Sunday, February 14, 2010

Speechy Sunday - Silly Song Games


Some of you have requested some speech ideas and tips, so I'm trying to honor that. These ideas are just general strategies that work for me, and should in no way to be taken as medical advice. If you have a child or grandchild who needs speech and language support, there is no better way to get it than in person with your very own SLP. You can find a certified SLP in your area by going here.

Today I wanted to share a little game I like to play with kiddos with autism to help them become more flexible in accepting changes to routines they've learned. (I also play this game with kids who may need help with vocabulary, and with my daughter, just because it's fun!)

Here's how it works.

First, you teach a child a simple song. You can teach it with or without hand motions. Me, I can't stop myself from using hand motions. Repetitive songs are really good, because they're easy to learn. For example, we'll start with Old McDonald. So, you teach the child Old McDonald, and maybe you limit it to 3 verses to begin with (ex: cow, duck, pig). Once you've sung this song with the child, say, 15 times in a row, and you think the child really seems to get how it works, then you throw in the fun part.

You start changing up the song a bit, until it becomes a really silly song. So, maybe you're singing,

Old McDonald Had a Farm, E-I-E-I-O
And on that farm he had a .......

Then you pause very noticeably and insert a funny or absurd word into the song using a silly voice. Like this:

And on that farm he had a....... Snowman!?! E-I-E-I-O
With a........ brrr...brrr here and a ....brr brr there, here a brr, there a brrr, everywhere a brrr brrr,
Old McDonald had a snowman!?! E-I-E-I-O!

Then you explode with laughter, and say...."A snowman?!" "How silly!" and try wait to see if the child can tell you, "No, snowmen don't belong on the farm!" Or, even better, if they offer up another silly word to add to the song the next time.

Another take on this game is to change the song completely, rather than just one element. But it's smart to start with small changes if your child is a kiddo who likes predictability. Anyway, if you think they're ready, you might try something like:

Old McDonald had a.....BOAT!?! ....E-I-E-I-O
And on that ...boat...he had an....Octopus!?!....E-I-E-I-O
With a "wiggle wiggle" here, and a wiggle wiggle there, Here a Wiggle, there a wiggle, everywhere a wiggle wiggle,
Old McDonald had a boat...E-I-E-I-O!
And again, the exploding with laughter part is a great idea to let the child know that you're being playful, not trying to teach a real new song.

Some kids may need visual cues (like a couple of toys nearby that they can choose from to use as silly words to throw into the song), but some children very quickly catch onto the silly song creative process. I've had some kids with autism make up their own cute songs rather quickly, even when novel sentences were still hard for them to create. The structure of the song and the silliness factor makes this activity pretty motivating for kids to participate in, so it's much easier to teach what we call "carrier phrases" in this silly song game than without the game structure. (By the way, the term "carrier phrases" is just SLP technical talk for sentence pieces that are really useful like "I want a ___", or "I see a ___", phrases that can be used to make a zillion different sentences just by changing one word in them.)

I remember one child I used to work with who made up the cutest song one day about her mom, using the silly song game. We had been singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider song, and this child substituted her mom in for the "sun who dried up all the rain". "Out came....Mama!! ...who dried up all the rain, so the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again!" It was really sweet that she made her mom the problem solver in the song.

My daughter loves the silly song game, which we've played pretty much all her life. Today, she was singing "Bold BacBonald Bad a Barm, Bee Bye Bee Bye Bo". Which is a whole different type of silly song game. But this is what I think is so neat about the whole silly song game. (Warning...nerd alert here!) It seems to me that once a child learns that they can substitute new words into songs to change up the meaning of the songs, then, logically, I think this could be a precursor to lots of phonological awareness skills. Like, how we can substitute new sounds into words to change up their meaning. You know, how, if you replace the /p/ in "pot" with an /h/, the new word becomes "hot." I haven't found any research about this possibility of word substitution in songs leading to the ability to do phoneme substitution tasks later, but if any of you SLP friends out there have ideas on the subject, I'd love to hear them.

In any case, the silly song game is fun for kids and for adults, and can be used to address skills ranging from flexibility in routines, to use of carrier phrases, to vocabulary building. If you have kids in your life, I hope you get to play the silly song game this week. It definitely gives me a little happiness boost when I do!

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