Activity Inspiration: Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

2 Dec

I’m sure every therapist, teacher and parent has experienced the craziness that can ensue on the first day back after Thanksgiving break. It can be difficult to reign in all that excited energy as everyone (staff included!) transitions back into their daily routines while still counting down the days until winter break. This week, I want to share an activity that I’m currently implementing to help my students refocus in the midst of all this holiday season hubbub.

Though I’m actually a classically trained opera singer, lately I’ve been trading out Handel for Hap Palmer and Donizetti for drum circles. I love to use classical music in my sessions whenever I can because it refreshes me while also introducing my clients to a diverse range of musical styles! Music from The Nutcracker is recognizable, easy to listen to and seasonal, making it the perfect choice for a music listening activity for clients who may be new to classical music.

For this activity, all you’ll need is:

  • A recording of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” (or your favorite winter-themed classical music piece)
  • Scarves
  • Desired instruments
  • Visual: Because many of my students have ASD and struggle with abstract thinking, I also like to provide a concrete visual during any type of relaxation or self-regulation activity. This can help set the mood while also giving extra life to the music! I used google’s handy dandy image search and found a snowy picture to project on our SMART board like the one below:

Depending on the needs of your students, distribute scarves and encourage them to move their scarves along with the music while remaining seated. Model some movements for the group, or give different students the opportunity to come up and be the movement leader for the group. If scarves are too overstimulating, walk around the circle with one instrument (or pass it around if able). I love pairing chimes with “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” but jingle bells or a xylophone would also fit really well with the music. Have one student play the instrument at a time and encourage them to play quietly along with the music.

For my groups that really need to get up and move around, I make a line with colored place markers that leads straight to the chimes. I encourage students to come up one at a time and tiptoe or hop from one circle to the next. When they reach the last circle, they get to play the chimes! If your students don’t require a lot of physical support, you can stand on the last circle and hold the chimes while encouraging them to make their way toward you.


Other adaptations may include:

  • Instrument play-along
  • Extending this activity into a discussion about the song or season (What story is it telling? How does it sound like winter?)
  • Art and music: have client draw or paint a picture inspired by the music

Check out this awesome recording of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” below to get yourself in the Christmas spirit! Do you use classical music in your sessions? Share your favorite piece to use in a comment and I’ll add it to my blog post.

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