By Rachel Arntson, M.S., CCC-SLP
Practice! That’s what children often need to improve their speech and language skills. But where do we find practice tools that are so enjoyable and so motivating that a child would independently choose to practice each day? What kind of tools can provide the necessary practice for our children while allowing and encouraging participation by their parents and siblings?
Is there a tool out there that can help children with oral motor planning needs, articulation problems, receptive and expressive language delay, interaction and engagement issues, and poor turn-taking and imitation skills? I have one great answer to that HUGE question –
Finding the right song!
With almost every child and with every speech and language challenge I have faced, there has been a song that could have been used to help.
This journey of finding the power of music to help children with speech and language began many years ago with a little boy named John. John was diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and was fixated on certain objects – especially fish and ducks. John also loved music, and I did my best to engage him in songs. He was interested and attentive to music but was never able to sing the songs I sang to him. Honestly, it was a one-sided conversation. His lack of verbal participation initiated my journey of finding music, and subsequently writing songs based on children’s interests. My goal and dream was to entice and empower my students to practice speech on days when I did not see them for therapy.
I guess I’ll write my own songs!
My search for songs that would improve verbal skills was frustrating at first. There were many songs on the market, but there were very few that would meet the verbal needs of my students. The sentences were too long, the vocabulary too complex, and the rate too fast. There was no room in the songs for children to imitate, respond, and take turns. They listened, but no verbal practice was achieved. I never found a song that could reach John, but I always kept him in my mind.
I had no choice but to write my own songs – a new song for any child with a different need or different motivation. Let me give you some examples.
One of my students, James, omitted final consonant sounds and needed more opportunities to practice. Because of him, I wrote “Put the Sound on the End” (in Song Set 1) – a song which has been helpful not only to him but to many other children.
Then there was Sam who didn’t understand or use action words. Inspired by his love for puppies, I wrote the “Puppy Song”. This song, better than any other tool I could have used, taught him the actions of run, jump, sit, eat, and talk. His mom and dad would sing the song with him and use a stuffed animal to demonstrate the actions. Such activities were motivating to him and became a part of his daily practice.
There was also Ben who needed simple verbal practice of vowel sounds and simple words. The result was the song “Drive a Car”. From Kelsey’s need to imitate practice at a more reflexive level came yet another song, “Noisy, Noisy, Noisy” where she was encouraged to imitate sounds such as a kiss, a sneeze, or a cough.
The benefits of these songs became far-reaching as they created an opportunity for interaction, turn-taking, and FUN with parents and siblings. They gave the children something to listen to and to practice during daily activities, like riding in the car. They gave children new vocabulary to use in certain situations. For example, my little friend David was able to say “Owie all gone” to his mom for the first time after listening repeatedly to our “Owie Song”.
Do It With a Song
You may be thinking, “I can’t write music, and I can’t sing, so this is not for me!” Quite to the contrary, studies show that children do not mind how you sing. They only care that you attempt to sing, and that you do it with them. They just want to be engaged with you. They just want a simple song that they can simply sing! The key word here is SIMPLE. In my musical journey, I have explored what makes a truly enticing song for a child. What do I look for in a song that I know will create verbal practice in children? Well, that depends on the needs of each child, and that has been my journey for the past 20 years.
My job as a speech-language pathologist does not always include music, but to avoid the obvious gift of music is to avoid a power that can do so much for us in our work. Remember that every moment is a note, every situation a song, and every person is a player. If you hold on to that thought, your mind will be open to the endless possibilities that every day of your life brings, and you will reap the benefits.