Everyone likes at least one genre of music if not several. As adults music can serve many different purposes. We listen to music because we like it. It can help with our emotional states….music can calm us down and decrease our stress. Music can pep us up and get our energy going. Music can help us focus on important tasks. Music can be a social outlet. Music can also help us learn. This is the same for children.
All children love music but when we first began to work with children with ASD, we quickly realized how powerful music really is for our kids. Not only did the children love music but it helped them in so many ways. You may notice your child has a certain glimmer in their eye when they hear a certain song. You may notice your child is all smiles when you sing songs to them. You may notice your child bumping to the beat of the music in the car. You may notice your child engaging more and talking more when you are singing to them. You may notice that your child may not always respond to the sound of your voice, but if you are singing, it’s a completely different story.
Not only is music fun, but it’s also an easy transactional support that we can provide for our children each and every day. Here are a few ways you can use music to help your child learn and engage:
1. Sing directions
Many times our kids have a hard time following commands and directions. Instead of just saying the direction, try singing the direction. This works for classroom skills, chores around the house, homework time….really anything. For instance: “Everybody come sit down, come sit down, come sit down. Everybody come sit down, find a chair” and of course the ever so popular and effective: “Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere. Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.” You can really make up any tune to any direction you want your child to follow.
2. Sing about what you are doing
We are told to talk simply, to break down our language, to build up our language and to narrate what we are doing in everyday life. Try singing about what you are doing. For example, at Circle Time during our weather routine, after we dress our “Weather Frog” and talk about each article of clothing, we then sing a fun song about everything he is wearing, “Weather Frog’s wearing his blue pants, his blue pants, his blue pants. Weather Frog’s wearing his blue pants and short sleeved shirt.” This can be done all day long. When you are doing things around the house, sing about it. “Mommy is folding laundry, folding laundry, folding laundry. Mommy is folding laundry, folding Daddy’s black socks.” When you are in the car, sing about what you see. “Look! Look! I see a blue car, a blue car!” Make it up at you go!
3. Sing safety rules
Safety awareness can be difficult for our children to understand. Try making up a fun song to address any safety issue. For on the playground, you can sing, “We walk around the swingers. We walk around the swingers. We walk aroooound the swingers at the park!” to help your child learn to not walk in front of a child swinging so they do not get hurt. Make up a “freeze,” “hold my hand” or “stop” song for parking lots or when walking near traffic.
4. Sing how to play
We are constantly working on improving our children’s play skills as they are the key to language development. Sometimes simple constructive and symbolic play activities may look simple, but our children just don’t know what to do. Sing about what you want them to do. For instance, last semester in one of our Preschool Groups, we were playing with blocks. The children decided to build a road for pretend block cars to drive on. Once they decided what they wanted to build, they then sat there and manipulated the blocks on their hands but did not know what to do. As soon as we handed each child a block and then started to sing, “this is the way we build a road, build a road, build a road…….this is the way we build a road, with our blocks,” the children then built a pretend road cooperatively while taking turns.
5. Music Time
Music in general is an age appropriate, fun activity for children and it’s used within school settings for a reason. There is so much to learn through music. Music is rich in language so for children with language delays or disorders, music times can capitalize on many speech and language goals you are working towards. Try having structured “music times” each and every day whether you are a parent, a caregiver, a teacher or a therapist. Set aside time where you sing specific songs. You can incorporate a music time throughout your regular routine day, within your school day or within your therapy sessions. You can choose specific songs with specific vocabulary you want your child to learn and use (this is why we love weekly themes). You can choose specific songs with specific academic skills you want your child to learn. The possibilities are endless. When you have structured music times, you will be working on increasing your child’s attention, their vocabulary understanding and use, you will be providing them with many opportunities to make choices and requests, to take turns, to work on waiting and much more. Making music times visual by using song boards, will benefit your child even more. Visit http://kidspeakdallas.com/products-page to check out KidSpeak’s song boards that are now available.
6. Increase Theory of Mind skills
Singing about others will help increase your child’s Theory of Mind skills. You can start very simple and sing about other people’s appearances (clothes, color hair, color eyes, etc.). For instance: “Daddy is wearing his blue shirt, his blue shirt, his blue shirt. Daddy is wearing his blue shirt and brown pants too!” This could be a fun song to sing at meal time each day. You can work your way up and sing about other people’s feelings. “If you’re sad and you know it get a hug….Mommy needs a hug!” You can make up a song about your child’s family members or friends’ birthdays or their favorite things. Again, endless possibilities.
7. Increase verbalizations
For children and adults with motor speech disorders and apraxia of speech, music can be a great exercise. Often you will find that people with motor speech difficulties can fill in the blanks of songs or can sing songs (automatic speech) much easier than they can produce a spontaneous word or sentence when communicating (volitional speech). Music can be a great tool to get your child’s brain and speech articulators warmed up and moving. Try singing a song and letting your child fill in the blanks with single sounds or words. You can then work your way up to two-word phrases and then sentences. People with motor speech delays or disorders need constant practice so music can be a fun and effective way to do so.
It is important to remember that some children are more musical than others, but music is always a fun and easy tool that we can use on a daily basis. Some children may need to hear a direction sung to them 10 times before they can follow the direction and other children may only need to hear it once or twice. Some children may be able to carryover skills learned across all environments very quickly while others may master skills at home but need extra practice in other environments. Each child is different so the key is to focus on your child’s specific needs while using music as a fun transactional support.
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