Disclaimer: This is transcribed using AI. Expect (funny) errors.
Mindy Peterson: [00:00:00] I’m Mindy Peterson, and this is Enhance Life with Music, a holistic look at the power of music in our everyday lives. My guest today is Stephanie Leavell, an award winning singer, songwriter, instrumentalist and music therapist with a passion for helping kids succeed. Stephanie is the creator of Music for Kiddos, an online education company that provides high quality music resources and continuing music education for music therapists, music educators and parents. Her second album for kids and families just released. I’m looking forward to chatting about it more in a bit. Congratulations and welcome to Enhance Life with Music, Stephanie!
Stephanie Leavell: [00:00:44] Thank you so much, Mindy. I’m very, very happy to be here.
Mindy Peterson: [00:00:47] It’s great to have you. Well, Stephanie, starting out, can you tell us what inspired your passion for working with kids 0 to 10 and using your music to help that age group succeed? Was there a specific moment or experience or story that sparked that calling in you, or was it more of a gradual series of events that kind of guided your path?
Stephanie Leavell: [00:01:11] It was a pretty gradual series of events for me in music therapy training. I was able to work with a lot of different music therapists, which I think was the, you know, the very best part of my training. So I was able to work in a wide range of ages and observe a lot of music therapists. And my last stop in my training was at Massachusetts General Hospital with a music therapist that worked primarily in the children’s hospital and in the cancer center. And when I met her, it was like a light bulb went off. You know, there as far as this is definitely what I want to do. And it really changed my path, actually, just meeting this music therapist because I eventually became her intern. So I ended up working with her for about a year because as part of music therapy training, you have to have 1200 hours of an internship before you can sit for your board exam. And so you spend a lot of time with either a group of music therapists or one music therapist that that trains you. And this music therapist. Her name is Lorrie Kubicek. She’s just she’s just a combination of a genius and just such an intuitive person and working with kids. And she uses things like humor and the incredible elements of music and improvisation and songwriting to connect with kids in a really profound way. So I’ve just found myself continuing to work with her and we really clicked and she really mentored me in a big way. And I eventually ended up working in children’s hospitals. But I would say that’s kind of the path that that brought me to that when when I saw when I saw music therapy happen right in front of my eyes, it was one eye opening experience. And then when I got to this particular setting and a children’s hospital, it was like I was all in.
Mindy Peterson: [00:03:06] That’s powerful to hear the impact that that that teacher had on you and obviously had on a lot of kids lives. Yeah, well, one of the superpowers of your music is how it equips kids to handle their emotions, to identify and express emotions and develop healthy strategies for processing and coping with emotions. And when I read that sentence, I think, wow, how many of us adults would like to be better skilled in that and have the adults around us be better skilled in that? So if we can help our kids learn to do that from a young age, we’re doing so much right there to create a better future. And tomorrow for our kids and for the rest of the world, the people who will be around them. So tell us, how do you use music to help kids identify and express emotions and develop healthy strategies for processing and coping with those those big feelings that kids have?
Stephanie Leavell: [00:04:04] Yeah. Well, one of my first jobs outside of my training, I moved back to my home state. I’m from Boise, Idaho, and one of my first jobs was in a sensory integration center. And I was working for an occupational therapist and a clinic of occupational therapists and speech therapists. And so much of her work and her passion was helping kids understand their own bodies from a sensory perspective. So, you know, what are their sensory needs and what are their sensory preferences? Do they tend to kind of avoid sensory stimuli? Do they tend to kind of seek out sensory stimuli and based on kind of what their body needs and their processing, you know, if they can kind of understand what their body needs, then they can be an advocate for themselves. And so it was really interesting to then be a music therapist in this environment where so much of our work was helping kids. Understand their bodies, understand their emotions, understand sometimes like big and complicated behaviors and things like that that were often misunderstood by parents and teachers as misbehaving. But it was really a, you know, their sensory processing. And so then it was using music to help them understand their body needs and and communicate their needs.
