Peter loves to “tinker” with playing the piano and drawing. He needs a lot of assistance and prompting, but has made some real progress in both. For piano, despite his fine motor dyspraxia, he has gotten to the point where he can imitate my finger movements doing scales. We are also working on lighter vs heavier touches (soft vs loud) and legato (more connected notes) vs staccato (brief, sharp key contact with more noncontact between notes). For drawing, he is moving from connecting dot to dot and tracing to imitation/copying. I sometimes start a play session with a list of choices for activities such as:
Not infrequently, he chooses piano or drawing.
One day earlier this month, Peter chose drawing. First we drew three different animals out of the letter “D”- a happy octopus, sad frog, and mad tiger. We used a terrific book by Ed Emberley that gives step by step sequential directions on how to make wonderful animals out of simple shapes. (Emberley, E., 1970, “Drawing book of Animals,” New York: Little, Brown and Co.) Then we played duets on the piano with Peter playing an alternating C and G with his left hand, and me playing Twinkle Twinkle with my right. We played it in C minor, loud and deliberately and had Peter guess which animal matched it- then the mad tiger danced to it and pounced on Peter on the last chord. We played in in C minor again, but softly and slowly- Peter matched that with the sad frog who jumped around to his theme song. Finally, we played it in C major, lightly and relatively fast. Peter matched the merry tune to his happy octopus who skipped away at the arpeggio at the end.
We tried this activity on another occasion with different animals- a sad Eeyore, happy butterfly, and angry dragon modeled after stuffed animals we have. The stuffed animals are great for introducing an element of drama, as they more readily “come alive” for children than pictures.
As your child gets good at this game, add more musical elements to his emotional repertoire. Peter and I drew a peaceful, quiet caterpillar saying “Sh!” and a loud lion with a spiky mane and sharp temper saying “Rrr!” Then we played scales soft and legato (smooth) or loud and staccato (sharp) and had Peter match the animal and dance to the music. Peter did indeed learn staccato vs legato, and we had a couple new “theme” songs to add to his emotional animals guessing game.
If your child does better with more structure, try an attribute game in which you present two or more animals (3-D stuffed or 2-D drawing of) in front of him, and tell him that one is hiding a favorite treat. He gets the treat if he guesses which animal has it. Play the “theme” song (happy, mad, or sad) you previously matched with the animal hiding the treat, and let your child name the animal. To make the game more challenging, you can morph it into an attribute game by including a couple of animals with the same emotional theme song, so that the child has to ask you additional questions to get the right answer. For example, present a tiger, dragon, and butterfly and play the “mad” song. To distinguish between the tiger and dragon, prompt your child to ask more questions like what color is the animal, or if it can fly.
This game is great for playdates as the children alternate between being the one to choose the animal to hide the treat with, help you play the theme song, and answer the questions, and the one to guess the animal and get the treat. Furthermore, if you have the children draw the animals, you can have them select different animals to draw out of the same starting shape (such as the letter “D” as described above), and learn the fun of perspective taking as they compare their results.