I had always used music as a way to connect with and 'reach' my kids, but in a more non-therapeutic way. It was then that I'd come across several articles by Pamela Ott, who is the Director of Music Therapy at the UPC of Southern Arizona.
She has done a tremendous amount of work for these children, and I had the pleasure of interviewing her for my former award-winning special needs blog, "The Gift". Our chat, unfortunately, was lost when we re-vamped the blog, but I did find one of her amazing articles to share with you all.
This form of therapy worked wonders for my two sensational kids. The main thing to remember is to make sure that the sort of music used works within their tolerance (eg: pitch) and that the right music is used for the sort of goal you are trying to achieve (eg: slow, soft music for calming; fast, energetic music for sensory input.
I highly recommend music therapy for all my fellow 'sensational' parents out there. It's a fantastic way to connect with, and relate to, your child.
Music and Learning
by Pamela Ott MT-BC, NMT
What makes music an effective teaching tool? How can we use music to help our children learn? As a Music Therapy student, I received training in using and manipulating the attributes or characteristics of music to facilitate growth in non-musical areas such as communication, motor skills, interaction, sensory integration and attending skills and research supports the fact that the applied use of music through Music Therapy can be extremely effective as a therapeutic medium for children with SPD, ASD and other neurological disorders. Can some of those same attributes stimulate and support the learning process and can they be used by parents, teachers and even non-musicians?
Absolutely. Parents and teachers have long realized the effectiveness of music when applied to the learning process. I learned my ABC’s by singing them many, many years ago – and I still hum through the ABC song when alphabetizing something! So, what makes music work in this way?
- Music is fun! Children seem to naturally be drawn to music making and singing. Once they have learned a song they will frequently sing it over and over and over – thereby practicing language skills and committing the material to memory.
- Music can be non-threatening. Most children don’t require a lot of prompting to participate in some form of musical play or activity.
- Rhythm is an extremely effective tool in ordering information, allowing for efficient processing and memorization.
- Singing known songs or participating in familiar music activities can provide comfort to a child – particularly important for children with SPD or ASD. If an activity is comfortable and well accepted, it may open a door to present small chunks of new ideas or material.
- Music can be used to help the child relax.
- Music can be used as stimulation.
- Participating in music and music activities can increase a child’s self esteem and provide successful experiences.
There are many different ways to use music as a teaching tool and here are a few of them:
- Use music – specifically melody and rhythm – to encourage the memorization of material such as the ABC’s, days of the week, months of the year and math facts. An easy melody could also be paired with letters to teach a child how to spell their name and then phased out once the letter pattern is learned. Memorization is an important cognitive skill that is vital to the learning process and melody and rhythm can assist in obtaining that skill.
- Use music to capture and retain a child’s attention. If you see that your child is drifting off while working on a learning task, start softly humming a tune that is familiar to him. Many times this will immediately result in a refocus of their attention on you.
- Use music, music activities or instruments as a reward for successfully completing a requested task. If you know your child likes to play on the lighted keyboard, reward them with 15 minutes of “play time” upon finishing an academic task. Be clear on what the expectations are and what the reward will be!
- Use instruments to reinforce academic concepts. A drum can be used to teach numeric concepts. A keyboard can be used to teach the “musical alphabet”. Rhythm sticks can be used to teach opposites such as loud and soft, fast and slow, and high and low.
- When a child lacks the energy or desire to participate in a learning activity, take a short break and turn on some fast paced or stimulating music. Get up and dance or just move your arms and legs while sitting. This will give them a shot of energy when they return to the learning activity.
- If a child is upset or is having difficulty sitting or concentrating, play soft music in the background.
Music that is recorded or played at or near the resting heart rate of approximately60 beats per minute will encourage calmness, such as the songs on my album “Tunes for Relaxation”. It is also an excellent way to help block out some sounds that may distract a child during a learning session such as a dog barking, an airplane overhead or even a clock ticking.
Children with SPD or ASD frequently have very serious auditory and tactile sensitivities. Music and instruments can still be used quite successfully to encourage learning with this population, but take precautions against sensory overload. If the child begins to associate music or instruments with the discomfort of sensory overload, it can be difficult to overcome. If you have any questions or concerns about using any type of music or instrument with your child, be sure to check with a Board Certified Music Therapist to get recommendations or to receive Music Therapy services to decrease these sensitivities.
So, how do you start building up a repertoire of songs, music, musical activities and instruments to support learning for your child? First, determine an area of need for your child. Start with one activity and see how they respond. If your child is just beginning to learn to read, try using a Sing and Read book. There are many titles available with familiar tunes, such as “The Ants Go Marching” or “The Famer in the Dell”, and the combination of singing and reading can provide tremendous encouragement, auditory and visual support for the beginning reader. If your child needs help memorizing information, search for or create a very singable song that presents the requested material such as the days of the week. Introduce new songs, music, instruments and activities slowly to create comfort and familiarity and then repeat them from session to session as often as the child allows or until the concept is learned.
Using music as a learning tool has an additional bonus – it can be such a fun way to interact with your child!
Fortunately there are many blogs and websites available now that can provide information on music and activities that can be used to promote learning. My blog entitled “Music for Special Kids” provides musical activities, songs, instruments and resources to encourage the use of more music in the education of children. Included on the blog are suggestions for using the keyboard to teach colors, letters and words, using a gathering drum to teach numeric concepts, musical sequencing games, hello songs, days of the week and months of the year songs and much more. Additional resources are listed below.
http://www.musicforspecialkids.com/ – Music for Special Kids blog with musical activities, songs, instruments and resources
http://pamelaott.bandcamp.com/ - Music by Pamela Ott including Tunes for Relaxation, Tunes for Activity, Tunes for Singing and Tunes for Moving
http://www.songsforteaching.com/ - CD’s and downloads of various children’s artists that promote learning through music
http://www.musictherapy.org/ - Music Therapy Association
http://www.kididdles.com/ - children’s songs, lyrics and lead sheets
http://www.theteachersguide.com/ChildrensSongs.htm - children’s songs
http://www.abchomepreschool.com/Music/PreschoolMusicActivities.htm - children’s music activitieshttp://www.westmusic.com/ - instruments and books