Stephanie Leavell: [00:05:19] And so I find that that had a big impact on me as well. And I saw it help kids so much. It’s not only like, you know, helping them identify their emotions, but it’s just validating that these big emotions are normal and they’re okay and we can understand them about ourselves. And then music itself has the ability to help kids regulate their emotions. So there’s something in music therapy that’s called the ISO principle. Iso means same in Latin, and all it means is that initially the music matches the current emotion or the arousal state. So if a kid is really worked up, for example, if they’re angry, the last thing that you would want to do is sing them a lullaby because it’s going to be very frustrating and that does not match what they are feeling like. An example would be maybe if you’re in a deep sleep and your alarm clock is heavy metal, you know, it’s just not it’s not going to work. It’s not going to work. You’re going to you’re going to wake up really, really upset. And instead, a more ideal way to wake up would be something instrumental and quiet and gradually increasing in volume, gradually increasing lyrics and like, you know, the various elements of music.
Stephanie Leavell: [00:06:33] So that’s it’s gradually kind of waking up your brain. So we use the ISO principle in music therapy, live music therapy all the time where we are matching people kind of where they are, and then we’re gradually shifting the music to where they would like to go. So I do that in my songwriting. So you’ll hear I do this a lot in movement songs where, for example, and you can do it in recorded music too, where you’re helping kids kind of move and express these emotions, identify these emotions. And then by the end of the song we’re doing something like stretching or we’re yawning or we’re doing something that’s really different from the initial stomping or jumping or something like that. And I’m just gradually bringing it down. And the goal at the end of that is that, you know, at 3 minutes or 4 minutes or something, you actually get a kid that’s more regulated in a classroom setting or something like that where they can they can yawn. And sometimes we end with sit down, you know, and that’s a music teacher or music therapist trick in there. But you can do it in recorded music as well.
Mindy Peterson: [00:07:41] That’s really interesting. I think a lot of times as parents, our initial reaction when kids have these big emotions, there’s all this drama. It’s to reassure them that everything’s okay. You know, it’s going to be fine, you’re okay. And often when we say that, it just makes things worse, because what the kid wants to hear is that I hear you and sort of an acknowledgement of what they’re feeling instead of how our reassurance can come across is sort of denying that they’re really having these feelings and they just don’t maybe feel believed or understood. So yeah, I’m guessing that some of your lyrics probably are used to, along with the music, to help kids identify feelings and understand the process that’s going on.
Stephanie Leavell: [00:08:30] Absolutely. Yeah. So something that’s super fascinating to me is how each separate element of music is communicative. So the lyrics are one way to communicate the rhythm is another way to communicate the melody is another way, the harmony, you know, the chord structure and, and, and something that’s fascinating with kids too, is that that kids process all of this differently. So, for example, if I’m writing a song and I’m hoping to communicate something in the music, I’m going to go ahead and stack all of those elements and I’m going to make sure each element is communicating. So if I’m just communicating something as simple as like, stop, I’m going to make sure my lyric says stop. I’m going to make sure my rhythm actually stops. I’m going to make sure that I have some kind of cadence that like musical like and stop, you know, I’m going to make sure there’s some kind of cadence in my melody. I’m going to make sure that all of this matches. Because when you’re looking at a group of kids or even one child, some kids are going to be able to process the lyrics. Some kids are going to be able to process the rhythm first. You know, what are they going to be able to process quickly? And first, every child, every person has their thing that they tend to their brain tends to like listen to first. And so if I make sure that I’m writing my music in a way that it can communicate so clearly that all the kids can understand what the direction is, then I’m increasing confidence for the group. I’m not leaving anybody behind. And my music can communicate in such a way that that all of the kids can participate.
Mindy Peterson: [00:10:06] With your songs. I know you’ve mentioned that your songs often give kids something physical to do in response to the big emotions and feelings that they’re experiencing. Is that a big part of some of the songs and can you give us some examples? I think I think you mentioned stomping. Was that one? Yes.
