Music to spark a better life for older adults and preschoolers

Happy Second Birthday!

Music Sparks is two years old. 

It has been a great year – both in Hays and in social media.  

Here in Hays, I have had great fun regularly providing group music therapy services at some area assisted living facilities including a very successful intergenerational group at one facility. Being invited to take part in the Family Fun Fest at the Mall was an absolute blast! The fall Saturday morning class was great fun for me and the boys who attended. I am also thankful for the opportunity to volunteer some time during the year in the Good Samaritan Alzheimer’s unit – New Horizons.

Social media wise, things are booming. Our Facebook page has reached over 100 “likes”. As of June 2011, SPARKS is now a bi-weekly newsletter providing resources for preschoolers, older adults and intergenerational programs around different themes. And, as of today, Music Sparks has a new website: music2spark. Do check out the new site!

I am so thankful I found Laura Crum who is assisting me in the process, and providing guidance. I also have a lot of people who have served as mentors in social media:

Things only look for exciting for Music Sparks this coming year. As I announced in May, there are lots of changes coming. The intergenerational program will now be known as Music Sparks: Sharing Songs. Beginning in September there will be an additional evening session. For children 18 months through age 3 I will offer Music Sparks: Discover one morning a week. And, the Saturday morning class for 5-6 year olds will reappear as Music Sparks: Exploration. (Click here to check the Preschool Class page for details.)

Older adults not in Assisted Living aren’t forgotten. I am working on some group music opportunities just for you! The best place for you to find out about upcoming sessions is the Older Adult tab.  

Thank you to all who read this blog. I’ll see you from now on at the new, improved site  – Music 2 Spark!

Back in Session

Across the music therapy Twitterverse and blogosphere, everyone is talking about the starting school year.  Yes, the backpacks are filled, the binders are lined with fresh paper and the superhero lunch box has been packed with healthy goodies.  Students and teachers alike are all heading back to school within the next few weeks.  Everyone has positive attitudes and  bright hopes for the 2011 school year.

Even though I have been out of academia for two years now, there’s something about the end of summer that still makes me want to buy school supplies.  Who doesn’t love making the first notations with a perfect ballpoint pen in a new notebook?  It’s no surprise that I still associate this time of year with the impending school year.  After all, we spend a significant amount of our childhood and young adult lives within a classroom.

School is such a formative experience in young lives and this is clearly represented in music.  There are a surprising amount of songs that are about school and they range across the emotional spectrum.  From Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” to the repetitive childhood favorite “The Wheels on the Bus”, you can find songs celebrating or decrying the educational structure.  While I’ve been known to do an amazing (-ly loud) rendition of “I Wish I Could Go Back To College” when driving alone in my car, what strikes me most when I think about the correlation between school and music is what a fantastic teaching and binding tool it can be.

Out of all the classes I’ve sat through and all the lessons I’ve listened to (and taught!) the ones that stick with me most forecefullly are the ones that were set to music. Seriously, how could I ever misuse an interjection after hearing this little ditty?  And I can still name all 50 states in alphabetical order in about a minute, thanks to the Fifty Nifty Song.

With school so prevalent in kids lives, it can easily be a place for uncertainty, worry or even fear. What better way to maneuver these emotional minefields than with music?  It’s a non-threatening way to allow kids to express their emotions without asking them to directly reveal too much in front of their classmates.  There’s something safe about using existing art to express yourself and connect with others.

Of course, all of this is no surprise to music therapists.  Music therapists have been helping schools and teachers connect with students for years.  Have you ever taught in a school?  What are the tips that a new or experienced music therapist should hear before they ever walk into a classroom?

Thanks to stevendepolo and dynamosquito for use of their images!

~Laura, Guest Blogger

Telling Stories

Image via Wikipedia

When my clients make me think, it gets me excited. This past week, a conversation started at an assisted living facility on stories told by songs. There are so many songs that tell stories, so the question became which to recommend. Once I was home from the session, I through the topic out to Twitterverse and received responses from Kat Fulton, Rachelle Norman, Carolyn D., and Carol Costantino. Thank you ladies!

