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Music Therapy Students Learn to Engage With Young Children Through Online Sessions

Every year Seton Hill University’s Child Development Center hosts music therapy interns to help educate the children by running classes. “Typically we have two interns each semester that come once a week as part of their coursework,” said Maria Stone, Director of the Child Development Center (CDC). “This semester we actually have four music therapy majors doing virtual sessions with us. Two on Tuesday afternoons (Patricia Mahfood and Sarah Nedz) and two on Friday mornings (Kayla McCann and Haley Coscarelli).” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the music therapy curriculum, Sarah says. “Due to COVID, most of our music therapy practicum sites were not allowing students. Only two of our sites were left, including the Child Development Center. As we’re required to do a practicum, all upperclassmen were assigned to one of these two sites, both virtually.” 

"Doing music online provides some challenges and being able to adapt to those challenges is definitely a skill I am happy I have developed."

Patricia is in her second semester working as an intern for the Child Development Center. She has shared her experiences while working online: “My responsibilities are to write music therapy session plans that I facilitate with my co-facilitator Sarah… The challenges that we have been facing are definitely trying to handle classroom management in a virtual classroom because we aren't with the students, but the students are together at the CDC. It is definitely hard to gauge whether the students can understand the directions we have given without being there as well.” 

Sarah shares similar issues, “The greatest challenge for me is struggling with not being able to form a connection with the children like I have in every other practicum setting. They aren’t allowed to move from their spot because of social distancing, so I can barely hear them when they try to say something.”

Even though there are many struggles of teaching children virtually, there are also great triumphs. “This experience has taught me how to be much more animated and engaging,” Sarah said. “To keep the session going, there’s no way to keep the kid’s attention virtually without being very energetic and animated, something that’s not really me. This is something I’ll be able to take with me when I go on to work in the field with other people who have trouble with focus and attention, whether the session is virtual or not.”

The children continue to enjoy their music sessions. “Although virtual learning can be challenging at times, especially for the music therapists, the children are engaged. They look forward to singing and dancing and having this special activity that they had pre-pandemic, it just looks different,” Maria says. “One of the greatest benefits of having the Child Development Center on campus is providing the children and future educators enriching experiences with different learning styles - and now we can add mediums to that. Even though our situations have changed and this is a learning experience for everyone involved, because the pandemic is not permanent each group will leave with a new valuable skill set.”

Kayla McCann, an intern for the Child Development Center and a music therapy major at Seton Hill, agrees. “The children love music! I have noticed that any experience where we get them up and moving works the best. We did a dinosaur-themed session with them and we had them pretend to be dinosaurs and it was so cute. We also made sensory bags for them and dropped them off before one of the sessions and they loved them.”

“Doing music online provides some challenges and being able to adapt to those challenges is definitely a skill I am happy I have developed,” Kayla continued. “Especially because I can foresee telehealth being a big part of our future in this profession.”