Creator Spotlight: Jonathan Ringdahl- Sound of Nature

Greetings friends! 

My name is Jonathan Ringdahl. I have been working with kids with autism for almost 10 years. My work brought me to the AEE Heartland Conference where I met Kendra and Bryn. I am one of many with a lot of extra time on my hands to work on projects. There is opportunity to be found in this time. One of the projects recently discussed with Kendra was putting together an activity list. The activities require materials you can find at home to stay safe and can be done without venturing away from home. The activities can be done outside though. Fresh air and sunshine are good for us. With any outdoor activity, be aware of potential hazards such as poisonous plants and stinging/biting insects.  My list is an inclusive list for kids of all abilities. Kendra and Bryn support including everyone. I am happy to help them keep fulfilling their beautiful dream. Discussion questions are great after if they are appropriate for your child’s developmental level and language abilities. I offer variations with ideas below the questions to help your non-verbal child or child with developing language. There will also be variations to help kids with developing motor skills. Let us get to the fun part! Activity Title ~ Rock On! This music-making activity can be a quick activity to throw some variety into your child’s day. Use your imagination to make instruments out of natural items. Stick guitars with sound effects are okay. I will not judge. Your kids may, however. It is your job to embarrass them anyway.  If you find items in a park, please leave them behind to practice leave no trace. This will leave instruments for others to play.


PREP Identify an area to collect materials from. Feel free to bring materials into the area if it is safer or will keep your group focused.

PLAY Steps:

  1. Take the kids to gather natural materials they want to use to make music with. Gather items around the house if gathering natural items is not possible.

  2. Make music with what you found! Bang rocks together. Run a stick along a pinecone. Bang sticks together. Your imagination is the limit!

  3. Change what you are using to make music. If you were using two rocks together, use a rock and stick. 

LEARN Reflect: What was your favorite instrument and/or combination? What was the loudest instrument? What was the quietest? If you could play any instrument, what would it be? Connect: If you enjoy making and/or listening to music, what can you do to make it part of your regular routine? Can you make music videos to bring other people joy? Grow: What other ways can we make music? What would make a good instrument to use next time?

MODIFICATIONS FOR DIFFERENCES Cognitive This is a great activity for children of all levels.  Join with the participants as needed to help them find and play their nature materials.  You can model how to use different instruments for participants.  Hearing There is more to music than just sound.  It produces vibrations and tactile input every time you “play” your instruments.  Visual These participants may need more support in finding their natural items. They may also need some guidance in playing the instruments to create sounds.  ​Sensory Slowly build up the time that participants are touching surfaces that may not feel pleasant to them. If children aren’t comfortable, ask them which instrument to play for them. Orthopedic There are tools like reacher grabber tools that allow individuals with limited mobility to reach items on the ground and all-terrain wheelchairs help with access.   Motor Skills For children who need help with their motor skills that are receptive to touch, hand-over-hand can help them develop the necessary motor skills. Hand-over-hand is putting your hand on the child’s hand and guiding them through the motion sequence. It should only be done if the child smoothly moves along with your guidance. If they resist, that means it is time to stop. All behavior is communication.  Communication If your child is non-verbal, you can read and answer the question based-on what you observed about their preferences. If your child can indicate preferences by pointing, have them point after you ask the question. If they have a communication app, like Proloquo2Go or Coughdrop, have them use that to indicate their preference. If your child has developing language, you can provide the words and try to get them to imitate your words. Slowly articulate the words and try to get them to repeat them.

A bit more about Jonathan: ​Along with being on the Board of Directors at Friends of Wisconsin State Parks, Jonathan is a Master Naturalist at Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program.  He is the owner and a certified kayak instructor at Living the Dream Adventures.  He works with little ones with Autism as a Behavioral Treatment Technician at Reaching Your Potential.  Lastly, check out some of the beautiful nature shots through Jonathan Ringdahl Photography!  We shared one of our favorites in honor of Spring below. 

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