Stephanie Leavell: [00:10:24] Yeah. So one of my songs, it kind of it just the lyrics are it’s one of those days we all have them. I’m feeling off and strange and music therapists will use this song and they’ll kind of substitute in lyrics, but it has. It’s recorded. I’m feeling off in Strange, off and Strange. It’s just one of those days we can all feel that way sometimes. And so let’s dance. You know, all I want to do is dance. And so we give them, we validate the emotion, you know, identify it. I’m feeling off. I’m feeling strange, feeling nervous. We can all feel that way sometimes. And all I want to do when I feel that way is, you know, and let’s do a movement. Let’s dance. Or I’m feeling angry. We can all feel that way. Sometimes it’s okay to feel that way. So I’m going to stomp. And when you practice this with kids when they’re feeling good, then when they are having a hard time, you can say, you know, those kind of those validating things. Say say, Oh, I see that you’re having a really hard time today. Would you like to try our song where we stomp when we’re feeling when we’re feeling a little off and strange, you know, and that can give them an opportunity to go, Oh, I actually have a tool for a time when I feel like this.
Mindy Peterson: [00:11:38] Yeah, right. Are there certain times in a typical day to day scenario that are especially beneficial kind of daily life moments that music or educators in general parents should consider incorporating music, whether it’s transition time or getting ready for bed. Are there certain times that are just especially especially lend themselves to creating music in this way?
Stephanie Leavell: [00:12:05] Yeah, I think you said the the key one is transitions. Any kind of transition. Kids get a lot of verbal instructions, you know, at them a lot go get in the car. And you know, I do this too, as a mom. Go get in the car. Go tie your shoes. Time to go, Time to go, Time to go, go. Let’s go. We’re running late, you know, and and, you know, some of my favorite preschool behavior, for example, like three, four behavior is just this sitting on the ground and kind of looking at you like, oh, this is not my problem. Right. And and so and it’s just it’s just so right. Because as adults like that’s it’s a pretty honest reaction to that kind of thing if somebody like telling you things to do. But anyway, um, yeah, so I just, I just sing things because just even. The difference between speaking and singing is enough of a difference that kids may buy into it a little bit more. Sure. So I always like a really good one is and if you’re, if you’re not a singer that’s okay Like you can use recorded music, but a good one is if you have a child and you can put on, you know, maybe you have a song that they really like and you say, okay, by the end of this song, let’s like, or right when this song ends, we’re going to walk to the car. Let’s get your shoes on during the song. Or you could, you could. If you have an older child that’s a little more independent, say by the time this song ends, let’s see if we can, you know, be in the car, for example. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And for my daughter, for example, rather than saying, Why don’t you go clean your room for five minutes, say, I’ll just say, why don’t you pick one song and we’ll just do one song of cleaning today and not and not worry about the whole room, you know?
Mindy Peterson: [00:13:53] Yeah, sure. Those are great ideas. It turns it into a little bit more of a playful type of a vibe. Instead of commanding. Yes.
Stephanie Leavell: [00:14:03] And hopefully, you know, again, it’s all about the buy in, right? So being able to choose the song and kids will learn. They’ll choose the two minute song and it’s fine. You know, it’s fine. Those are perfectly like normal strategies for them to choose. And so I just kind of like to celebrate that independence whenever possible.
Mindy Peterson: [00:14:23] I’m sure your new album has lots of songs that can be pulled in and incorporated in these ways. Tell us about your brand new album, Made to Bloom, that just released on March 3rd.
