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Teaching Music Lessons to Children with Special Needs

Humanity has a very long history of dealing with disabilities. Anthropological studies of fossils and archaeological research of prehistoric dwellings indicate that ancient humans cared for peers who had special needs, and this is not limited to homo sapiens; earlier humans such as neanderthals are believed to have helped physiologically disabled members of their tribes.

In the 21st century, society is working to improve the concept of inclusion, which is why we are shifting away from using the term “disabled” and towards expanding the concept of special needs. In Latin America, for example, people with special needs are referred to as having different abilities instead of disabilities. Children are being taught that people who have complete visual impairment, for example, are not blind; instead, they use the rest of their senses to see the world. The same goes for music; those who lack the sense of hearing can still feel vibrations and grasp abstract concepts such as rhythm, tonality, and others.

The Prodigies Music program focuses on theory instead of just teaching social skills through music. Although a major portion of the curriculum refers to auditory development, this does not mean that young music learners cannot benefit from the program. Expressing learned knowledge through hand signing is part of Prodigies Music, and this is based on the fact that music can be felt and interpreted through the magic of acoustics. It is important to remember that music is what we get when we combine certain aspects of physics with cognition and emotions; to this effect, we can all “get” music even if we have special needs or different abilities.

Formulating an Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Special education refers to the spectrum of needs and abilities that may fall outside the goals of traditional curriculum programs. IEPs are not complicated, but they require some considerations. The Prodigies Music program, for example, includes the hand signing component for the benefit of students who may have some level of hearing impairment. The major considerations that usually go into an IEP include:

  • Different physical abilities.
  • Sensory impairments.
  • Learning difficulties.
  • Potential learning curve.

In essence, IEPs take into account all learning requirements, and they are needed for each home schooling students regardless of special needs. There has to be an overall acknowledgment by the IEP of the requirement, which should never be thought of as a hurdle. If you have non-verbal students, for example, their IEPs should include training of teachers, typically parents, in sign language. If the students are not able focus their attention to lesson content for very long, a good strategy would be to assign tasks they can complete with assistance. Regular education programs are great foundations for IEPs; most of the adjustments consist of calibrating goals and expectations. If you can get expert input from behavioral therapists, the IEP will be more efficient.

Bracing for the Challenge

Ask any teacher who has dealt with special education students about their experiences, and they will invariably tell you that the process is not as difficult as we usually see it from the lens of Hollywood film and television productions; however, they will also tell you that it can be exhausting, and that is the inherent difference. That is the challenge for the educators, and particularly for parents.

There is no way around this energetic challenge; all you have to do is find more energy to keep going. For most special education teachers, recharging their batteries is provided by emotional rewards. The joy you experience from witnessing a special needs child successfully signing a solfege routine you play on the Prodigies Desk Bells will be extremely invigorating. We could go on to mention how beneficial it would be for you to practice yoga or get into fitness routines as means to deal with the physical and emotional challenge of teaching children with special needs, but this is almost implied. The emotional rewards of seeing special needs students progress through the curriculum will keep you going.

Always Follow Lesson Plans

When you follow the Prodigies Music program, you have the benefit of age-appropriate lesson plans. As previously discussed, some special needs are addressed by the curriculum, but you may need to adjust them according to the IEP. As a general rule, you should never conduct a lesson without a plan; all educators, from kindergarten teachers to university lecturers, ply their craft according to lesson plans. Teaching is always more efficient when lessons are executed according to plans because they are pillars of education.

The standard format of lesson plans applies to music education for children with special needs. The elements of the plan are:

  • The name of the plan, which should be communicated to the students so that they have an idea what they will be learning.
  • Education standards to be addressed.
  • Learning materials to be used.
  • Lesson objectives.
  • Procedure to follow within the allowed time.
  • Assessment of learning.
  • Reflection about the lesson itself.

Not all lesson plans are printed; in some cases, seasoned teachers get so used to delivering them that they can memorize them. You’ve probably heard of the teaching expression “stand and deliver;” for the most part, what should be delivered is a lesson plan.

Take Advantage of Technology

The Prodigies Music program uses everyday technology such as digital video to deliver lessons. We take things a little further with the Digital Bells app, which is a nice alternative to the popular Desk Bells used to teach the chromatic note scale. Even though this app can be used on smartphones, you will get better results with a tablet, and this brings us to mention how useful these mobile devices can be in terms of teaching music lessons.

Some parents and teachers of children with special needs have noticed that students react more positively to the use of mobile devices. In some cases, young students with attention deficits cannot focus on playing Desk Bells, but for some reason they do much better with the Digital Bells app. If your special education students are not responding well to musical instruments, there is a good change that they will be more interested in musical mobile apps such as ThumbJam for the Apple iPad.

Even though ThumbJam can be configured to simulate playing dozens of instruments, it can also be adjusted to playing just two chromatic notes; from this point on, the app can be set up to play more notes, thus giving students a chance to achieve gradual progression without being intimidated by the complexities of some instruments. ThumbJam is just one example of the myriad apps available to enhance music learning, and the fact that it is only available for Apple devices brings us to the next point about digital technology in the music classroom.

If you are able to get an iPad for music teaching, by all means do so. This does not mean that other tablets cannot be used; in fact, many professional musicians prefer the Microsoft Surface collection of portable and mobile devices because they are more durable and powerful, but Apple has placed considerable thought to designing the iPad as a device conducive to early learning experiences. When an iPad is not available, Android tablets would do, but they may not have the same touchscreen size, responsiveness, and rugged design that children demand.

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