll reminisce about family holiday traditions or winter activities they enjoyed when they were growing up. This is a great opportunity to work on group connection, memory, attention, and pattern recognition. See if they can recite all of the activities they discussed by the end of the song! For younger groups or for those that are less verbal, I use an app called Soundingboard. This is a free app that lets you create custom choice boards with pictures and sound. I use it frequently in my school contracts for those on the autism spectrum, but it’s useful for all ages and abilities. It allows clients that are non-verbal to communicate with me and I find that giving clients choices can help boost their memory as well. We’ll sing through the song together after we’ve finished, which also works on reading and reading comprehension skills. I’ve found that most of my groups love this intervention because it gets them thinking about all their favorite holiday traditions and winter activities.

Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah

For this intervention you’re going to need small percussion instruments (I use egg shakers or bells) and scarves. This is a fun one to work on impulse control, direction following, concentration/attention, and gross/fine motor skills.

Oh, Hanukkah, Oh, Hanukkah

Come light the menorah

Let's have a party

We'll all dance the hora

Gather round the table, we'll give you a treat

Sevivon to play with and lakes to eat

And while we are playing

The candles are burning low

One for each night, they shed a sweet light

To remind us of days long ago

One for each night, they shed a sweet light

To remind us of days long ago

If you’re familiar with the song, the first verse is slightly more uptempo than the second. I give each group member an instrument and a scarf, directing them to hold one in each hand (you can also put one item on the ground in front of them if they only have use of one hand). We use the percussion instrument for the first verse and then we switch to the scarf for the second verse, interchanging instruments between verses until we end the song together. My preschool and teen groups love this one, as we go faster and faster in the verses until we finish with a great shake! I’ve also had great responses from my adult group home and day programs. Getting assistance from staff can be useful in this intervention to do hand-over-hand assistance with my clients that struggle with grasping things. I have also used adaptive wrist bells and tied scarves around wrists. This is a great opportunity to discuss all the holidays during this season and the history behind Hanukkah.

Little Drummer Boy

I like to use a big gathering drum for this one, but I’ve also passed around a small hand drum and just tapped on our legs as well. We start by tapping the beat of this song together. I’ll start singing the song, and on the “pa-rum-pum-pum-pum”s we’ll tap out that beat together. This is another one that works on impulse control, direction following, attention, and gross motor skills. Sometimes I’ll modify this so they only play on the “pa-rum-pum-pum-pum”s, or half of the group taps out the beat of the song and the other half of the group taps out the “pa-rum-pum-pum-pum”s. This depends on your group and what you feel works best for them :)

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