Vacation travel & sensory processing challenges~

You may be traveling to visit family or for a vacation away from it all!  Planning ahead for your child with sensory processing issues can help the child feel safe and confident as well as give your family an opportunity to make fond memories on a great vacation together. is an excellent resource for children with learning and attention issues. A timely article is 10 Tips to Help Kids with Sensory Processing Issues Avoid Travel Meltdowns. These are good, common sense ideas for any child but particularly useful when you want to help your child.

1. Pack a backpack with the familiar things that you know help him calm down.  If you have it near the child, it is easier for him to reach the things himself.  Some believe that the heaviness of the backpack is good for him also.

2. Pack the shampoo, soap, and even towels she is used to using at home.

3. Practice the trip.  For an older child with sensory processing issues, this might mean merely looking at the map and discussing the trip. For younger children, this might include listening to the sounds of an airplane engine, watching a video of an airplane both inside and taking off.  The TSA experience also may be a source of distress.  Talking him through it and practicing what will happen can be important.

4.  On a car trip, stop for frequent breaks.  Some children may need a rest, others may need to get out and kick a soccer ball.

5.  Plan for extra time.  If you are frazzled, your child will sense it.

6.  In an airport, look for a quiet corner to wait for your flight.  Too much activity and noise may overwhelm your child.

7.  Plan for your airplane boarding options. Some children may do well to board early, others later.  Perhaps the seating assignment you get will help–bulkhead or aisle seats.

8. Give your child the opportunity to try on any new clothes he may have to wear on the trip.  For example, if you are going to a warmer climate, make sure he knows about the different clothing he will be wearing.  You may allow him to select his own clothes to take if that helps.

9. Bring along familiar foods.  Or shop for your own when you arrive.  Even if you are a house guest, you can purchase foods you know your child will want.

10. Follow the same bedtime routine as at home.  If your child is cranky at night, stop travel early.  If she is cranky in the morning, don’t get on the road too early.

**11.  Take his or her violin along!

“While we try to teach our children all about life, they teach us what life is all about.” Angela Schwindt (homeschooling mom)

Can music help treat children with ADHD?

Research at the UC-San Diego look at a non-pharmacological  method for treating those with ADHD.

The type of child who is described as being overly active and not listening to others has been around for a very long time.  The condition was first described as far back as 1902.  Nowadays, the professionals call this type of behavior ADHD.  Opinions abound as to why there appears to be an increase in ADHD.  But for the children, and adults, who have it, what matters most is finding something to help.

Brain Research

The increase in brain research in recent years is a boon to all kinds of questions including ADHD:

  • How does learning take place?
  • How can we improve it?
  •  What affects the ability to focus?
  •  And how can we improve that?

Furthermore, the development of powerful computer technology allows researchers to track what goes on in the brain in real time.

Developing a Sense of Time & Rhythm Is Key

Researchers in San Diego believe that learning to play musical instruments can help people focus attention and improve ability to interact with the world around.

They believe our sense of time and rhythm is the foundation for every human interaction. Therefore, they wondered whether learning to play a musical instrument, increasing skill with time and rhythm, would help youngsters focus attention.

Research at UC – San Diego

Alexander Khalil began the research after several years of noticing that children who lacked the ability to “keep time” in a group also struggled to pay attention during other activities. Then he noticed, as their musical ability improved, so did their attention.

Khalil lead a project with children where they play ensemble music with a type of percussion instrument. The music is Gamelan, traditional ensemble music of Indonesia.  The children learn to play together,  keeping the beat.

Khalil’s team planned the experiment to see if children could then apply the focus they gained to other activities.  His team wanted to know if learning to synchronize musically in a group setting could improve ability to focus attention.

Synchronizing isn’t doing something exactly at the same time.  Khalil says it “actually means processing time together – perceiving time together in such a way that we have this common understanding of how time is passing.”

The team has found that the ability to focus has a direct correlation on results of cognitive tests.  It makes sense.  If you are focused on the test questions, you will most likely do better.

Research Question

Khalil wonders: Is it possible that music practice could become a non-pharmacological intervention for problems such as ADHD? His team hasn’t tested this hypothesis yet, but he feels it is an exciting possibility.

Why Wait?

I believe that we shouldn’t wait for the research results to come out years down the road, but to give the ADHD child the opportunity for music lessons.  What if it would help?  What if learning to play in a group helps focus attention and change the brain? What if learning to focus during lessons transfers to other tasks?

The beauty of the Suzuki Violin Method is that in addition to individual lessons, students play in groups.  In our studio, children have a group class each week where they  have opportunity to play together. In addition, our studio has public performances almost monthly where the students play together.  Doesn’t this give them an opportunity “to perceive time together“?

Yet, the intrinsic benefit of knowing how to play the violin is worth it even if focus never entered the conversation.

Featured Image: video

“Children who have musical training do better at school.” Paula Tallal

The best way to get your child ready for kindergarten

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article, “Getting Your Child Ready for Kindergarten,” in the Summer 2015  issue of Virginia, The UVA Magazine, which validates everything I know about the value of Suzuki violin lessons for preschool children, even those as young as 2 1/2.

In the article, Amanda Williford, Ph.D., describes the skills that have been found to be the most important for success in kindergarten.  Dr. Williford says that parents often focus on skills such as:

  • learning the alphabet
  • writing their name
  • being able to count to 20.

