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Using Music and Sensory Play as Therapy: An Inclusive Learning Space

child playing xylophone

Contents:


Introduction

Music and sensory play are not just supplementary activities for children. They are fundamental pillars and powerful tools that support cognitive, emotional, and social growth, especially for neurodivergent individuals, who often navigate the world uniquely and can benefit significantly from the structured yet flexible nature of music and sensory experiences.


In this blog post, we'll explore practical applications of music and sensory play that Making Music Academy implements to enhance the lives of our students with neurodiversity. These evidence-based strategies aim to improve sensory processing, social skills, emotional regulation, cognitive development, and motor abilities of all our students.


From creating calming sensory environments to engaging in interactive music sessions, we'll discuss how music and sensory play impact children with neurodiversity for good and provide a list of activities tailored to meet the unique needs of our students—at our school or at home.


Music IS Therapy

Ms. Terrilyn, owner of MMA recently had a great conversation about neurodiversity and music with friend and music therapist, Renee White. 


Known as a fellow “Ms.”, Ms. Renee is a certified music therapist (MTA) and graduate of the University of Windsor with an Honors Bachelor of Music Therapy degree with post-graduate studies in Neurologic Music Therapy.  As owner of Renee White Music Therapy (RWMT), offering music therapy services in St. John’s for the past 16 years to all ages and abilities, it is not surprising that she is a huge advocate for music education and its importance to all individuals; but especially those who are neurodivergent. 


Renee emphasized that while music therapy and music education have different goals, music is innately therapeutic as it supports both physical and emotional regulation.  Through tempo, rhythm, melody, harmony, familiar patterns, and routines, music aids in attention, language development, and fine and gross motor planning, all while providing a safe space for creative self-expression. 


She went on to say, “The most successful music education classes offer a wide variety of self-led sensory opportunities encouraging independence and imagination. Music also helps children navigate transitions more smoothly and provides room for improvisation and "in the moment” interactions to take place within a known structure which has been shown to reduce anxiety and support emotional flexibility.” 


According to Renee, a truly inclusive music space acts as an “open sesame” for all children to engage, explore, and become empowered through music-making.  


At MMA, we take pride in offering music and sensory classes that encourage play and natural learning for all individuals. Soon, we will do it in one neuro-affirming, supportive studio space, which opens in September 2024!


Through MMA’s baby, toddler, preschool, and school-aged private and group music and sensory classes, there is something for everyone! We have instruments of all different shapes, sizes, colours, textures, and sounds. We have movement props to stretch, lift, pull, and jump on, sensory play, socialization (for the grown-ups, too), and, of course, lots of music-making fun!  


In addition, MMA will host the Infant Sensory Music Therapy group program designed for infants 0-9 months and their caregiver led by Renee this Fall at our new 370 Torbay Rd location. 


The MMA staff is ecstatic to have Renee working alongside them as a resource and to consult with regarding adaptations or ways to support all our students. 


You can learn more about RWMT services here: rwmt.ca


An Inclusive Learning Space

An inclusive learning space accommodates all types of learners. When discussing inclusivity for all learners, we consider each student's needs and ensure that learning remains FUN. This means each session is carefully constructed to ensure every student benefits in every way possible.


At Making Music Academy, we put careful thought into the physical environment, the teaching styles, and program formats, choosing staff who are compassionate and passionate about teaching to everyone, providing ongoing education training, upholding a flexible teaching environment that puts the students and their families first, and a strict no-bullying policy so no one ever has to feel uncomfortable in our space.


Contact us if you have any questions about how you or your child can make our classes accessible and support your unique needs.


Why Music is Special

As covered in our other blog posts, music has incredible benefits for development, emotional regulation, and social interaction. It helps students enhance cognitive abilities as a natural result of participating in music-related activities.  


Learning to play an instrument, for example, requires the use of multiple brain areas simultaneously; this multi-sensory engagement can improve memory, attention, and spatial-temporal skills (the ability to visualize spatial patterns and understand temporal sequences), which are critical for success in subjects like math and science.


Joining a group session allows children to develop teamwork and social interaction skills.


Any music activity helps children with self-expression and emotional release, which is particularly important for children who struggle with verbal communication.


