I will be the first to admit that I obsessively love the Olympics and watch as many events as I can within the two week coverage. This year I wanted to take a quick break from our “Summer of Love” theme, and I took advantage of the summer Olympics to lead an entire session based on healthy competition, teamwork, and imagination. Most of the kids in the school are aware of the Olympics in some way and had watched at least some on TV. We started off with a jumping contest because young children always love to jump. I used my “If you…” song and asked them to stand up if they had that color shaker and to jump as high as they could. Each color then created a team and I judged on how high/enthusiastically they jumped. Most teams tied but most of the kids took it very seriously and jumped higher and with more enthusiasm than in a typical session.
Next we did an instrument obstacle course, an intervention I had learned from other therapists at my internship. The basic idea is to lay out carpet squares or some other markers on the floor and place an instrument on each one. The child has to go down the line and play each instrument in that sequence. When I’ve done this in an individual session with just one child, the child usually gets to choose the order of the instruments and sometimes how the instrument should be played (loud, soft, fast, slow, up high, behind their back, etc.). As this time I would use this intervention for groups of ten or more, I made two parallel courses – basically two lines of carpet squares with the same instruments across from each other so that two people could do the obstacle course at the same time. The final step was a communal large drum that the children would play together before holding hands and taking a bow. The finishing touch was playing the theme from Chariots of Fire in the background, more for the teachers’ benefit than the kids. But as we all know from movie soundtracks, inspirational background music can dramatically change the mood and emotional response of the scene. And Chariots of Fire definitely intensified the moment!
With my first group, I made it a competition of who could go through their line of instruments first before meeting at the communal drum. But then for the remainder of the groups l made it a synchronized event, so instead of worrying about speed, I encouraged them to watch their partner and to make sure they were playing the same instrument at the same time and to move down the the line of carpet squares as a unit. Just like the synchronized divers, the final “splash” was playing the drum together. The teachers and other kids cheered each other on and there was definitely as sense of urgency and intensity among the participants. My favorite part was the final bow where the kids help hands with their partners to great applause for their peers. I wished I had captured it on video because their enthusiasm and smiles were priceless.
Our last Olympic event was a movement intervention where I asked them to act out different sports while I played appropriate accompanying music. We “swam’ different strokes, walked on a balance beam, dribbled a basketball, kicked a soccer ball, ran very fast, and even tried to do the triple jump. For each movement, I changed my singing instructions and piano accompaniment style to support the movement. This is similar to an intervention we do most days, where we ask them to jump, spin, or lie down on the floor and pretend to sleep according to the musical cues. Jumping is represented by bouncy, staccato chord changes, spinning involves legato arpeggios, and sleeping changes to a rocking, lullaby-like accompaniment. So it was easy to take those basic ideas and chord structures and elaborate to include different motions for the different sports. We then ended our Olympic session with the medal ceremony, complete with the Olympic theme music, and each child came up to the front of the room, received an imaginary medal, and took a bow.
Needless to say, we all had a blast, teachers and kids. And as always, it’s important to keep the therapeutic goals as the basis for any intervention and using the Olympics theme, I was able to incorporate the following goals into the session:
- Improve direction following by listening to musical and verbal cues and instructions.
- Develop social skills by interacting with peers and creating a team/partnership
- Improve gross motor skills by acting out movements
- Promote creativity and self expression by encouraging students to act out the sports in their own creative ways
- Increase self esteem and self confidence by encouraging the students to cheer for each other and recognizing everyone individually for “competing” in the Olympics.
Sadly, the Olympics are now over but no worries. In the winter of 2018 when the Olympics are in South Korea, I plan to bring back my favorite Olympic-themed interventions, and I can’t wait to think of some new ones as well.