WESLEY CHAPEL — Erin Sizemore's prekindergarteners took their spots in the middle of the classroom carpet, ready to perform holiday songs Friday for their visiting parents.
"Is everybody ready?" Sizemore asked, as she flipped open the words for The Lights on the Tree (sung to the tune of The Wheels on the Bus).
"We need a hat," 5-year-old Shaunna Yater declared, insisting that each child put on a red-and-white Santa hat before beginning.
As the children slid the stocking caps onto their heads, Brian Baggot, whose 3-year-old son Ben is in the class, reminded them, "Don't pull your ears out."
The children smiled and nodded as they took care to avoid knocking loose their hearing aids and cochlear implants, so they could hear what was going on around them as they caroled.
It's that time of year, when children celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and other winter holidays with songs and treats. And the students in Seven Oaks Elementary School's prekindergarten deaf and hard-of-hearing program didn't want to miss their turn.
"I want lights go blink blink blink," Ben Baggot announced, opening and closing his hands to emphasize the blinking. "I like to sing, 'Hey!' "
"It's fun," added Darren Groome, 4.
For many of the parents, it was more than just fun. The three-song program, followed by Christmas tree-shaped sugar cookies and hot cocoa, represented just how normal their kids are in every way except their deafness.
"She's come a long way from even a couple of months ago," Raquel Pavlik said of her 4-year-old daughter, Alyssa, who had almost no vocabulary a year ago. "It's exciting to see her singing and dancing and enjoying music."
Sizemore said she aims to make music a part of everyday life for her class. The children frequently sing, hear songs to signal transitions between activities and learn about rhythm, rhyme and language through music, she said.
"Sometimes it's challenging to learn all the words," she said. "But with a lot of practice, they do a very good job."
So good, it turns out, that the kids surprised her with their version of The Lights on the Tree. After singing loudly and making all the proper hand and body motions, Sizemore clapped for the children — who also were clapping for themselves, proud looks on their faces — and announced, "You did awesome. And to think I was worried."
The class performed two more songs before the lure of cookies ensnared them.
Ben Baggot couldn't get enough, though.
As his classmates chowed down, Ben traipsed to the center of the classroom, where he proceeded to solo two more numbers, including Jingle Bells.
His dad, Brian, admitted he wasn't totally certain what song Ben was singing. Nonetheless, he praised the class, which gave his son the confidence to stand up and perform a solo.
"He's doing really well in this class with all the kids, seeing others doing well with assisting devices," Baggot said. "I think it makes him feel happy that there's other kids like him."
And on Friday, they were all singing together.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.