This list of songs is from these ladies along with a few of my own. Songs will likely appeal older adults – 65+ in age. Where possible, I’ve linked to a recording on YouTube for easy of use by caregivers and seniors who wish to listen.

All of these have the makings of discussion starters. If you use any of these story songs to facilitate a group, please share the response you have to them. Love this idea but work with young children? No problem, I’ll soon have a list for this group & inter-generational groups very soon.

School Day Memories

Unidentified Rural Schoolhouse

Image by Wisconsin Historical Images via Flickr

In my years of employment in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, I found it helpful to include discussions related to events in the community. With back to school fliers filling the paper, and children once again returning to school, this is a timely discussions to which you can tie many themed activities. And in my experience it is one that often elicited a strong response. Whether you work in a facility or visit family members or friends living in a facility, here are some conversation ideas and a few songs to spark up your visits.

Conversation starters:

  • What were our favorite subjects in school?
  • How many rooms/grades levels did you school have? (Many older adults in rural areas attended one or two room schools and maybe had 20 students in first through seventh grade.)
  • What were your favorite games at recess?
  • How far did you travel/walk to get to school?
  • Did you ever give an apple to your teacher?
  • Did you ever get picked to help clean the chalkboard erasers in your class? Was it a privilege or a punishment?

If people have memory issues try some of these props to help get conversations going: ruler, lined paper, Big Chef notebook, small chalk board with chalk, crayons,

Songs to sing together:

If children are visiting, include: The Alphabet Song, School House Rock songs (people with children currently in their 50’s or younger may remember these from Saturday morning TV.)

What would you add to these lists?

Saying my daughter is not excited about going back to school is an understatement. (No, that isn’t a picture of her.) She is a true teen, a true musician. Mornings are not her thing! Whether you have a teenager, a child in elementary school, a pre-schooler or are an adult preparing to return to a class schedule, there are three things you can do to boost the energy level in the morning.

Restart the bedtime and wake time schedule. Depending on how “off schedule” your summer has been, it takes time to reset the body clock. We had a very laid back schedule at our house, so we have started a couple of weeks out with gradually having earlier bed and wake times.

Try adding a positive affirmation to your day as you turn off the alarm clock. It can be short like “new day, new opportunities” or something long. I find affirmations help me have a positive focus to my day.

Add a little music. (You knew this was coming, right?) With the advent of mp3 players and iPods this can be easy. My daughter often plays music as she puts on her make-up. I may play music as I prepare breakfast.  It doesn’t have to be peppy, just music we like. When she was little, I had relaxing, lullaby CD’s I played and sang with at her bedtime. My favorite CD’s were:

I would also sing little songs to wake her in the morning.

What are your favorite ways to awaken on a school morning?

News

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One of my favorite songs from the musical “The Wiz” is “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News”. There are times our media seems filled with bad news. One of the joys of living in a small community is a paper which carries some good news. The Wednesday, August 10, 2011 Hays Daily News carried a good news article that caught my eye: “Nursing homes recognized for culture change”. While I was unable to pull up the article online, I was able to locate the information on Kansas Department of Aging website.

The following seven facilities are being recognized for  Promoting Excellent Alternatives in Kansas (PEAK):

  • Arkansas City Presbyterian Manor, Arkansas City
  • Medicalodges Gardner, Gardner
  • Schowalter Villa, Hesston
  • Pleasant View Home, Inman
  • Asbury Park, Newton
  • Newton Presbyterian Manor, Newton
  • Brookside Retirement Community, Overbrook

Why is this important? Here are several reasons:

  1. Nursing homes often receive a bad rap. Reports of neglect and abuse in a nursing home receive lots of press. The loving care that people receive gets little press. Not all nursing homes are good. Not all facilities are bad.
  2. Nursing homes can be a positive in the lives of those they serve. Some people enjoy having assistance 24 hours a day, someone preparing meals, cleaning, contacting doctors. Some people like having others around for conversation.
  3. Nursing homes have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. Much has been learned about safe, comfortable care. Regulations have changed. Things are as hone like as possible.

