Reflections on Music Therapy in Elementary Education

On Oct 21, 2019, our Director of Education Rachael Finnerty was a Guest Speaker in Gabriella Ocadiz's Music and Special Education class at McMaster University. One of the students, Sergio Raez Villanueva, shared his reflection on Rachael's presentation with us. Read Sergio's thoughts below:

Guest Speaker Thoughts

I found our guest speaker, Rachael, to be extremely amiable and welcoming as she explained and shared her experiences with the class. I do not know much about music therapy and her insight was extremely valuable to me as I do have a small background and a big interest in healthcare. Music therapy is the use of music for a healthcare goal, and I thought this was such a meaningful and useful manner of utilizing music to help others. It had never occurred to me that this was a career option! Combining music with healthcare seems amazing to me. I will not lie and say that I have been trying to learn a little more about it as a career option – fascinating!

I also enjoyed how Rachael utilized her knowledge to gear her talk towards the purpose of our class – elementary music education. Her ideal and “method” in dealing with children who do not want to cooperate in class or who may be disruptive at times was reassuring and refreshing: We must give acknowledgement to the kid, and only then attempt to continue with the class. I liked this concept as sometimes a child just needs that brief amount of attention for him or her to continue cooperating with everyone else. Other approaches that I have heard of in the past is to ignore the behaviour or to address it very strictly and seriously (and maybe even with a punishment); but Rachel’s approach is more genuine and, in my opinion, appropriate as children need of this judgement-free zone to progress creatively and musically. The example of the greeting song going around the circle while singing everyone’s name one by one, but with “Johnny singing” the wrong names (for need of attention), was a great way to see how addressing “Johnny” and letting him have it his way briefly (by singing the name that he wanted even though it wasn’t his turn) could help to assuage the problem and make the greeting song go back to its original purpose quickly and with everyone feeling happy and not hurt. It’s subtle, but it works!

Finally, I loved Rachael’s concept of using music (and the same melody) to set up a routine. She emphasized how essential this is especially for kids who may be unable to tell what time it is. This thought had never crossed my mind before – and it makes so much sense to keep in mind! With music and certain “routine” songs (i.e. a greeting song, a song before lunch, or a goodbye song), we can make routines accessible to everyone, as children will know when things like lunchtime or the end of the day will be, and those unable of identifying these cues will be able to know so through music!

And of course, the best takeaway was to focus on strengths, and never weaknesses. It’s important to address them, yes, but only in the context that through one’s strengths we can work together to improve our weaknesses. It leaves children feeling empowered and, in fact, it is something that as adults we should practice more often too! Thank you, Rachael, for your wonderful music and your wisdom!

Sergio Raez Villanueva

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