Music & Sensory Play is Essential for Children with Neurodiversity

Music & Sensory Play is essential for neurodiverse children, including those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ADHD, and sensory processing disorders, due to its multifaceted benefits that cater to their unique developmental needs.


Key Benefits of Music & Sensory Play for Children with Neurodiversity:


Cognitive Development and Learning:

Music and sensory play help create strong neural connections in the brain, enhancing cognitive development and learning capacity. This is especially beneficial for children who may have a developmental disability.


Emotional Regulation and Stress Reduction:  

Sensory activities can be a positive outlet for self-regulation, helping reduce stress and anxiety. This is crucial for neurodiverse children who often face heightened levels of daily stress.


Communication and Language Skills: 

Sensory play encourages children to describe their experiences, expanding their vocabulary and improving their communication skills. This is particularly useful for children with speaking difficulties.


Social Interaction and Inclusion:  

Music and sensory play can promote social skills by encouraging peer interactions. It helps neurodiverse children feel more comfortable and confident in social settings, facilitating collaborative play and the development of friendships in a no-pressure, fun-focused environment.


Sensory Integration:  

Sensory play helps neurodiverse children practice and improve their sensory processing abilities. For example, activities like swinging or using trampolines provide vestibular stimulation (sense of motion and balance), while tactile play with materials like playdough enhances proprioceptive input (body awareness; detection and awareness of force and pressure, which can be very calming for those who are easily overwhelmed by sensory stimulation).


Practical Applications of Music & Sensory Play for Neurodiverse Children

Sensory play and music offer powerful tools for supporting the development and well-being of neurodiverse children. For those with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, sensory processing disorders, and other neurodevelopmental conditions, carefully designed sensory and musical activities can provide numerous benefits across multiple domains of functioning.


Improving Sensory Processing and Integration:


Application:  Incorporate activities like playing with textured materials (e.g., sand, water, playdough) and engaging in movement-based activities (e.g., swinging, jumping).


Benefit:  These activities help neurodiverse children improve their sensory processing and integration, leading to better adaptive responses and increased engagement in daily activities.


Enhancing Social Skills and Communication:


Application:  Use music therapy sessions that involve group activities such as singing, playing instruments, and musical games.


Benefit:  Music therapy promotes social interaction and communication skills by providing a structured yet flexible environment where children can connect and interact with others. This is particularly beneficial for children with autism who may struggle with social cues and verbal communication.


Reducing Anxiety and Behavioral Issues:


Application:  Implement calming sensory activities such as using weighted blankets, sensory bins, and auditory play with soothing music or white noise.


Benefit:  These activities help neurodiverse children regulate their emotions and behaviors, leading to a more relaxed and focused state. Sensory play can significantly reduce anxiety and behavioral problems in children.


Supporting Cognitive Development and Learning:


Application:  Engage children in sensory-rich learning activities, such as exploring different textures, sounds, and visual stimuli and incorporating music into educational tasks.


Benefit:  Sensory play supports cognitive development by promoting exploration, problem-solving, and creativity. Music therapy can enhance memory, attention, and learning capacity, making it easier for neurodiverse children to grasp new concepts and retain information.


Improving Motor Skills:


Application:  Include activities that involve proprioceptive and vestibular input, such as jumping, pushing, pulling, and playing musical instruments that require fine motor skills.


Benefit:  Sensory play and music activities help improve both fine and gross motor skills. For example, playing instruments can enhance hand-eye coordination and dexterity, while movement-based sensory play can improve balance, coordination, and spatial orientation.



By integrating these practical applications into daily routines, caregivers and educators can create supportive environments that cater to the unique needs of neurodiverse children, helping them thrive and develop essential skills.


Conclusion

By understanding and leveraging sensory play and music's benefits, we can create more inclusive and supportive environments for neurodivergent individuals, helping them thrive in their unique ways.


Music education and sensory play are not mere pastimes; they are essential components of a holistic approach to child development. They provide invaluable cognitive, emotional, and social benefits, particularly for neurodivergent individuals who face unique challenges. By incorporating these elements into daily routines and educational settings, we can create enriching environments that support all children in reaching their full potential.


The future of child development lies in recognizing and harnessing the power of music and sensory experiences. As we continue to explore and understand their impact, we can ensure that every child has the opportunity to thrive and grow through music and sensory play.


Reach out if you have any questions about whether we're the right place for you and/or your child!

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