Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Strategies for Language Development: Using Songs to Improve Receptive Language and Behavior

I’ve posted before about the power of using songs to help a child start talking.  That’s not all songs are good for, though. They can also be used to help children learn to understand and follow directions.  I sing often during both the therapy sessions I run and my days at home with my toddler.

(I pause here to note that a good singing voice is not required to make this strategy work. My voice is, um, not the best.   As a dad of one of the kids I see for therapy recently remarked after hearing me sing, I need to “keep my day job.”  My lack of musicality matters not—singing almost always helps children understand what I want and improves the chances that they will actually do it.)

Why songs?

1.. Singing is fun! Children respond to adults who are engaging and silly, so an adult singing songs often shifts the mood of a stubborn toddler.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been fighting a typical two year old battle with my little girl about getting dressed and then started singing “Where’s your (body part)” to the tune of “Where’s Thumpkin?” as I pulled her arm through a sleeve.


Where’s Your Arm?
Where’s Your Arm?
There it is!
There it is!
We found your arm
We found your am
There it is.
There it is.  

Almost magically, her face will transform from frustration to rapt attention.  It doesn’t always work…but it often does.  This particular song is also a great way to work on understanding of body parts.


2. Songs are repetitive.  Toddlers and preschoolers thrive on repetition- it helps them learn and brings order to a world that is often rapidly changing.  Singing during transitions helps children understand what is expected .  When they hear the clean up song, for example, children often join in both the singing and cleaning up.  I use songs often during routine transitions such as cleaning up, washing hands, and walking out to the car.  To keep things simple (for my nonmusical mind), I sing a lot of songs to the “Where is Thumpkin” tune.  I just change out the verbs and the nouns:

Washing, Washing,
Washing, Washing,
On Your Hands
On Your Hands
Washing Washing Washing,
Washing Washing, Washing
On Your Hands
On Your Hands

Walking, Walking
Walking, Walking
To The Car
To The Car
Walking Walking Walking
Walking Walking Walking
To The Car
To The Car

3. Music is (we think) processed in a different part of the brain. There is some debate about this-- debate which I am not nearly smart enough to truly understand--but the idea is one that makes sense to me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a child with autism respond completely differently to directions that are sung as compared to directions that are spoken.  It’s like a switch has been flipped.  

No matter how you cut it, singing with children can be a great way to work on language.  Sing away!


Looking For Other Strategies for Language Development?



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