“Children” is as diverse a word as anyone can ask for. The word covers anyone from birth to (in the US) age 18, any gender (or gender issue), any race, religion, height, weight, ability, disability, diagnosis, and combination created. So of course, any discussion of a treatment modality as it applies to “children” is going to be a broad one. I hope to continue the conversation at a later date by breaking it down into various (and smaller) demographics.

Music affects all of us as humans, but for children, it can hold a variety of allures. In young children, music stimulates multiple senses by being something to hear, something that promotes movement, and also (in the case of live music) something to watch. For older children, it begins to be a tool with which they identify themselves. An ongoing discussion takes place daily as to whether or not these children are influenced by their music, or if the selection was already made (more on that at a later date). It becomes the job of the music therapist, in both of these age ranges, to utilize music in the best possible manner to address to goals and needs at hand.

In this post, we’re going to focus on young children, and later in the week, I will post about music and older children.

Young Children:

Music as structure: Music is already organized in time and space. By using music to define the structure of the session, limits are set and expectations defined by simply starting an activity. The children know what to expect and what to do. Who amongst you hasn’t started singing “Old Mc..” and had a pile of kids drop whatever they were doing and at the top of their lungs: “DONALD HAD A FARM!” .

Music as a social experience: Music is a communication tool. Making music with more than just yourself requires awareness of those around you. The awareness can be directed to those who are playing with you, or to the person leading the music. By creating music in a group (whether it be improvisation, or simply adding rhythm to a well-known song), the child participating is required to be attentive to something or someone other than themselves. For a child that is nonverbal, the ability to communicate is vital, and music opens a door for that.

Music as Fun: Coming from a psych background, I’ve worked with a lot of children who seem to have forgotten that they are children. They are worried about bills, caring for siblings, cooking dinner, as well as a multitude of other things. As a therapist, when I am able to do something as simple as bring a smile to their face when they are doing something silly, leaps and bounds are accomplished. By being able to interact with something in a manner that is not stressful, the ability to handle other situations that may arise increases.  I will talk more about this as well in the older children.

Music and Motor Skills: Young children have a lot of work to do. They have to develop their speech, grow their brain, learn all about the world, and develop their bodies. In delayed and typically developing children, motor skills need to be developed. Music presents a fun and involved way to do this. We use a variety of activities and instruments to assist in the development of everything from oral motor skills, to gross motor (moving major limbs), to fine motor (fingers, toes, grasping, etc). The best part of it is that the child doesn’t see it as work but as a musical game.

Music as a Motivator: This isn’t just for children. Music encourages us to perform tasks we might be reluctant to complete otherwise. Children follow directions, listen, and interact appropriately in music when they might not otherwise. Clean up songs get messy children cleaning, quiet songs encourage loud children to quiet, good R&B makes me exercise.. same thing.

Stay tuned later this week for Music and Older Children!