Having worked many years in nursing homes I have a few suggestions:

  1. Start looking at facilities in your area long before you need them. One good way to look is to take part in community events they host. And, volunteering for a special event or on a regular basis can also provide insights.
  2. Look at State survey results. Realize that some citations are major risks while others are not.
  3. Observe how the staff and the residents interact.
  4. Observe how the mood of the facility. Each facility has its own feel, its own atmosphere. We all vary in what defines our best atmosphere.
  5. Find out about meals and food policies. Food is a major point of discussion. We all grew up seasoning our food in different ways, cooking items in various combinations. It is difficult to create a menu that fits every diet and pleases every palate. Facilities do their best. Again, see what is the best fit.
  6. Learn about the activity programming. Every program has its strengths and weaknesses. Again, there is an effort to balance interests and needs. Look for programs that provide a range of programs addressing various needs.

Now, here’s a secret thing to do: listen. No really listen. Listen to the tone of voice people use. Listen for noise levels. Listen to the music you hear playing – is it appropriate to the residents, the staff, or both? Listen.

What do you think are the marks of a good nursing facility? Please share them in the comments.

Pathway Between the Old and New Market

Image via Wikipedia

Rachel See Smith, MA, MT-BC recently posted “How I became interested in music therapy” which made me realize  that while I had shared my story on Musical Gems (My Music Therapy Aha! Moment) I hadn’t shared my story on this site. Here is the expanded version of my career path in music therapy.

Finding my path

My parents often joked I sang before I talked. While that may or may not be true, some of my earliest memories are of singing. At around age 2 I sang two settings of the liturgy at church and created my own songs while swinging. As I grew, I continued to sing.  I also studied piano and flute. One Christmas, my parents gave me a guitar which I taught myself to play.

My dad, a Lutheran pastor, chanted the liturgy and listened to opera whenever he could. My mom lead family singalongs around the piano and in the car.  They took us to concerts and played a variety of music in our home. Growing up in the parsonage afforded may opportunities for creating music at church and taking part in visits with shut-ins. All of this created a desire to work with people and to create music. Fields such as social work and elementary music education didn’t quite fit my desires. One Sunday a feature article in the Wichita Eagle-Beacon highlighted a music therapist working at St. Francis Hospital in Wichita, KS. I suddenly knew I had found my career.

Starting on the path

It took a lot of work to convince my high school counsel such a field existed and was offered at the University of Kansas. Once I was at KU, I was blessed to be surrounded by gifted students like Barry Bernstein, Brian and Lesley Hunter and wonderful professors including Dr. Alicia Clair. It was a great environment for me to learn and work with a variety of clients during my practicums. I interned at Parsons State Hospital and Training Center  in Parsons, KS with Ron Havelka. There I had the opportunity to interact with interns in many other disciplines including art, speech, and occupational therapies.

Where the path has led

Since completing my studies, I have worked with a variety of clientele in a range of settings. Other than when I have been self-employed I have carried job titles other than “music therapist”. Yet, that training has served me well. And, I have gained skills in all these positions and been able to utilize my music therapy skills in them. Most importantly, I found populations for which I have a passionate – older adults and young children. And, I developed skills leading intergenerational groups.

I still accept opportunities to work with those outside these groups. (One never knows when a new passion will develop.) Attending conferences, reading journals and books, looking for sources of information on the web are part of my continued growth as a therapist and as a person. Also, I know I am constantly learning from those I am blessed to have as clients.

What this path means for my clients

It’s a long road to freedom,

A winding steep and high,

But when you walk in love

With the wind on your wing

And cover the earth with the songs you sing

The miles fly by. ~ lyrics by Sister Miriam Therese Winter

My path to music therapy and to this point in life has been many miles and filled with many songs. For all those you have been with me and those who will cross paths in the future , thank you.

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