Originally published in VSA Vermont’s monthly newsletter.
VSA Vermont, in partnership with the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, periodically offers Sensory-Friendly Drumming workshops to the public, free of charge. (The next one is Sunday, March 10). We recently spoke with two parents who shared the value of the sensory drumming workshop for their families, and how VSA Vermont, the workshop, and the teacher all helped create a welcoming, inclusive environment.
Tammy Carroll is a mom to 3 kids: Isabella (Izzy), 6, Addison, 8, and Savannah, 16, and lives in Essex. All three of her children have disabilities. Her family has attended several sensory-friendly drumming workshops through VSA Vermont in the past, and she brought two of her children to the January event.
The reasons why Tammy keeps coming back are many, but the fact that every aspect of the program is accessible is one of the biggest draws. There are places in the space where children can go if they feel overwhelmed by the noise, lights, or other people in the room, while still being able to engage with the activity. Tammy says, “There was a soft curtain they could go behind for some quiet, or have a snack to take a break. Participants could come and go as they chose, and it was acceptable for them to take a pass if they needed to.”
Courtney Boutin is a mom to Isabella (Bella), age 9, and lives in Essex Junction. Like Tammy and her family, Courtney and Bella have attended sensory-friendly drumming workshops in the past. Courtney echoed Tammy’s sentiments about the best thing about this kind of sensory-friendly experience for their children. “Everyone is accepted and valued, and the kids are all able to participate regardless of ability. She is able to explore the drums and other materials freely, but receives more guided instruction, too, so she is gaining knowledge.”
Bella loves the connection to the Flynn Theater. She loves going to see shows at the theater, and felt like the connection made it all the more special. Courtney said that there was a magical moment when Bella led the group with a rhythm for a little while. “You could see how proud she was at the fact that she was ‘in charge’ and everyone was keeping time with her. She got to be the leader!”
One of the benefits of this program is the expertise and understanding of the teacher, Rebecca Mack. Rebecca has been a teaching artist with VSA Vermont for 4 years, and brings her love of music and skill in inclusive instruction to the studios. She gives a lot of quiet, reflective time in addition to instruction, and she leads in the class in such a way that she “meets the kids (and parents and guardians) where they are. The children are encouraged to participate, but not put on the spot in a way that makes anyone feel uncomfortable,” says Courtney.
Rebecca leads the class in a way that is flexible and relaxed. There’s no concern if the kids are making too much noise, and touching all of the drums is not forbidden, it’s welcomed! For her part, Rebecca says, “I was really excited to see students and families making community connections in the space.” These connections are vital to the families who participate.
Tammy shared a particularly special moment for she and Addison: “Before the first sensory-friendly drumming workshop we attended, [Addison] had been very sick, and she didn’t want to leave the house. We were invited to wheel her up under the drum that was completely accessible. When she was able to play it, she smiled for the first time in days. That experience made such a big difference!”
Tammy spoke openly and honestly about the challenge and frustration that can come with being a parent of a child or children with disabilities. Simply, that all families should be able to get out and about together in the community without having to feel on display all the time.
“There are not many places to take our families that are safe. People are not [always] tolerant of kids with differences,” she says. She’s grateful “to have a place to go, like the sensory-friendly drumming workshop, and just enjoy yourselves and know that not everyone around you is [distracted by] you.”
“The best thing is the accessibility; broadly, that we can do it, and we are welcome to be there.”