Planning Christmas Concerts With Children With Special Needs

ask silvia Dec 07, 2022

(Illustration 30939548 © Tigatelu |

It's the season for school Christmas concerts and plays, and there is lots of excitement in the classroom as children rehearse for the Christmas recital.

Today, I want to share some points to consider when planning Christmas concerts with children with special needs, whether they attend regular or special classes.

Seeing the kids dressed up on stage with their friends can be an emotional time for all parents, particularly for parents of children with disabilities. On some occasions, I have sat there with tears in my eyes, full of joy, hope and delight, watching my little boy participate in the school concert. Other times, school concerts brought up sadness, fear, and despair, depending on what was happening on stage (and probably mixed with whatever was happening for me at that moment).

So today, I want to share some tips with educators and parents alike in preparation for school (and preschool) Christmas events. 

1. Have realistic expectations.
First of all, be realistic
Plan a concert or performance that is easy for your students to understand, learn and carry out on the day. Some students will be able to recite a poem, sing a song or even have a part in the Christmas play, and others will not be ready yet. 

One of the schools I visited recently is preparing a Christmas play. One of the children involved is not ready to have an active role in the play, so he plays Santa's Helper and will be at a table with other children dressed as elves, making toys for Santa.

2. Use visual supports.
The regular school routine will change in December as you will want to dedicate time to rehearse the Christmas concert. A change in the schedule might cause stress for some of your students. Remember to create visual supports (pictures, symbols or objects of reference) to indicate rehearsal time.

Also, consider using visuals during rehearsals and the actual school concert, i.e. first, we get dressed, then we sing, then snack time. A visual schedule will help your students understand instructions. 

On the day of the event, there will be lots of excitement, noise, people and movement in the classroom. Visual supports will help the child focus on the concert and perform as planned. 

3. Avoid whole school concerts where special needs classes perform as a group.
On one occasion, our school organised a performance where all kids participated—junior infants, senior infants, first class, and so on. And there was also a performance by the kids in the ASD class as a group.

It was a lovely performance, well-rehearsed, and the kids did well. But that is not the point. When the special needs classes perform separately, we send the wrong message to the community: them and us. 

I would have preferred the children to be included in their mainstream classes and not separated, performing with their same-age peers rather than as a group of autistic children.

However, if your students need more time to be ready to perform in a whole school concert, it is ok to organise a completely separate event just for the special needs classes. I will tell you why on the next point.

4. Consider having a separate event.
Some children may not be able to enjoy a whole school performance as that could be too overwhelming for them. If that's the case for several children attending the special needs classes in your school, a separate Christmas concert might be more suitable. 

As my son got older, he used to participate in both—the event for the special needs classes and the main school concert. The beauty of having a separate event is that there is less pressure on children and teachers, and parents don't worry as much about their child having to perform perfectly. 

If you have a separate performance for the special education classes, consider inviting parents to stay for a coffee after. Parents often value meeting other parents on the same journey. 

If some of the students can also participate in the concert with the regular classes, then make sure the two performances take place on different days so they can participate in both events. 

5. Be ready to jump in.
Unexpected things can happen during the school performance. 

Years ago, one of my students who attended her local preschool got bored in the middle of the concert and lay down on the floor. She had done so well during rehearsals, so nobody planned that things could change on the performance day! It took some time before one of the staff jumped on stage to encourage her to stand up again. 

No matter how well the child has done during rehearsals, the day of the actual performance can be different. Talk to your team and decide who will support the child if anything happens, so if an incident does occur, one of you is ready to go on stage to support the child.

6. Talk to the family.
If you think your student with additional needs may not enjoy participating in the concert, discuss this with the parents. 

My youngest son did not want to participate in his first school concert, but he enjoyed sitting on my lap while watching his peers sing carols. 

Be flexible. The fact that a child may not be ready for the school concert this year doesn't mean that he won't be able to do it next time. 


Christmas concerts and plays are precious moments for parents and children alike. They should bring a smile to parents' faces as they record the performance as a memory for years. 

Be aware that these events might be particularly emotional for parents of children with disabilities, so you may need to plan the event carefully.

I know that you, dear reader, may have a lot of experience working with students with disabilities, and I would love to learn from you too.   

How do you plan for your Christmas concert? How do you support children with additional needs so they can take part? If you have tips for other teachers and parents, please share them below, so we can continue learning together.

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