“A good teacher, like a good entertainer, first must hold his audience’s attention, then he can teach his lesson.”~ John Henrick Clarke
This is the first lesson we learn when teaching children of any age. It is especially difficult at times to gain the attention of children with sensory processing disorders because they are dealing with so many competing stimuli.
Today I am going to share with you one of my tricks of the trade. I have used this successfully over the past 25 years and am still in awe of how effective it is. It is a simple song, with different motions that you can do hand-over-hand or with your child. First, I would like you to watch the video and then I am going to explain why this song works so well. I use it at the beginning of any teaching session I start, and it never grows old for the student I am working with or me. Students have taken my hands to get the song started as soon as they sit in the chair next to me!
So after watching the video, what did you think? Was it engaging and fun? Music is an important tool in learning. As a Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP), I have seen numerous accounts where music has helped draw a child in when talking to the child has made no impact. We have found that people who stutter do not stutter when singing. Songs have a rhythm and melody that helps with memory. The list of benefits goes on and on.
Music occupies much more of the brain than language or anything else. There are stroke victims who are capable of singing words they cannot speak.
One of my favorite authors/neurologists Oliver Sacks says, “I am doubly tantalized by music. Its patterns, its symmetries, its proportions, its mathematical perfection and abstraction, and second by its excruciating pleasure which it could produce and the sweet pain which was beyond pain, beyond words, beyond concepts, and beyond expression by anything else.”
He goes on to tell us in MUSICOPHILA: TALES OF MUSIC AND THE BRAIN, “People are liberated by music in an amazing way.”
If you remember the movie, AWAKENINGS, which was based on real people Dr. Sacks worked with, “These deeply disabled people were liberated by music.”
I remember going to a conference in Princeton, NJ, and asking him the question: “Why does rising intonation draw a person’s/child’s attention? He responded by saying, “Music is very powerful. We are just getting to touch the surface of how music can help rebuild connections in the brain.”
Rising intonation at the beginning of the HANDS UP song is a tone that conveys something more is to follow. This is one of the first reasons why I use this song to begin every session.
Here is a list highlighting why this simple song can engage a child and help them get ready to learn:
- Rising intonation and hand movements assist the child to “wake up.” When I start the song, I either take the child’s hands and move them up past my face and over my head, or they imitate me and do it themselves. This movement ensures the child will pass his/her gaze past your face and possibly make eye contact, see your smile, and connect. It also physically brings energy into the arms when you lift them over their head which “wakes up” the upper body.
- Arms coming down and hands patting their laps. When the child’s arms or yours come down past their face again, there is another opportunity for eye contact. As an SLP, I also use this as a time to try to touch their forehead, cheeks or mouth to gauge their sensitivity or hypersensitivity to touch around their face/lips/mouth. Children who display hypersensitivity around their cheeks and mouths may have some difficulties with tolerating different foods or textures. On the opposite end, a child who has reduced feeling or awareness around their cheeks and mouths may have problems with stuffing their cheeks while eating as an attempt to “feel” the food that is in their mouth. This information is invaluable to an SLP because they are able to collect more information about the child and determine whether they need exercises to desensitize or increase awareness of the oral-motor mechanism. One of the favorite parts of the song for most of the children is when the hands (yours or theirs) drums on their laps. My impression about why this is a favorite is that it is a “sensory wake up” and seems to be very reinforcing for many children. I do it with medium pressure and gauge what the child enjoys and go from there. If you have a child who is overstimulated or seems like the patting is too much, you can do it on a table or the ground in front of them.
- Slow, then fast. Loud, then soft. Changing tempo is also another way to engage a child and to get them to pay attention, as well as changing between loud and quiet/soft voices. Think of music and how changes in tempo and volume draw us in when listening to our favorite song. Another benefit of clapping/rolling/shaking their hands slow then fast is that this helps a child to eventually learn about regulation. Some things go fast, and sometimes they go slow.
The motor actions change in complexity as well as speed, which is another way to assess what a child can or cannot handle yet. By going through the hand motions, you can answer questions such as:
- Can my child imitate motor actions?
- Can my child shake their hands?
- Can my child clap their hands?
- Can my child roll them?
- And finally, do they understand or have the ability to control their body movements (making slow then fast movements)?
As you can see, this song is a staple of mine. When I see something that works, I want to share it!
Look closely at the expressions on my face as well as my expressive voice. The more clues we can give a child to attend to (the intonation as well as the words) will only enhance their understanding and help them grow.
I’d love to hear your comments and feedback on how this song worked for you and what observations you were able to make!