Stephanie Leavell: [00:14:34] Oh, thank you. I’m really excited about it. It’s the first time I’ve done you know, the first children’s album I did was just kind of a collection of home recordings that I was sending out to music therapists and music educators. And this is the first serious album that I’ve done with a full band and in a studio. And so it has just a big variety of songs on there. It has some quieter songs. One of my favorite songs on the. Album is called If You Need to Cry and it’s just a song. If you need to cry, just cry. Feel those feelings. Don’t let them pass by, you know? And. And it has again. Those are really hard to have the music really match the lyrics that matches the rhythm, that matches the, you know, the harmonies and all of that in there so that it can feel feel like I’m communicating that even if the lyrics don’t exist there. And another song on there that I think kids will like a lot. One is called Grizzly Bear Grump, and these are songs that music therapists have used for years already that I just am getting, you know, officially recorded because I have an online education company where music therapists and music educators already use these songs.
Stephanie Leavell: [00:15:45] And so I’ve kind of taken the top songs out of there and recorded them. But yeah, Grizzly Bear Grump is a kids just love it, and it’s this sensory integration stuff that I’m talking about that you can practice with kids when they’re feeling good and they can pretend being grumpy. And then, you know, there are strategies like, I’m a grizzly bear grump. I feel really mad. And when I feel bad, I make sure to move my body. So I stomp my feet, I squeeze my arms, which is a sensory integration, deep pressure kind of squeeze. And then I stretch up and I say, GR And you’ll feel it as the song goes on that it gets a little more chill through, you know, as the song goes on. So it starts a little more intense with that ISO principle and it ends a little more chill. Yeah, yeah.
Mindy Peterson: [00:16:35] And I think you have a song in your new album that’s a little bit more geared toward the parents to slow down. Yeah. Yes about that.
Stephanie Leavell: [00:16:43] Yeah it’s it’s a song that I wrote about my daughter and just how fast life goes and how fast kids grow up. It’s another one of probably my favorite songs on the album and inspired by the song Slow Down by Nichole Nordeman. I just was really touched by that song, and so I wrote a version kind of for myself and it has Harp in there. It has a lot of harmonies in there. It has mandolin and it’s for parents. And a lot of moms in particular are touched by that song.
Mindy Peterson: [00:17:17] One of the other songs, I Need a Break and All, all these songs as you’re talking about them, I’m thinking they sound equally applicable for adults as they do for kids. But I need a break. Tell us about that one, because that sounds like another one. Like, oh, sometimes I you know, that resonates with me sometimes. Yeah. That song.
Stephanie Leavell: [00:17:37] Yeah. Okay. That’s a great. One to kind of illustrate this intensity that can be there to match emotions. Usually by the, the time especially kids get to the point of I need a break, there’s quite a bit of intensity there. So it really starts out with a lot of instruments. It’s not like it’s really loud with electric guitars or anything. It’s just like what your brain would sound like if it was if, you know, it’s got a lot of mandolins and a lot of activity in there. Yeah. And it gradually kind of shifts over there too. But it’s, it’s helping kids find that language, you know, so that they can say, I need a break, I need a break. I need a minute to calm down. And it’s great. It’s wonderful to see like this song in action because I get videos of of, you know, people send me videos of their kids being able to say, I need a break. And what an amazing thing for a kid, you know, especially a kid with disabilities or something to be able to communicate when they are three, 4 or 5 or older.
Mindy Peterson: [00:18:43] Yeah. And just be able to identify and recognize that, yes, I’ve reached that point where I need a break. Yeah. Instead of crossing over the line. And I love that you close out the album with a song called Grateful Heart because I just feel like gratefulness is so underrated. I mean, if we could all be more grateful, we’d be so much more happy and peaceful and content with life and just appreciating the moments, the moment to moment, joys of life, the little things. So I love that you close with something that’s focused on gratefulness. Thank you. Tell us where people can find me to bloom.
