“Music can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable.”
-composer Leonard Bernstein
Dr. Melissa R. Johnson-Pediatric Psychologist
My professional interest is in the area of young children who have a variety of special needs, including the areas of psychosocial, cognitive, motor and sensory development. I have served as and advisor to Kindermusik curricula development team as they have designed new programs, to help them reach their goals of children's development, not only musically but in other areas as well. In addition, I have served as an education a resource for Kindermusik educators in a number of professional development activities. This has given me the opportunity to learn about the specific aspects of the Kindermusik philosophy and program that lend themselves to the full inclusion of children with both minor and major disabling conditions.
From a different perspective, I have spoken with many parents who have participated with their children in Kindermusik programs (sometimes at my own suggestion and sometimes of their own initiative) to obtain a sense of their experiences. The following thoughts have emerged from these experiences; I offer them in hope that they will encourage more professionals and families to consider Kindermusik as a valuable part of the educational, and sometimes even the therapeutic plan offered to young children with developmental challenges.
First, I would like to briefly address the strength of the Kindermusik model to facilitating inclusion. Inclusion, of course means more than "mainstream." It implies full involvement in community activities of persons with disabilities, with the support necessary for this involvement to succeed. Because Kindermusik includes parents in all of the activities for the younger children and a careful selection of the activities for the older children, in a planned and developmentally appropriate manner, the support for the child with special needs is inherent. The flexibility and individualization in the curricula and each of the activities allows the educator and the parent to collaborate to provide the child with special needs with the just the right support to be a successful part of the group.
Another feature of the Kindermusik model that lends itself to the child with special needs is its multimodal, multisensory design. Music is, of course, intrinsically multisensory, as children involve their hearing and kinesthetic senses in even their earliest appreciation and creation of music. However, the Kindermusik curricula are enriched with stories, pictures, creative movement, and a wide variety of interesting objects as part of the music-making and music-hearing activities that pull children into the interaction no matter what their preferred learning style and mode might be.
Yet another general feature of Kindermusik is the thoughtful and careful way that the emotional and social development of each child is facilitated. The relationship among all the participants, but particularly the caregiver and the child, are supported from the time the child enters the classroom. Children can't "fail" at the activities in a Kindermusik lesson. The emphasis on joy and pleasure of music, on the sharing of this joy with one's caregiver and peers, and the support of the child's self-esteem built into this approach make it particularly appropriate for children and families who face psychosocial stresses and difficulties.
Several other specific areas of developmental challenge seem to derive particular benefit from Kindermusik. One is the area of cognitive challenge. Children with Down syndrome and other conditions that affect cognitive development may demonstrate relative strength in the area of music appreciation as a framework in which they can successfully explore related skills, such as imitation, cause and effect relationships, and listening to new sounds that can then stimulate language development.
Similarly, children with motor disabilities such as cerebral palsy or spina bifida may have reduced access to many community-based activities for young children, which are often focused on developing excellence in motor skills. But in a Kindermusik classroom, the motor activities that are a part of the curricula almost always are accessible even to children with motor restrictions (e.g., beating on a hand drum, waving a scarf, shaking a rhythm instrument, even dancing which can be tailored to each individual), are readily adapted for these children, or in fact could be a part of a therapeutic program.
We have just begun to explore the full potential of Kindermusik even for children with complex and multifaceted disabilities such as autistic spectrum disorders. Such skills as turn-taking, group responses, tolerating and enjoying varied sensory inputs, and exploring new sounds and textures may be facilitated by the Kindermusik program, with its appealing materials and activities, and its combination of structure and predictability with flexibility.
The natural relationship between music and child development, so integral to cultures throughout the world, has received increased and very gratifying attention in the last several years. My observation is that Kindermusik educators and parents have been "ahead of the curve" in their appropriate and developmentally sophisticated music education activities from infancy throughout the preschool years. I believe that the increased emphasis I have observed on including children with special needs in this wonderful program is a natural outgrowth of the features in the Kindermusik model, and that we have just begun to explore its therapeutic and educational potential.
I hope that many of you explore this potential in near future, and I look forward to hearing about your observations and experiences.
Melissa R. Johnson, Ph.D.