I'm going to talk about reworking an existing song for kids with special needs to help get done whatever it is that needs doing, learning and teaching.
Why is this so natural and why does it work well as an occupational therapy activity? A partial answer is that singing phrases involves both hemispheres of the brain. Music is whole brain - more parts of the brain are stimulated when a direction or concept is sung rather than spoken. It makes the job more interesting and less of a put upon demand. Think of how musical speech has a proper tempo or rate of speech, a proper dynamic (volume) level, expected inflections (pitches), give and take, proper phrase length, expected phrase maintenance, sound versus silence, to name a few.
My first premise is that anyone can do this. People can get nervous about doing this. You don't need to get nervous. You can do this. There are very few people who really “can't” sing or who are really “tone-deaf.” And then there are some special needs kids who, even as toddlers, tell their parents “No sing!!!” Okay, I've known two ex-voice majors whose babies said “Don't sing.” Sing anyway. If you're still resistant, then I bet you had a bad chorus teacher or choir director who told you to just whisper the words. They should have just helped you learn to focus your ears rather than turn you off to the joy of singing. Naughty teachers.
This is what you do: You take an easy, familiar, traditional little children song and you stick words into it. That's it.
You do not need to be clever. You do not need to rhyme. Just stick in the words. Take the song “Wheels on the bus” for example. To help kids clean up, you can sing, “Play time is over and it's time to clean, time to clean, time to clean. Play time is over it's time to clean. Clean up the toys.” If you're teaching body parts to toddlers, sing, “Put the beanbag on your head, on your head, on your head. Put the bean bag on your head. Put it on your head.” It really is that simple and mundane.
As Nike says, “Just do it.” To help peers learn names and to help foster awareness of syllables sing, “Let's sing hi to Monica (while clapping the syllables Mo-ni-ca) Monica Monica. Let's sing hi to Monica. Hmmm, who's next?” You can also use this activity for speech therapy regarding language concepts and vocabulary. Other than that, the special needs kids will develop their social skills, daily routines, gain new experiences, learn in pre-academics and academics, math, pre-reading, colors and more.
All of this grabs our attention and makes us want to listen. This opens us up to foster new understandings of the world around us, of concepts, of ourselves, and of other people.
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About the Author: Margie La Bella has worked as a music therapist serving young children with special needs for more than 25 years. Her website, http://www.MusicTherapyTunes.com is full of useful information (music, videos, blogs, lessons plans) for parents, therapists, and teachers and just about everyone else.