Stephanie Leavell: [00:19:22] Yeah, it’s on all of the streaming services. So Spotify, Apple Music, and we also have some things kind of coming up, some video. We have lots of lyric videos and things like that on our YouTube channel. I do quite a bit on Instagram and also Facebook and TikTok. I’m always saying like a song is really only as good as its implementation. So like, how are you going to use it? You know? And, and I always encourage people, if they can take these songs and these concepts and actually play them themselves, you know, if you’re a music therapist or a music educator or you’re a musical parent. Music therapy research. It really shows that live music is better in many cases than recorded music. So we have things like the chords and the lyrics available for a lot of our songs so that people can feel free to take them and use them in the way that works best for them. And like I mentioned, a lot of these movement songs, when you record them, you have to decide what they say. But a lot of them are actually written and designed as fill in the blank songs so that kids can put in their emotions and then kids can choose. You know, I’m feeling this way, so I’m going to move my body this way. And it might be a movement that we can’t even call anything, right, because it’s so unique. So I just encourage people to, you know, whatever you’re going to use this song for. The recording is certainly available, but feel free to to also just take the song and just sing it. You don’t need a guitar, you know, you can just sing the song as it is or use it in your own way as well.
Mindy Peterson: [00:20:55] Love that. One more thing about the album. Tell us about the title. How or why did you decide to title it Made to Bloom?
Stephanie Leavell: [00:21:02] The image that I have in my mind is just that kids are these beautiful, unique, very individual flowers. You know, some of them are, some of them are tall and lanky and some of them are little and all different colors and all different sizes and all different shapes. And so I just have this this imagery of a meadow of very, very unique, beautiful flowers, none better than the other. Right? And so so that is that imagery of that and that I really think that each child is is just made to in the right environment with the right love and care and is is made to bloom.
Mindy Peterson: [00:21:41] Love that. Tell us before we close out about the resources that you offer. I know you mentioned Instagram, but you also are a fellow podcaster, I believe, and have a blog, a song of the month. Tell us about the resources that you offer for parents and educators, music therapists.
Stephanie Leavell: [00:21:58] Yeah. So a lot of our resources are kind of directed for music therapists and music educators. Our blog, it’s just called The Music for Kiddos Podcast or sorry, our podcast, the Music for Kiddos podcast, our blog at music for kiddos.com, but more and more parents are utilizing them as well. And so we’re being more mindful of, you know, we have a lot of Spotify playlists and things like that all posted on our blog of kind of our suggested songs and things that we, we love. And, you know, this is what we do. We’re just engrained in children’s music. And I’m fortunate to have some amazing collaborations with people like Laurie Berkner.
Mindy Peterson: [00:22:38] Guest on my podcast, and I was kind of thinking of her as you been talking because my kids are now 20 and 17. Yeah. And back when they were young, you know, three, six and and younger, her music was really helpful for me. And I was thinking, oh, this is like another Laurie Berkner.
Stephanie Leavell: [00:22:57] Oh, that’s so nice. Yeah, I love Laurie. She’s a friend of mine. And something that’s incredible, something that’s incredible about Laurie’s music. And I’ve talked to her about it. It’s like she her music does that. It does the communications in it. And it’s so incredible because I learned it in my music therapy training. So I asked her at one point, I was like, literally, music therapy research says, when you want a child to or when you want a person to sway, you switch to six, eight, you know, from four four. You go from one, two, three, 4 to 1, two, three, four, five, six. And you can feel the sway in there, right? And Laurie Berkner has been doing that for a really long time. And so I, I love her music and kids love her music. And you can see why it’s lasted decades and decades. And it’s because it’s just brilliantly written. And so, yeah, I really love it too. It’s not annoying, though.
Stephanie Leavell: [00:23:58] Right? Yeah, it’s not baby shark, right? Nothing. Nothing against baby shark at all. But you know what I mean. It’s got a different vibe to it. Yeah, right.
Mindy Peterson: [00:24:08] Love it. Well, we’ll have all the links in the show notes of how people can connect with you and your resources. Do we was I kind of interrupted you there with my Laurie Berkner stuff. Was there any other resources that I kind of cut you off on that you wanted to mention, or did we get them all in there?
