Kids learn by watching and imitating the people around them. In a preschool setting, they constantly copy what their peers are doing (for better or for worse!). But most of all, they are watching the adults around them for guidance as to what they are supposed to do. Lately I have noticed how the adult presence in my music therapy sessions affect the children’s experience. Due to the need to have appropriate adult-child ratios, I always have at least a few adults in the room with me during my larger groups sessions. Sometimes they are other teachers, sometimes I have music therapy interns, and sometimes I have teacher’s assistants or one-to-one aides. And in every group, if the adults participate, the children participate that much more. Hands down, the best sessions are when the adults are engaged and active which makes so much sense. If you were a child being asked to play an instrument or do a silly dance move, wouldn’t you be more likely to do it if someone you looked up to was doing it as well?
One of my favorite music therapy groups from my internship last year was a group of children, all wheelchair-bound with various diagnoses and minimal verbal ability. They each had a nurse or aide with them. Our most successful musical experiences were usually movement-based, whether it was assisted wheelchair dancing or parachute-type activities, mainly because the success of the intervention depended so much on the adult participation. This particular group of adults loved to sing and dance. “Twist and Shout” was always a favorite and during the “Ah-Ah-Ah-AH!” section, they created harmonies and sang as loud as they could. During the goodbye song, the staff would sing along with me for each child, creating a nurturing and musical closure for every class. As they wheeled the children down the hall back to their homeroom, I always heard the staff singing my goodbye song, making a smooth transition from music therapy to the classroom. The energy and the joy emanating from the adults in the room helped activate the children and encouraged them to participate in the music as well.
In these adult-child interactions, mirror neurons are definitely at play, especially in young, developing brains. Mirror neurons are quite fascinating. Basically what happens is the brain observes an action and simultaenously fires neurons to imitate or mirror that action. Or you witness something significant happening to another person and you immediately feel the same response. So when an adult is energetically shaking a shaker egg with a huge grin on their face as they sing, a child next to them instinctively shakes their egg and smiles as well. Mirror neurons helps us to develop empathy as well as basic skills from those around us.
Parents and caregivers are the main inspirations and sources for the mirror neuron phenomenon in children. This is one of the main reasons I want to someday be involved in parent/child music therapy groups to help parents realize the power they have in assisting their child through development. I’m currently halfway through the online training course to be a Sprouting Melodies® provider. Sprouting Melodies® provides community music therapy programs for young children and their caregivers and is run exclusively by board certified music therapists. More on their philosophy and programming later, but for now I love the training, and I can’t wait to start my own family-based early childhood classes. Because while I love helping children make music together, including the adults in the music making is even more valuable for the children. And as adults, how often do we get to jam with egg shakers and drums and sing silly songs? I’m not going to lie. It’s pretty fun.