Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

ECMMA: Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

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Meaningful Music

Becky Wellman, PhD, MT-BC, DT is a nationally board certified music therapist and Illinois state certified developmental therapist. She has a private practice in the Chicago suburbs providing services for young children with special needs and older adults with memory loss. Dr. Wellman is also an adjunct professor of Human Services at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana.


The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily promote official policy of ECMMA.

Going with the Flow

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Kids crave structure. We know this from our training and experience. Some days, the structure just makes it more challenging. This can be especially true with come of our children with special needs. Leaning to go with the flow while still keeping control is a skill that can help all of our sessions go more smoothly. Here are some ways to work through this.

Give choices: Kids love to be “in charge”. Allowing choices gives them this freedom and power within our own structure. I’ve used instruments, picture cards, objects which represent different options (like a drum ornament for instruments, baby shoes for movement, etc.) to make it easier.  We choose two songs or activities which fit within what we are doing and let them choose away!

Follow the child’s lead: This is obviously easier in smaller groups, but following what the child is doing can validate them and help sessions go easier. For example, I had a session the other day that needed to be moved to a different room. On the wall were drawings of people completed by another group. It was very distracting so we made up a song about each of the pictures and the kids helped with the words (descriptions, what they might be doing, etc). It ended up being a very fun session!

Improvise when needed: I’m known in my little therapy circle for being able to make up a song about anything on the spot. Seriously. Anything. The tune doesn’t need to be original or amazing, but using simple words and repetition can make a basic idea a song that you may end up using for years (trust me on this. Years)!

Be ready to change on a dime: Sometimes a planned session is going really well and then suddenly it isn’t. Shifting into a different activity or song, even if it is only for a few minutes, can make a big difference. I’ve had plenty of sessions where I’ve needed to add another movement song (our squirrelies aren’t quite out yet) or instrument song (oh look, the class made shakers this week and they’d LOVE you to use them in music) or add a quiet snuggle song without a lot of warning. Having a few songs in your back pocket and an extra bag of instruments for days like this can make it easier.

Finding a balance of structure and flexibility can really make sharing music with children and their families more fun for all involved. It can also help some of our families with children with special needs see that we hear and understand their needs. In the end, it makes our music more meaningful!

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