Stephanie Leavell: [00:24:27] Well, you know, something that people tend to really like, whether they’re parents or music educators or music therapists is we have something called the Song of the Month Club, and this is how my business started, is I was a preschool music teacher and I was searching for songs and I honestly just wasn’t really finding the songs that I really needed. And so I started writing songs and I just created this email list called The Song of the Month Club. And I invited my music therapist friends to be involved as kind of a thing for me to discipline me, to record a song once a month, write a song, Once a month and send it out. And that is what started my business. So I still have it. So I send an original recorded children’s song out. It is a simple recording. Not like the album, but a simple recording that’s usually guitar and voice, and I send it out with some ideas. For example, last in January we had a really popular song of the month and it was an ice skating song where you do. I don’t know if you’ve seen where you ice skate on paper plates. And so it was an art project. You have kids decorate the paper plates and then they can if you put just the flimsy white paper plates on carpet, kids can skate around on them. So it’s a song that has them skate around and then do some kind of some skating and waiting and things like that. And so, yeah, you can just hop on that. That’s, that’s pretty fun. Just at musicforkids.com/newsletter.
Mindy Peterson: [00:25:54] Awesome. Yeah that sounds amazing. Love it. I’ll have that link in the show notes as well for sure. Well, Stephanie, I guess all my guests to close out our conversation with a musical, ending a coda by sharing a song or a story about a moment that music enhanced your life. Do you have a song or a story that you can share with us in closing today?
Stephanie Leavell: [00:26:16] Yeah, this is kind of a full circle from our conversation. But when I worked in the Sensory Integration Center, when I was learning about all this musical communication and utilizing those elements of music to their fullest extent, there was there’s just kind of a simple story that was really meaningful to me that I think about probably 2 or 3 times a week. And I was doing a kind of a public class and there were lots of kids on the autism spectrum that were kind of coming in and out of this class. It was kind of like an open house for this clinic. Where I was getting, you know, 3 or 4 kids at a time that would kind of come in and then come out over the course of a couple of hours. And at the end of the the evening, I was cleaning up my instruments. And a child came in who was probably about 12 or so, I would guess. Possibly on the autism spectrum. And I didn’t know this child at all. So it was me and a few adults in there. And this child came in and they started running around the room in circles and really very, very, very distressed, you know, breathing deeply, breathing quickly. And and it kind of as I watched for a moment, it kind of became clear that it’s possible they were not able to stop. Their sensory system was so dysregulated that they weren’t really able to to calm down and utilize their own strategies to calm down. And so I kind of watched for a minute and I looked to see if they had, you know, maybe an adult that belonged to them and there wasn’t anybody with them. And so I just grabbed my guitar and very, very quietly, I have my guitar here. I’ll play for you. This is all I played. I just did this little tiny, quiet rumble and did.
Stephanie Leavell: [00:28:09] Go, go, go, go, go. And stop. And the child kept running and. Okay. Go, go. Go, go, go. Well, I’m getting a little louder. Stop. And I saw the child look. Their eyes looked over at me and they’re still running, running, running, sprinting around the room. And but I noticed that I got their attention that time and they’re still going. And so then the third time. Go, go, go, go, go. go. Stop.
Stephanie Leavell: [00:28:51] And they went from a full sprint, full sprint breathing heavily to an immediate as if they were slamming on their own brakes. Immediate search stop. And they they stopped. They took a really deep breath, big sigh. Didn’t even look at me at all and walked directly out of the room. And the other adults in the room were flabbergasted. And and and one of them in the room burst into tears. And they were just like. They were just like. You know, they were because they were concerned about this child who was really in a lot of distress and kind of the way that I tried, it was so gentle and I started so quiet so that I wasn’t adding to their distress at all. And it was just this really, really simple way to kind of give their give them permission to stop communicating with both the lyrics and the music. And, and it was so, so simple and yet had such a profound impact in that moment that it had a big impact on me, too. And it just taught me a lot about the gentle power of music.
Transcribed by Sonix.ai