Musical Wagon Rides

As a reading specialist, I spend most of my day working with full classes or small groups of students, but occasionally, I spend some 1:1 time with kids. This past week, it was one of these moments that really got me thinking.

I was in a classroom for the day, and there is a child in the room with autism. The Educational Assistant who supports this child the most was working with another child at the time, and this child was becoming visibly upset. I tried some sensory play with her, but she walked over to the classroom door and was eager to go out. There’s a wagon nearby, and a walk in the wagon is calming for her. In many ways, her move to this door and to this wagon was her non-verbal way of demonstrating Self-Reg. As someone who’s passionate about Self-Reg, I had to respond to her request. I indicated to the teacher that I was going to take her for a walk in the wagon, and this is what I did.

Our school is built in a large rectangle, and while I always seem to take the longest route to get to wherever I’m going, you really can’t get lost. I thought that we would circle a time or two in the wagon. As an educator who’s taught kindergarten for years and often watched my previous teaching partner, Paula, interact with young students as well as children with autism, I couldn’t resist the urge to sing as we walked. In the classroom, I had recently observed this child on the iPad as she listened to The Wheels On The Bus and Six Little Ducks. The EA said that she loves music, and it seems to calm her. I’m far from a great vocalist, but the wonderful thing about 3-6 year olds is that they never complain about your lack of holding a tune. So in my quietest voice, I began singing.

  • I started with The Wheels on the Bus.
  • I moved to Six Little Ducks.
  • I added in The Alphabet Song, Old MacDonald Has A Farm, and a whole bunch of nursery rhymes.

I circled back to songs that I sang previously, and I tried not to get too embarrassed when I ran into our new principal in the hallway along with some other educators. The singing was not for them. It was for her, and it was what she needed at the time. Coupled with the wagon ride, you could see her visibly calming down, but you could also hear her starting to vocalize sounds and words. I’m sure that I heard her say, “mom.” I definitely heard all kind of babbling, and it caused me to really start to think about language development and different ways to support different kids.

While as reading specialists, we spend the majority of our day focused on Tier 1 intervention and building capacity in educators, sometimes we get these other special moments. They align so well with our Board’s Annual Plan, which targets those students who are “currently and historically underserved.” Students with various special needs are some of these students. Although I might not always have an opportunity to take this child on a wagon ride, I will be connecting with her in the classroom, and exploring ways that we can use music to support both her expressive and receptive language skills. This will be a group effort, but there could be some interesting possibilities here. Occasionally we need these 1:1 moments to form connections, learn more about various students, and explore different support options that we might not have considered otherwise. What are some of your small moment stories? How might music also be a way to support students beyond this child? The only concert that I perform might be a whispered one in the hallway, but it’s one that will stick in my mind for many years to come.


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