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Learning Differently When There are Different Abilities: Drum It, Paint It, Dance It, and Plant It

Updated: Apr 7

By Karen Kaplan, MS

Schools seem to focus on the read it, write it, tell it, hear it, finish it, and put it away mantra. How about we try to teach a little differently? I say we might do more drum it, paint it, dance it, and plant it.

Every brain is different, so we might learn better if the material is presented another way. Not everyone is a sit ‘n git kind of learner. Not all of us comprehend just by listening to the words spoken or read to us. This is essentially what the IEP is all about.

Remember those teachers who clapped out each syllable? That was a multidimensional approach. See the sound, hear the sound, and feel the sound. Remember the teachers who asked us to go home and make a project from sugar cubes or something we had at home? Well, that activity helped us not just see with our eyes but with our fingers. This task gave us a better concept of shapes, width, and length.

How many of your teachers used art to engage you? How many of your teachers used music to hook us? How many teachers asked us to grow seeds, observe their growth, and measure the plant each week? When I drive by schools, I am happy to see gardens growing outside classrooms.

Using musical instruments in the classroom or at home helps develop rhythm, motor planning, and more. Shake something ten times. Shake that same object high up or way down low. Shake it to the left and now to the right. Pass that shaker to your friend on the right. Sometimes, that shaking and drum beating can release frustrations and create calm. Sitting in a circle and passing instruments to one another can build social interactions. And using different kinds of instruments from around the world teaches different customs.

Working on an art, leaf, or picture mural together builds collaboration.

Teaching kiddos to dance to a wide variety of music genres teaches imitation, modeling, and rhythm and builds interaction. It shows people another way to express emotions. Dancing might also help someone regulate and calm. It exposes students to other cultures and their music. Do not forget that coordination and balance can be worked on, and motor planning can be supported. It gets people out of the sit ‘n git mode and gets them moving. This is important for optimum health.

Think about the whole concept of planting: when you plant something and how long it might take to produce a flower, fruit, or vegetable. People can see the differences that each season unveils. They can learn about summer crops, winter crops, spring flowers, and fall colors as leaves change. They can measure growth, and now you are teaching not only science but math as well.

When you ask them to drum it, paint it, dance it, or plant it, it also develops a curiosity about events, places, and careers that they might engage in later in their lives.

So next time, engage with a drum, a paintbrush, a garden tool, and a musical playlist!

For free resources on managing diagnoses, mobility, and accessibility support, self-advocacy, personal rights, educational rights, occupational therapy, mental health support, schools and camps, transitioning to adulthood, job opportunities, financial planning, supporting the family/caretakers, subscribe to Exceptional Needs Today. Subscribing to our award-winning e-magazine is free, and it enables us to connect with more readers, helping us support the special needs community more effectively. We publish a new issue every quarter - delivered straight to your email.

Karen Kaplan, MS, is a native San Franciscan. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, in Speech Pathology and Audiology. She minored in Special Education and obtained her Speech Therapist and Special Education credentials in California. Karen worked as a speech therapist for both public schools and private schools for 20 years before opening her own residential and education program for students with autism spectrum disorders. She worked in credential programs at Sacramento State University as well as UC Davis and spent 20 additional years directing private schools for those with autism and similar learning challenges. Karan founded a small non-profit, Offerings, which travels globally helping other cultures understand those with developmental challenges. For seven years, she founded and facilitated an autism lecture series and resource fair in Northern California. Karen still facilitates an Autism Awesomeness event yearly, showcasing the strengths and talents of those who live on the spectrum. She is currently consulting, helping families, schools, and centers for children, teens, and adults. She has published articles to help bring ideas and strategies to families and professionals, providing hope. Karen authored Reach Me Teach Me in the early 70s and went on to publish her second book, On the Yellow Brick Road Finding Hope for Autism, in 2017. Her third book, Typing to Heaven and Back, is not about autism but about having important conversations with those we love. Be sure to connect with Karen—she is always ready to listen and think of the possibilities.

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