But it turns out that those aren’t the most important skills your child needs to start kindergarten.” (my emphasis)

The skills children need most for success in kindergarten are:

  • to be able to relate to others
  • to be independent
  • to persist in challenging tasks
  • to inhibit impulsive behavior

Skills learned in Suzuki Violin Lessons

As I read this article, I immediately thought, Boom!  Those are the same skills a preschool child learns from taking Suzuki violin lessons.

  1. They learn how to relate to others through the dynamic of the Suzuki Triangle which includes the teacher, the parent, and the child AND through the relationships in Suzuki group classes, play-ins, and recitals.
  2. Suzuki preschoolers learn how to be independent through many Suzuki activities:  a). coming to lessons prepared to learn, b). performing in front of the Suzuki students & parents,  and c). performing at informal play-ins and more formal recitals. Yes, even the little ones have an opportunity in a supportive environment to show others what they have learned.
  3. Suzuki violin preschoolers certainly learn persistence in learning to play probably the most challenging musical instrument for a beginner, the violin.
  4. Finally, these youngest students learn to inhibit impulsive behavior at individual lessons and group activities.  Focus is one of the key skills I develop with the preschoolers.

Video Examples

Below is a video of a 5 year-old in a lesson. See the focus develop in the very young child.

Watch his eyes when he is working on his left hand. When will you see such focused attention from a very young child—not mesmerized by a video game?


Watch the video below of a 5 year-old girl.

Look for her focus as we count to 7 before we bow to begin the lesson.

Watch the intensity of her eyes while she learns to play with her left hand.

Suzuki Steps to Playing

Each step in the Suzuki violin lesson is planned strategically to give the child the skills to focus. Intuitively, Shinichi Suzuki knew the importance of focus and self-discipline for a child.

In several posts I wrote about the benefit of Suzuki violin lessons for children with ADHD and Executive Function challenges; always, focus is key.  Read the posts herehere, and here.

But wait, there’s more!

As if all of this proven data about skills for success in kindergarten isn’t enough, Williford adds:

“It is actually these foundational social-emotional and self-control skills that predict children’s success in future grades and in lifelong outcomes, including higher educational attainment and better health outcomes.” (my emphasis)

Some parents might think that Suzuki lessons aren’t exciting enough for their preschool child.  However, this article validates the Suzuki method.  The key to success in kindergarten and in higher education is in developing skills in persistence, focus, and independence.

Williford was the study’s lead investigator at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education, CASTL.

Photo credit: Kevin Jarrett, CC BY 2.0

“The fate of a child is in the hands of his parents.” Shinichi Suzuki

Suzuki Violin: May Help Child with ADHD

What a treat it is to read about Sharlene Habermeyer’s son.  Mom filled his life with music and saw to it that he took music lessons.

In an article in ADDitude, Sharlene Habermeyer explains that when her child was born the experts told her that her new baby probably would not graduate from high school and certainly not from college.

Mom didn’t take no for an answer.

This is a story of a boy who had several learning issues including ADHD, auditory discrimination, visual-motor, visual perception, and sensory motor challenges due to problems during birth.  Early in her research on what to do to help her baby, Habermeyer discovered that all learning disabilities start with auditory processing.

Children with auditory processing issues

Children with auditory processing problems have normal hearing but have difficulty making sense and meaning from sounds especially when there is background noise. What I find fascinating is that in school, teachers see a child who looks like every other child—alert, smart, bright eyed—but when they explain something to the child, he doesn’t understand in the way the teacher expects. Some teachers may become annoyed, thinking the child is purposefully not trying to understand. Perhaps the teacher thinks the child wants to draw attention to himself.

Auditory processing issues are tricky to diagnose because the psychologist who does the academic testing doesn’t necessarily test for auditory processing.  That is usually left up to an audiologist.

What does auditory processing disorder look like?

With auditory processing disorder, there is a glitch that scrambles how the brain processes sounds. People with problems in this area may find it difficult to block out background noise. Also, they may process thoughts and ideas slowly. They may have difficulty understanding metaphors, similes, even puns and jokes.

Furthermore, students with auditory processing issues may have difficulty paying attention in class. They may look like they are daydreaming or disinterested.

What this mother did.

Habermeyer discovered that music might be the key to unlocking her son’s ability to learn. She reports that she found out that music strengthens areas of the brain that are weak such as the auditory, visual-spatial, and motor areas. These areas are tied to vital systems for learning: speech, language, reading, math, focus, and concentration.

She reports that “when learning-disabled children and children with ADHD learn a musical instrument, attention, concentration, impulse control, social functioning, self-esteem, self-expression, motivation, and memory improve.”  Some studies show that children who are disturbed by background noise find music lessons particularly helpful.

A Suzuki Mom in disguise

This mom was really a Suzuki mom in disguise. She played classical music for her son since birth, and by 18 months he was in a group music program. She started him with private lessons and suggests parents start private lessons by age 5 and certainly before age 7. She also suggests a very Suzuki idea –that the parent should take lessons also.  Because children with ADHD need to move around, she suggests ADHD friendly instruments such as strings which allow the child to stand and move while playing.

Today the son who was told he might not even graduate from high school is a college graduate and works in the film industry.

Great testimony for music lessons for one boy and a determined mom.