Regardless of your own musical background and your school’s musical direction, it can be challenging to program learning experiences which are fully inclusive and aimed at achieving high quality outcomes for all students.

Children who have additional learning needs can obtain a great deal of benefit from music programs, but their achievements should be focused clearly on outcomes and identifiable, evidence based actions to support their learning. 

Music is not simply something that we do with children with additional needs for ‘feel good’ reasons or because we assume that something good will happen as a result.

We need to set goals, plan our delivery and approach, access useful and relevant resources and utilise outside expertise when required. 

With this in mind, let’s explore some strategies and tools that can help to increase the inclusiveness of your own musical program:
Access some expertise – music therapists are highly qualified professionals, skilled at working with children and adults in a range of settings to develop skills and achieve outcomes across various areas of the curriculum, including musically.

If you ever have the opportunity to work alongside a music therapist, grab it with both hands and enjoy watching how they integrate music with communication, sensory experiences, choice-making and teamwork. You can learn more about music therapy by visiting the Australian Music Therapy Association website. 

Use communication tools

The expectations of a music session are quite different to a regular classroom activity, and this can be confusing for some children. Communication tools such as picture communication symbols can support understanding of the sequence of activities in a session and what is required of them at each stage of the session.

Organise the symbols onto a small board and show them to the child as you discuss what will happen first, next and last during the session.

Remove each activity card when it has been completed, so the child remembers what has been done already and can predict what will happen next. You can find out more about communication tools using search terms Spectronics, COMPIC or Pics for PECS. 

Specialist equipment and apps – some children’s participation can be enhanced by using specialist equipment or apps that have been designed to support physical or communication access. A music therapist or occupational therapist is generally the ‘go to’ person for advice on specialist equipment, but it is also worth having a quick look through storerooms and on devices to see what already exists in your setting. 

Some useful items can include:

  • The banana keyboard, which can facilitate access for a child with a physical disability
  • Switches which can be activated using a touch or gesture to make music on a PC or tablet
  • Digital equipment such as Beamz which uses a laser beam trigger for sound output and is useful for children with physical access needs or who are on the autism spectrum 
  • Apps for tablet devices such as Magic Piano, Bloom, Airvox, Korg, Skoog and Skwitch promote access and inclusion by encouraging learners to make and play with musical sounds through gesture, touch or movement. 

Like many new tools and approaches in the primary classroom, there is likely to be a degree of trial and error which is to be expected when you are planning a fully inclusive music program.

Be patient and allow enough time to troubleshoot problems, collaborate with others and design the learning experiences that will best meet the needs of your own students.