Tag Archives: Social Skills

Activity Inspiration: We’re Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

23 Nov

November is a great time to talk about FOOD…which just so happens to be one of my favorite things. I created this little activity to open conversation about Thanksgiving dinner foods and family traditions with my kiddos, so you can keep it as traditional or creative as you want. If you’re going the traditional route, you might want to make some food item picture cards like mine to help structure the activity. But if you’d like your clients to come up with their own favorite foods, give them a blank square and have them draw the item and share it with the group!

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Pass out some instruments, start a simple drumbeat, then sing or chant the words:

“We’re cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and we’re gonna make something yummy!”

Choose a client to drum/play their food word a few times, then get everyone in the group playing it. Each time you add a new food item, see how many words you can sequence together! It can get really silly if you’ve got a big group, especially if you’ve got creative food choices (ie CANDY, CANDY, CANDY). Sometimes, we even pretend the gathering drum is a table and practice asking for different food items (“Can you pass the turkey?” “Yes, I can!”) and pass the cards to a steady beat.

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Activity Inspiration: We’re Going to be Friends

14 Sep

The idea to first use this song came from one of my MT BFFs, Kayla Lyles, MT-BC, who you can now find blogging for Noteable Progressions Music Therapy Services. She shared one way to use this song back when we were completing our equivalency program at Shenandoah University, and I’ve since adapted for use with my kiddos! I always pull this intervention out at the beginning of the school year, because it can be a great warm-up/getting to know you song for new groups or clients.

Intervention Ideas:

  • Lyric Analysis: Conversation topics may include friends at school, favorite school subjects, new teachers/classes.
  • Listening/Impulse Control: Give clients an instrument to hold and have them wait to play until they hear a specific word-“friends” is a good place to start! I like using bells or shakers.
  • Basic Signing: For little ones, I use an excerpt of the song (with alternate lyrics) and some sign language visual cards I made using resources from Baby Sign Language.

Here in music, we have fun

Getting to know everyone

Making friends is really nice

So smile wide and be polite

I can tell that we are gonna be friends

I can tell that we are gonna be friends

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5 Activity Favorites: Valentine’s Day Fun for Little Ones

4 Feb

Get ready to hug, drum, sign and sing…because I’m sharing 5 of my favorite music therapy activities to use in celebration of Valentine’s Day!

1. Heartbeat Chant: I made up this simple little chant to use for colors, shapes, number ID, animals, etc. Just change the lyrics as needed! It’s a fun challenge to get your clients doing a heartbeat rhythm and super easy to adapt for different needs. This also works great with a group on a large gathering drum.

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2. Snuggle Puppy: Okay, this board book is just the CUTEST. It has lots of opportunities for “ooo” sounds and basic signs (hug, kiss, I love you, dog), and is unbelievably sweet if you have stuffed animals to go along with it. I also like this one for Mommy & Me groups as a lap song.

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3. Little Red Valentine: This piggyback song has been a hit with my ECI kiddos. Download my colorful hearts visual, cut them out and have your kiddos put them in a little mailbox (or drum, etc–whatever is on hand) each time they correctly ID a color. Oh, dollar section of Target…I love you, oh yes I do.

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4. Rachel Rambach’s The Feelings in my Heart: I always like talking about feelings/family/friends around Valentine’s Day, and this song is a great conversation starter. I’ve used the full version for older kiddos or just the chorus + signs for each feeling in a simple chant for very little ones. I made a fun visual to go along with it–all you need is a foam heart (cough Target again cough), some feelings pictures and velcro.

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5. Rachel See’s Teeny Tiny Valentine: The visual I use for this one is easy: take the feeling pictures off the foam heart, grab one heart that you cut out for Little Red Valentine, and cut out one more medium-sized heart. BOOM. This song is a fab fingerplay, but I’ve also used it with the above visuals for IEP kiddos working on opposites: big/small, loud/soft, etc.

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3 Resources I’m Loving: Summer Visuals

6 Aug

I think we all know by now that I love me some easy to make but effective visuals. A good visual doesn’t have to take you 2 hours to craft (though, if your laminator is moody like mine…you never know) and shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg (COUPONS! COUPONS! COUPONS!). Sometimes, the simplest items can make or break a session by getting everyone engaged and having fun. Below are three visuals that have been an absolute hit with my clients this summer!

photo (4)1. Suns. If you’re thinking, “All she did is print out a picture of a sun and put it on the ground,” you are CORRECT! But you better believe that these suns have been going everywhere with me this summer and have been used in a bunch of ways. Our fan favorite has been putting the suns down on the ground in different shapes or paths, slapping some sunglasses on and stepping on the suns to the beat of the music. It’s a great way to work on gross motor skills, problem solving (If one sun is too far away to step to, how can we get there? Do we need to jump, move it closer, etc?), working on shapes (placing the suns in circles, triangles, squares) or just for a summer dance party. Try it with “Walking on Sunshine,” “Good Day, Sunshine” or “Let the Sun Shine In.” 

photo (3)2. Surfboard. This one REALLY got the party started in some of my group sessions. I just cut out the shape of a surfboard from brown paper, drew a line on it and BAM! Instant summer fun. My clients of all ages had a blast showing off their surfing skills and cheering for their friends. To be extra cool, throw some sea animal beanie babies/stuffed animals in there and have clients choose one to go surfing with them. Works great with “Surfing USA” and “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride”.

photo (2)3. Fish & Fishing Pole. My buddies at Toneworks Music Therapy inspired me to use their Let’s Go Fishing song in my sessions. Place the fish on a scarf and take turns “going fishing”. You could adapt this in a number of ways; my kiddos were working on colors, but you could also write social questions, movements, instruments, etc on the fish that can shape the activity as you do it. Once I tried this out, I’ve had requests almost every week for “the fishies”!

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3 Resources I’m Loving: iPad Apps

25 Jul

In my summer blog series, 3 Resources I’m Loving, I’m sharing my favorite 3 resources at the moment for different purposes! Check out my last post about Music & Relaxation.

One of the most important tools I carry around with me as a traveling music therapist is my iPad. I use it for a variety of purposes: documentation, scheduling, recording, pulling up youtube videos, fun apps for clients to earn…you name it, and I probably use my iPad for it! Below are three apps I’ve been using a lot this summer to work on goals ranging from communication and choice making to social skills and following directions.

photo (1) 1. Bla Bla Bla. Price: FREE!

This app is TOTALLY AWESOME for communication goals! Bla Bla Bla is a sound reactive app that uses the microphone on your iPad to control images on screen. Users can select a fun face from the menu, which will begin move as they vocalize. If it’s a soft sound, the face will move a little bit, but it really goes bonkers as you get louder. It’s fun demonstrating for clients and watching as they realize that the only way to move the face on screen is to vocalize. I’ve seen kiddos shake it, touch it, etc…but it’s really exciting when they start to make the connection and begin to use their voice.

photo (4)2. Beamz. Price: FREE!

This app is for all your cool kids and teens who dream about becoming a DJ. *Insert Dubstep Music Here*. The Beamz library contains tons of songs in different genres (anything from HipHop to Bluegrass) with corresponding sound effects that can be played simply by swiping purple lines on the screen. No matter what sound you hit, it’s guaranteed to sound great and go with the music. You can even record your song and listen back to it! I’ve used this app for social skills (turn taking, following directions, imitation), communication and emotional expression.

photo (3)3. Real Guitar. Price: $0.99 (WORTH IT)

I loooove using this app in sessions because it’s appropriate for all ages, has a high-quality sound and is really easy to use. Real Guitar allows you to select desired chords, put them in whatever order you want and pick a strumming or fingerpicking pattern. Clients can play along with you (or you can follow their lead) or you could even play along with preferred recorded music. This is awesome for clients working on fine motor skills—I have them point their index finger and practice strumming on both the iPad and my actual guitar.

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Activity Inspiration: Silly Seuss Sounds

4 Mar

Oh, the places you’ll go…when you let Dr. Seuss inspire your music therapy activity planning! In honor of his birthday (March 2) and Read Across America day, my music therapy groups are having a jolly good time this week creating silly Seuss sounds to work on goals like positive peer interaction, decision making, following directions and self expression/creativity.

Seuss-sational Activity Ideas:

Download the Dr. Seuss Band App for $.99. If your clients are able to play, the game is a great way to practice color matching and fine motor skills! But something I love about this app is that you don’t HAVE to play the game as intended…simply select a song (each one is so delightfully goofy sounding) and have clients press the buttons to play the instrument.

For the suggestions below, I usually open the app, select a song and have clients layer silly sounds over the music.

photo-1 Use instruments to create silly sounds! Throw some unique instruments in a bin (or drum, etc) and have students choose one to play. Some ideas:

  • Vibraslap
  • Frog Rasp
  • Clatterpillar
  • Thunder Tube
  • Rainstick (bonus points if you have a colorful one!)
  • Wind Tube
  • Canary Whistles
  • Boomwhackers

photoRecord silly sound effects on communication devices.  Find some sound effects that strike your fancy (thank you, youtube!) and record them on a choice board on your iPad or on communication devices like big macs. I had access to a Cheap Talk 8 at school, but individual buttons would also work great.

Fun Sounds to Try:



 Tuba (hehehe)

Slap (Don’t have a vibraslap, so I improvised!)

Don’t miss this FREE DOWNLOAD(!!!!!!): a visual I made for use with those sound effects. Just cut out and attach to communication devices or use as a choice board.

Build your own silly Seuss instrument. Divide students into teams or work together as a group to make a unique instrument that can be played in many ways. Provide students with a box of items (instruments, tin cans, boxes…the possibilities are endless) and encourage them to assemble a never-before-seen instrument. Have students describe their instrument to the group and demonstrate how to play it. Don’t forget to name it when you’re finished!

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Music Therapy Olympics: Instrument Relay (with 4+ adaptations!)

18 Feb

As the 2014 Olympics come to a close, I want to share another activity that has been highly successful in my music therapy groups: an instrument relay! I have implemented this activity in a variety of ways to work on goal areas like social skills (sharing, turn taking, positive peer interactions) and following multi-step directions (shake and pass, etc). Regardless of the adaptation that I select, I always preface this activity with a discussion about teamwork and working together to reach a common goal. If I have access to a SMART board or iPad, I will show a brief video of a relay (speed skating, track and field, etc) and draw attention to how the athletes are taking turns, sharing and supporting each other.

Below are 4+ instrument relay race ideas to get your wheels turning, instrument batons passing and speed skates…skating!! Too much nerdiness in that sentence? …NO WAY.

1. Instrument Relay: When first introducing the concept of a relay race, I like to start out with a small, easy-to-play instrument, like a shaker. So my hands are free, I create a simple instrumental loop on a keyboard or music program that provides a steady beat without being overly distracting. I encourage each student to shake the shaker, then pass it to the person sitting next to them by improvising rhythmic or melodic prompts (ex. “Shake and shake and shake and shake and PASS IT TO YOUR TEAMMATE”) over the loop. See how fast you can get that shaker going around the circle!

Listen and download this FREE groovy instrumental I made on Mixcraft that’s guaranteed to make you strike a disco pose:

Alternate idea: Pair the concept of a relay race with Tuned Into Learning’s “Pass it Along” from Volume 1: Social Skills & Pragmatics. Let me tell you—this song is fantastic! Directions are embedded in the song lyrics (ex. “I play my instrument and pass it along”) and the music provides extra support for clients who need it, especially during that difficult transition that happens when you have to pass that shaker along. It’s hard to stop playing a fun instrument!

2. Speed Skating Relay: See the instrument relay above…but before clients can pass their instrument to the next person, they must stand up and “speed skate” a lap around the circle! This provides an opportunity to work on motor skills and following three-step directions.

Visual: Show this brief speed skating video. Bonus points if you have access to a SMART board and can play it WHILE the speed skating activity is happening. It’s fun to watch clients skate along with some Olympians.

3. Drum Rhythm Relay: Initiate a simple rhythm and pass it around the circle, telephone-style. Is the rhythm still correct when it makes its way back to you? How fast can it go around the circle without any errors? Have clients take turns being the drum rhythm leader. In a lesson or music education setting, write rhythmic lines on index cards and tape them to a handheld drum. Pass the drum around the circle and have each client drum the rhythm.

Make it harder: Split clients into small teams to create and write down their own rhythms for the group to try.

photo(4)4. Word Rhythm Relay: Instead of rhythmic notation, try writing thematic words like “Winter Olympics” and “Gold Medal” on index cards (with a visual, if needed) to promote speech skills, articulation and literacy. You can also pair the words with the rhythmic notation if working on music reading skills. Demonstrate speaking and playing the word rhythms simultaneously on a drum to start off the relay!

 Free sample word rhythm printable HERE!

[Print, cut, glue to thick paper (if needed) and drum away.]

Additional Resource: Check out a recent post from Wade Richards of Time for Music, where he shares a list of Olympic sentences to try in his post “Drumming to Foster Fluency in Speech.”

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Music Therapy Olympics: 4 Opening Ceremony Ideas

3 Feb

This week, my music therapy groups are learning about the Winter Olympics by participating in our very own Music Therapy Olympics Opening Ceremony, complete with torches and classic Olympic theme songs! Below are 4 fun,  goal-oriented ways to introduce the Olympics to your clients this February.

photo(1)1.     Make small Olympic torches with paper towel rolls and tissue paper.

It won’t take long, and they are a great DIY prop for Olympic-themed movement activities! You can even cover the paper towel roll in white paper and have students decorate the handle during an art and music activity.

2.     Work on social skills like sharing, turn taking and following directions with an Olympic torch pass.

Have one client at a time stand up and march around your circle with a torch held high. When their turn is finished, they must pass the torch to a friend. The last person to go gets to lead the “official lighting” of your group torch to signal the start of your music therapy Olympics!

I drew and painted a torch and taped it to a cardboard box, but if you’re short on time, print out a picture of one and tape it to large drum! You can also pass one torch around your circle, hot-potato style. When the music stops, the person left holding the torch gets to stand up “light” your group torch, which can be in the center of your circle, or answer a social question about winter sports/activities.

My group torch with small torches on top! Isn't it cute? :)

My group torch with small torches on top! Isn’t it cute? 🙂

3.     Play a gathering drum along with “Bugler’s Dream”.

Teach students that recognizable rhythm from the start of the song and take turns leading it on the gathering drum.

Simple rhythm from the beginning of Bugler’s Dream

For an extra challenge, put a mallet in each hand and alternate hands each beat. It’s also really fun to play along with the recording and encourage clients to pay close attention to dynamic and tempo changes! This activity can be used to work on a range of skills, such as auditory discrimination, gross motor skills, crossing midline, and turn taking.

 4.      Use traditional music from the country hosting the Olympics.

Because the Olympics are in Sochi this year, introduce your students to traditional Russian music. I like the folk song “Troika” (or Three Horse Team), which is a Russian dance during which three dancers imitate the prancing of horses pulling a sleigh. This provides a great opportunity to play along and create the sounds that a sleigh might make using jingle bells, wood blocks, wind tubes, etc. Try this version, played on the balalaika (a neat Russian string instrument!):

You can also take this a step farther by teaching a simplified version of the troika dance. For groups that need extra support, have students come up to dance two at a time, with you in the center.  Students waiting for their turn can practice being a great audience member or can actively participate by playing the sleigh-sound instruments from above while their peers are dancing. Check out this video to see how a simple troika dance might look:

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing MORE Olympics-themed ideas for use in music therapy sessions, music education classes and at home. Stay tuned for the next Songs for Success Music Therapy Olympic event idea!!

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Activity Inspiration: “Our Cornucopia”

13 Nov

This week, I want to share a Thanksgiving song called “Our Cornucopia” that I wrote to encourage my students to generate some positive feelings about themselves and their classmates! I decided to use a cornucopia as the basis of this activity because it’s a familiar holiday icon that many of my students might see in their homes, school or the community. The image of a cornucopia full of objects (people, instruments, Thanksgiving food) is also a great way to help concrete thinkers visualize and understand abstract holiday themes like gathering together and being thankful.

What I like about this activity is that it can be easily adapted for a range of functioning levels and ages. I have implemented this activity in a variety of ways, which include:

1. Cornucopia of names: to promote peer interaction and self-esteem

  • Write each student’s name (or use photographs) on pieces of paper and fold them up
  • Project an image of a cornucopia on a SMART board or draw it on poster board
  • Have students draw names out of an overturned drum when it is their turn during the song—my students love the suspense of unfolding the paper to see whose name it is!
  • Students come and tape the name they selected inside the cornucopia. I simply repeat the name verse (see recording below) until each student has had a turn.

Each time I use the song this way, I love to see the big smiles that happen when another student  has selected their name to put inside the cornucopia! The facilitator can enhance this excitement even more by encouraging students to look when their names are selected (“Look! Your friend ___ picked your name to put in the cornucopia!”). You can also use this opportunity to have clients practice saying “Thank you” and “You’re welcome!”

P10205452. Cornucopia of music: to promote self-expression and decision-making

  • Compile some images of instruments that you frequently use in your sessions. Real photographs of the instruments work really well for this!
  • Project these images on a SMART board with your cornucopia OR create your own visual aid to distribute.
  • Give each student the opportunity  to select an instrument to add to the cornucopia. If possible, ask them to share what they like about that instrument! This can also be a great way to find out what instruments and activities your students prefer.
With SMART board

With SMART board

Handout Version

Handout Version

Some additional adaptations of this activity may include:

  • Expanded goal areas:
    • Self-esteem and complimenting peers: Have clients choose a name out of a basket and encourage them to write one positive thing about the person they selected.  Put these comments back inside the basket so that the facilitator can read the anonymous compliments out loud to the group.
    • Self-expression: Have clients write a line or verse about someone or something they are thankful for.
      • This could be as simple as a fill in the blank lyric or working together as a group to write a whole song.
    • Coping Skills: Brainstorm different types of “cornucopias” as a group and work together to fill them with words and phrases (ex. Cornucopia of strength, cornucopia of relaxation, cornucopia of confidence)
  • Art and Music: Draw a large cornucopia on poster board. Have clients draw a picture of someone or something they are thankful for and have them add it to the cornucopia.
  • Activity Choice Board: Facilitate the cornucopia song using images that represent different songs and activities that are familiar to your clients. When they have selected their favorites to put inside the cornucopia, have them work together to choose one of those selected activities to do next in the session!

Below is a recording of “Our Cornucopia.” I included a tag at the end that I use for younger children, which can easily added or omitted as needed. How will you adapt this activity for your clients? I’d love to hear about it!



Activity Inspiration: Pumpkin Bowling

28 Oct

Just a few more days until Halloween arrives! I love bringing out my spooky songs and activities at the end of October, but found myself faced with a new challenge this year. Though many of my music therapy groups are getting excited for dressing up and trick-or-treating on Thursday, I learned that some of my clients and their families do not celebrate Halloween.  I believe that no matter what the setting, clients are often more motivated and subsequently, more successful, when the environment presented to them is inviting and inclusive. I headed straight back to the drawing board and had a blast developing some new activities that are accessible and enjoyable for all of my clients.

I always make an effort to utilize a range of seasonal themes in the fall such as the harvest, apples, leaves, acorns, corn and pumpkins, many of which also serve as an appropriate thematic substitute for Halloween songs and activities. This week, I’d like to share a simple and highly engaging fall activity that my clients keep requesting again and again: pumpkin bowling! This activity gets everyone up and moving, as well as promotes goal areas such as turn-taking, group engagement, teamwork, and gross motor skills.


  • 6-8 empty tissue boxes
  • 6-8 pumpkin images (cut out)
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • 1 ball (bonus points if it’s orange!)
  • 1 place-marker
  • Thematic recording: “Bowling is My Kind of Game” (Asleep at the Wheel)

Tape one pumpkin image on each tissue box…AND THAT’S IT! How easy is the prep work for this activity? Stack your pumpkins in a pyramid, demonstrate rolling the ball on the ground for your clients and invite them up to take two turns to knock all the “pumpkin pins” down. If your clients need a visual to help them know where to stand when rolling the ball, draw a line with tape or put a place marker down.


I use a fun bowling-themed song to add some musical support to this intervention because I usually need my hands free to help clients stand, sit and roll the ball. I can guarantee that “The Bowling Song” by Asleep at the Wheel will be a hit with your groups. Take pumpkin bowling one step further by adding your own original song or playing this song live!

Additional adaptations of this activity may include:

  • Expanded goal areas:
    • Social Skills: After each turn, client must answer a social question
    • Fine/Gross Motor: Have each client re-stack the pumpkin pins after their turn
    • Creative Self-Expression: Have each client decorate a pumpkin and tape it on a tissue box. Now your group has made their own pumpkin bowling pins!

I have a feeling that many therapists, teachers and community groups also face this scenario each year for a number of holidays, so I would love to hear about some of your non-holiday specific seasonal activities!