Did you know your brain typically learns language and music around the same time? This suggests these two areas of the brain may be linked. That alone might be enough for me to encourage singing with your child, but even if I never ran across that particular piece of neuroscience; I would still encourage singing with your child.
You may not realize it, but a song is a predictable routine. Predictable routines are really powerful in terms of neural processing and learning. I can easily demonstrate this power. If I were to suddenly start singing “old mac donald had a farm, E I E I ……” and then stopped and pointed to you; chances are you’d say “O” and probably pretty quickly.
That’s the power of a predictable routine. I didn’t need to say “we are singing Old Mac Donald please help me”. I didn’t ask “what’s next” or tell you “say O”; I just stopped and pointed. You were able to figure out what you were supposed to say without any verbal instructions. This happened because you knew the routine. Predictable routines decrease your brain’s cognitive load. Any time you decrease the cognitive load, you increase your brain’s ability to learn new concepts and process information.
This is a game changer for someone with ASD who may have sensory processing issues. Giving your child a predictable routine may be just the break their brain needs to be able to process new information like language or the motor speech movements to generate language. If you want to make the routine of a song even more predictable you use pictures.
Here’s what I do:
1. I choose a song that mostly stays the same with the exception of a few words. Most kids songs change a little as the song progresses. For example, Old Mac Donald doesn’t only have cows on his farm, he has pigs, ducks, and horses. I even had one of my patient’s ask if he could sing about a bee on the farm. (which I absolutely loved!)
2. I create a picture version of the routine song using boardmaker (they have free 30 day trials of this program at http://www.mayer-johnson.com/). If you don’t have boardmaker; just use simple pictures that aren’t really busy or over stimulating.
3. I put Scotch re-usable stickies on the back of the pictures that change as the song progresses. This means the pictures of the cows, ducks, chickens, etc. are separate from the paper with the song lyric picture representations and are placed on the song paper as we sing about them. This physical action of taking different things on and off of the song sometimes helps maintain attention.
4. I sing the song with my kids and point to each picture as I say the word. I go through the song 2 or 3 times and ask the kid to either choose between 2 pictures (i.e. “make a choice, want cow or duck on the farm”). If there aren’t two choices like with 5 little monkeys; I ask them to remove and replace the monkeys and numbers before we start each new verse. That means after we sing 5 monkeys they take a monkey off the bed and replace the number 5 with 4.
Here’s what your child is learning:
While they are participating in this song they are learning new vocabulary and they have a visual representation of what it means which can improve comprehension. Your child is also learning more decontextualized language, like “on” and “off” because they are actually taking/placing something “on” and “off”.
The more senses you incorporate while learning something, the more likely you are to remember it because the information is routed to more areas in your brain.
Again, since the tune of a song doesn’t change; your brain can start storing information about things such as the language used in the song. If you’ve ever had a song stuck in your head you didn’t like; you can attest to the fact that your brain sometimes remembers information stored in songs, even if you’d prefer discarding that particular piece of data.
Below you’ll find my boardmaker symbols for my 5 little monkeys routine song and a picture of what everything looks like assembled. I’ll try to add more routine songs on a pretty regular basis that address a variety of concepts.
Click the links below to download the PDF’s and make your own!