We celebrate Polar Express Day in our Early Childhood Center every year. Our paraprofessionals decorate in such a way that you BELIEVE you are actually in the movie. The kids look forward to the hot chocolate and train rides, visiting with Santa and of course, pajama day!
Over the years, I have incorporated the train theme into speech therapy for a day and have found several different activities that my students especially enjoy.
Using trains in speech therapy
Picture books about trains, train themed snacks, an actual train play set and train themed speech and language activities make up some of my favorite memories of Polar Express Day.
Picture books about trains
The Polar Express is just too long and detailed for young students. They watch the movie and read the book in their classroom. I try to read a different one in speech. Santa and the Goodnight Train by June Sobel is a good choice because it comes in hardback or a board book. It follows a similar story with simplified vocabulary. There is a conductor, tickets, elves, the North Pole, Santa and reindeer in the story.
Train themed snacks
For many years I worked in a functional language or Life Skills class. I found it extremely productive to have speech time during snack once a week. During this time, I found the blog Primary Playground’s Literacy Snack Posts. This Literacy Snack for the Polar Express is an adorable graham cracker train.
We used the snack as a tool to work on requesting, talking about size, shape and color, understanding spatial concepts and more.
using a toy train in speech therapy
The first time I brought my train set into a speech therapy session I was a nervous wreck. I was afraid the kids would destroy it. We won a Lionel Peanuts Christmas Train Set from a train convention when my son was little. It is perfect for Polar Express Day. You don’t need one quite this elaborate, but I do recommend using a train in speech therapy!
I put together the track and sat in the middle of it…(this thing is huge)…My students with the most severe communication and cognitive impairments sat perfectly still around me. They were so excited! We talked about the rules: no touching or knocking the train off the tracks, no walking around the train, etc. I put their sentence strips, AAC devices, flash cards, or whatever else they were working on in front of them, lined around the track. Since I controlled the train, I was able to run the train around the tracks and stop it at whichever area of cards I wanted them to pick up and name/talk about. When the train stopped, it made the steam sound and blared it’s horn. As it went around the tracks, I could blow the whistle. I don’t ever remember a time that I experienced so much joy in such a short amount of time in a speech session.
Another way I have used the train is with mini objects. I place mini objects in or on the train and stop it at each child and let them take it off and put in a stocking or a little gift box. You don’t have to have an elaborate train but I do recommend one that will hold objects. This little wooden train from Melissa and Doug is a great one for every day use.
Train themed speech therapy activities
If you have been doing this a while, you know that MANY of our students have a deep passion for trains. One little four year old in particular inspired me to make On The Tracks Speech, an entire train themed activity that targets specific speech and language goals. It has a sensory bin, a “feeding” activity where the train goes into the tunnel, worksheets and game boards.
If you are looking for a Boom Card activity for trains, check out this precious activity from Speech Dreams.
I hope these activity ideas will provide engaging and effective means of targeting speech therapy goals in your classroom or clinic. There is nothing better than hearing children communicate in any way, even if it is simply laughter, about the Christmas magic you bring to their day!
If you are looking for more Christmas themed activities for speech therapy, check out these other blog posts: