I like it when that person is near me
That other person and I are part of the same world.
When I want a thing, I can let others know about it.
These understandings are pre-requisites to all other learning — but for some children, coming to these can take a long time.
How is possible even to begin to communicate with physically mature children who have not acquired such understandings?
A little over two years ago, Lynsey Baughen, a teacher at Victoria's Springvale Park SDS, was working with a seven year old autistic student with anxiety and intellectual disability who rarely initiated interactions when she happened to begin singing to him. As she sang, Lynsey was stunned to find the boy began engaging with her. After several verses, he reached out, touched Lynsey's face, and said 'hello'.
Lynsey was quick to share her experience with colleague Lauren Davis, a speech pathologist. Lauren suggested Lynsey might like to attend a two-day Parent-Child Mother Goose Facilitator Training Workshop to learn more about working with children through songs and rhymes. Lynsey did, and three days after completing the workshop she sent an email to her trainers describing the impact her new-found learning had on her teaching.
From: Lynsey Baughen
Date: 26 August 2017
Just to let you know we've had a very positive response from the six to seven year old students with autism in my class.
One of them echoed puff and Jeremiah so he could ask me to perform Jeremiah blow the fire with him.
Another student gave me laughter and smiles in response to 'Acka-acka-water-cracker'. He also settled to 'The moon is round' and began guiding me to repeat the rhyme. He said dara-ra-round-ra and similar, with moon in amidst his sounds.I am genuinely gobsmacked at how much students I consider I know quite well respond to rhyme and song.
Following this workshop, Lynsey began sharing with her colleagues at Springvale Park SDS her insights into how they might incorporate rhymes and songs into their daily work, using them, for example, to:
In all, eight members of staff from Springvale Park SDS have now attended a two day Parent-Child Mother Goose training workshop, and more are currently queuing up to do so.
Recently I had the chance to sit down with Lynsey and three other members of Springvale Park SDS staff to learn more about how they are applying their Parent-Child Mother Goose training with their own students.
Wonderful to see them settling themselves
Teacher Sarah Lester and speech pathologist Ashley Chen regularly co-lead 20 minute sessions of songs and rhymes with Sarah's small cohort of students. Sarah and Ashley always start by singing Twinkle Twinkle as a 'pack away' song (see inset), then work through a sequence of rhymes and songs, starting with ones associated with vigorous activity, then gradually tapering down to a lullaby that Sarah and Ashley accompany by stroking the arms of those students who will accept this contact.
Twinkle twinkle little star,
Pack up, pack up where you are.
Time to put the toys away,
Ready to play another day.
Twinkle twinkle little star,
Pack up, pack up where you are.
"In a school, we relate differently to students from how their parents or caregivers would," Sarah says. "To give them some sense of being held securetly, we might seat our students in beanbags. We know our students often get quite wound up in the afternoon. It's wonderful to see them settling themselves in response to soothing songs, and to see some actually dozing off to a lullaby in the afternoon is quite remarkable."
Expanding dietary choices
One of Ashley Chen's roles is to work with students with sensory food aversion, encouraging them to expand their dietary choices. Recently Ashley was trying to encourage a student who prefers to communicate through sounds to try a thin slice of apple, a food he had previously been reluctant to try. Aware that the student responded positively to the rhyme Jeremiah, blow the fire, Ashley tried chanting the rhyme with a slice of apple in her hand and blowing across the apple to her student. The rhyme settled the student, as it presented the apple in a way he was familiar with. Eventually he was comfortable and interested in handling and trying the apple slice.
"There are so many ways we can use rhymes working with these children," Ashley says. "The other day, one of the students and I were playing with Slime, forming a face. The student moved to Australia recently, and constantly sings and repeats phrases in a language other than English. Not being able to speak the language, I tried to engage him with a few short nursery rhymes. When I chanted the rhyme The moon is round, I found we were able to draw the eyes and mouth and the nose mentioned in the rhyme in the Slime together easily. It's truly amazing to see the power that rhymes and songs have across cultures and languages. To get this kind of interaction happening with these children can be quite an achievement."
Students quickly latch onto repeated patterns
Teacher Amy McLaren works in the preschool Early Education Program at Springvale Park SDS, where she runs a playgroup attended by both parents and children. This playgroup does not currently include a Parent-Child Mother Goose session as such, but Amy does use the sessions as an opportunity to introduce the young children to songs and rhymes they may meet again later as they progress through the school.
"We've found our students quickly latch onto the repeated patterns in songs and rhymes, and really appreciate their inherent structure and the way they have a fixed beginning and an end," Amy says. "These children find such structured, predictable experiences comforting, and when their teachers use these with them, the children want to be around those teachers, they want to engage. I know one little boy, for instance, who typically cries a lot. As soon as I sing his favourite Mother Goose song, he will come and sit by me."
Lynsey Baughen and her colleagues are not claiming that songs and rhymes are a universal panacea when working with children with developmental delays, but it's hard not to be moved by their sense of optimism and excitement as they talk about their work in this area so far.
As I get up to leave, Lynsey Baughen is quick to raise one question she has been dying to ask me throughout our discussion. When is someone going to start up a true Parent-Child Mother Goose program for children with autism and their parents or caregivers, a program that could include children over the age of five?
It's a great question. Are there any takers out there?
— Peter Dann