Dramatic play is one of my favorite interventions to use in music therapy. As January is outer space month at YCCA, there are ample opportunities for blasting off into space, talking to aliens, and counting shooting stars. This is the perfect month to take advantage of young children’s imaginative capabilities. Plus making up stories and pretending you are going on an adventure is fun for everyone!
My afternoon music therapy groups are perfect time to go on musical adventures as they usually involve a fair amount of improvisation. While I usually have a session plan in place, I quickly ditch most of it because you never know what mood the kids will be in after a long day at preschool. Most of these kids have been at school for over 7 hours at this point. As a result, I am often making up interventions on the spot, responding to what the kids need at the time. One day this last week, my last group of the day consisted of four very energetic 3 year old boys. We started the season by playing with tone bells, taking turns, recognizing colors, and playing around with volume control by placing our fingers on the bells to dampen the sound. They did a great job of focusing and exploring the instruments but after some time, I could tell they were losing interest and needed to be re-engaged. I asked them where we should go on an adventure, the jungle or outer space? They chose the jungle so we hopped in our imaginary jeeps and drove off into the jungle.
We met a lion, ran away from it, hid from a tiger, found some water to drink in a stream, and picked some apples from the trees. Then the ground turned into lava and our carpet squares (which originally were shields to help fight the lion) were the only safe spots. So we hopped and jumped from square to square until one boy figured out that if we fan the lava with the carpet square it would cool off and we’d be able to walk on it.
It was a blast. Did I mention this was all to music? I started by singing a Music Together Family Favorite “Ridin’ in the car,” with guitar and constantly changed the lyrics and rhythm to fit whatever situation the kids came up with next. If you are not familiar with Music Together, I highly suggest you check out their website and classes! I trained to be a Music Together teacher in February 2015 and helped run two Music Together Within Therapy groups during my internship. One of the many things I loved about the Music Together philosophy is that they take a simple song such as “Ridin’ in the Car” and develop it into a several minute musical journey. By changing lyrics, motions, dynamics, tempos, and subject matter, children (and grownups) stay engaged and are constantly challenged to keep up with new ideas and concepts while still staying with the safety net of a familiar tune. While we as adults might get bored singing the same 8-bar tune over and over, children thrive on repetition as that is how they learn and master the music.
In our jungle adventure, I took the basic concept of “Ridin’ in the Car” and used it as a musical container for our dramatic play. Instead of just running around, making up stories and events, the short song gave a predictable structure to each adventure. For example, when we saw the lion and ran away from it, we could only run away for the length of the song. When the melody ended, the boys knew it was time to move on and pick a new part of our adventure. Just that little bit of structure kept them focused and engaged and allowed them the freedom and safety to jump into the adventure.