Hi friends! In honor of Better Speech and Hearing Month, I have teamed up with Katie from Let’s Grow Speech to bring you a fun and information-packed series called Playing With Language designed to highlight easy ways to stimulate language that you can do at home with your little one! In case you missed them, last week I shared some fun ways to Build Language with Sensory Play and some tips on Building Language with Small World Play. Today’s post is all about language and MUSIC!
Using Music in Speech Therapy
I first realized the awesome power of using music therapeutically when I was interning at a stroke rehabilitation center back in graduate school. One of my favorite patients was a sweet man who had lost the ability to speak after a massive stroke. He had expressive aphasia, and it was very difficult for him to verbalize anything beyond a few fragmented words here and there, and even this took considerable effort. Because he had retained quite a bit of receptive language skills, communication was very frustrating for him because he knew what he wanted to say, but couldn’t get it out. On top of that, his stroke had also left him unable to use his hands, so written communication was out of the question. After a few sessions with this man, my supervisor suggested I try Melodic Intonation Therapy. Without going into great detail, I was to choose a few commonly used phrases, add a simple (two-note) melody, and practice singing them with him. After only two sessions and lots of practice with his wife, my patient surprised me one morning by singing “How are you?” as his wife wheeled him into the therapy room. We all cried. And I was officially a believer.
Since those early days, I have integrated elements of music into therapy with patients of all ages with a wide variety of disorders. Children with autism and children with emerging language (i.e. young toddlers) tend to respond very well to the addition of rhythm and melodies to language routines. I’ve seen music help ease transitions from activity to activity, teach vocabulary, reinforce social concepts, improve articulation, and increase connected speech (putting words together to form phrases and sentences).
Why Does Music Help Build Language?
Research has shown that music and singing stimulates multiple areas of the brain, which is great for language building. For example, the reason Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT) works for severe stroke patients when other therapies don’t is because adding melody to spoken phrases activates the right hemisphere of the brain. Language is typically a left-brain function, but if the language centers in the left brain are damaged, there are areas of the right brain that are also capable of language if they are stimulated. Another part of MIT involves tapping the patient’s left hand along with the rhythm of the phrase, which also serves to stimulate the right hemisphere. In children without brain damage, singing engages both hemispheres of the brain, and adding movements such as tapping, drumming, playing instruments, or dancing enhances brain engagement even further by stimulating the frontal lobes (Brewer & Campbell, 1991). Think of it as making spoken language a multi-sensory process, and we all know sensory stimulation is food for the brain!
In addition to stimulating their brains, when you sing songs with your children, they are learning to hear the similarities and differences between sounds (also known as auditory discrimination), which is important for language learning and pre-reading skills. You are also teaching them new vocabulary, modeling phrase and sentence structure, exposing them to the concepts of rhyming and alliteration, and strengthening their memories. Music provides repetition, which is important for learning new concepts, and it breaks words down into sounds and syllables so that your child is better able to process them.
What You Can Do At Home
You don’t have to be musically trained (or even be able to carry a tune, for that matter) to incorporate music into your activities at home. Believe me, I am no American Idol! Here are some simple ways you can use music to help your little one develop speech and language skills:
Add melody to words and phrases.
If you are modeling words or phrases to a young child, singing the word may help them attend and be more likely to repeat that word back to you. Singing words slows them down and helps the child hear each syllable, and adding a higher pitch on stressed syllables helps the child understand where to put the emphasis when speaking the word. Adding a gesture or sign to the word helps even more. I speak primarily in a singsong voice when I do therapy with very young children, and used the same technique when my own children were first learning to speak.
Add rhythm and melody to multisyllabic words that your child has trouble pronouncing.
One fun way to do this is by using rhythm sticks (two wooden spoons or dowel rods work just as well). Just be sure to keep your melodies uncomplicated (two notes is ideal) and place the emphasis on the correct syllable by singing it a bit higher. This is also great for pre-literacy skills.
Make time for childhood songs and fingerplays.
There are lots of commercially available music CDs and books of children’s songs if you are stuck. You can also find free songs to try on preschool/early childhood websites and YouTube.
Use songs to signal transitions, remember steps to a routine, or learn new information.
The popular “clean up” song or “This is the way we wash our hands…” are great examples of songs used to help children with transitions and remember steps to routines. And who doesn’t know the alphabet song? But you don’t need to spend hours searching for songs that have already been written; feel free to make up your own songs to meet your needs. They don’t have to be fancy; just use a tune that you already know and add your own words, or come up with a simple melody that catches your child’s attention. Sing the same every time you do a particular action with your child (cleaning up, etc.) and your child will begin to associate the song with the desired action, which serves to help them understand what’s coming next, what’s expected of them, and increases their independence in completing tasks.
Use songs to help teach social skills.
In one developmental skills class I worked with, the teacher sang a simple song each morning at circle time about the proper way to greet people. Then they would practice the skill with their friends. Those kiddos were great at walking up to me, sticking out their right hands, looking me in the eye, and saying “Hello!”
Make your own instruments.
Creating simple instruments with your children is a fun activity that also lends itself to language stimulation opportunities. Once you are done creating your instruments, use them while you practice your songs and fingerplays, repeat words with melodies, or just have a dance party or jam session to your favorite tunes! And don’t forget about adding play scarves or streamers…these add an added gross motor component as well as visual stimulation to musical play.Here are some fun and easy instrument crafts to do with your little ones at home- click on the text links for instructions, and please pin from the original author of each craft!
That’s it for today! Next Thursday’s post will be all about building language with art. Please hop over to Let’s Grow Speech and see what Katie has in store for you…looks like fun!
Resource: Campbell, D. & Brewer, C. (1991). Rhythms of learning. Tucson, Arizona: Zephyr Press.