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Enabling every child to play music                                                         22 February 05


Searching for ways to improve what we do in life is the basic motivation for becoming adaptive. Being adaptive is essentially engaging in problem solving. The adaptive process is normal for all human beings. Humans have been adapting since the beginning of their existence. Just consider the area of food intake and the many different ways humans have tried to make that simpler throughout human history and culture. Simply put: the fork, knife, and spoon we use are adaptive devices that improve the way we eat.

With this in mind, it is helpful to distinguish between generally available adaptive things and contextual adaptive devices. We take for granted those items that are generally available and usually do not think of them as adaptive. The telephone, garden tool, car, bicycle, rain coat, and numerous other things are general adaptive items. They are generally recognized and generally used. I want to focus on the contextual adaptive environment.

Contextual adaptive devices are often atypical for the population as a whole and are looked upon as unusual. As a woodworker, I am constantly facing ways to do my work better and more efficiently. This involves being aware of tools for woodworking that already exist in the market (many of which are unique in their application), and being required to devise tools myself. In woodworking these self-created adaptive tools are called “jigs.” If you came into my shop you would see many items that would make you wonder, “What is that?” You would find such things as a wooden box with grooves on top to hold the metal rods which we need to drill holes for our chime trees. There is also a metal cutting band saw I have adapted for cutting those rods to proper length. Another box is used for gluing together our guiros. I would be very frustrated in my shop without my jigs. Yet, you might wonder how you could ever find them useful in the context where you work with children everyday. Probably you could not, since my jigs are contextually based to meet my woodworking needs, whereas you need “jigs” that are appropriate for your efforts with children.

Each environment has its own unique set of problems that serve as the impetus for creating adaptively. The need for adaptive devices when working with children is based on two contrasting developmental conditions: (1) typical development, and (2) atypical development. Both conditions often exist in the elementary school classroom or other environment where children are present. In the first instance, the child develops as we anticipate. In the second case, the child is physically, mentally, or emotionally impaired and cannot develop as we expect. The need for adaptive devices exists for both kinds of child growth. Look around your context and observe those things to which an outsider might ask, “What is that?”

While observing the situation in which you work, consider a circumstance with which you need help. Ask yourself, “What need is going unmet everyday for which I could be assisted greatly if I could find a device for meeting it?” With that question the adaptive process begins, and that question is relevant for both typical and atypical development in a child. With that question begins the search for an adaptive “jig” for working effectively with children.

Once the unmet need is recognized, I have found the process of “jig” creation proceeds something like this, regardless if I am creating a “jig” for woodworking or an adaptive device for use in elementary music education, music therapy, occupational therapy, special education, or elder care:

1. Acknowledge the existence of a problem
2. Search for solutions that might already exist
      a. Look through catalogues
      b. Search online
      c. Inquire with colleagues
      d. Ask your spouse or friends
      e. Seek advise from family members of the child
3. When no solution already exists, define the problem in detail
      a. Make a list of questions it raises
      b. Talk with the child or children who will benefit from it
      c. Consult with someone who has already created adaptive devices
      d. Bring that consultant into your environment if possible
4. Re-write the problem as an objective to meet
5. Brainstorm a list of ways to meet the problem
      a. Write down those ideas that come in the middle of the night
      b. Keep a scratch pad handy for noting ideas that come during the day
      c. Draw images of the end device that come to your mind
6. Determine dimensions on you drawn image
7. List materials you know about
      a. Usual things are: lumber, clothe, hook and loop fasteners, tape, etc.
      b. If you have a hobby consider the media you use
8. Search for new materials about which you might be unaware
      a. Catalogues used by trades such as woodworking and metal work
      b. Plumbing, electrical, and hardware departments in local stores
      c. Search words which you have in your objective online
9. Design your “jig” on paper (does not need to be a work of art)
10. Construct your “jig” yourself or contact someone who could do it for you

I have found this process applies to creating a “jig” for my woodshop and for the adaptive “jigs” I have designed and built for music education and therapy, as well as other environments. I have also found that the steps interact with each other, so they do not have to be followed in rigid succession. Consider this list as a reference that you can consult when you meet some kind of frustration in your “jig” design and creation, or you wonder, “Where do I go from here?”

An example related to one of my catalogue products will illustrate how I use this process.
When I worked with a music therapist in 1997 to create our Multi Instrument Holder, I was immediately confronted with how to devise a way to clamp something securely to a wheel chair tray. This was a serious problem, especially knowing that wheel chair trays come with various sized edges. I thought of clamps I had in my shop and wondered if I could use them somehow. I looked through catalogues to see what kind of clamps for wheel chairs might already exist. Whatever avenue I searched I came to a dead end. Then set in a feeling of “wanting to give up; to drop the project”. Such feelings of frustration are normal to the “jig” creating process. After all, there is no road map to help avoid the pitfalls. I discovered when a pitfall comes I just have to “dig my way out.” I sketched some ideas. I turned some ideas into actual things in my shop, only to find they did not work very well. I sent some options to the therapist with whom I was consulting for feedback. This kind of feedback from the end user was essential. I decided the objective was to design a clamp that included space above and below the tray edge it was to circumscribe. This objective caused the emergence of an upside down U-shaped piece in my mind. Then I realized I could use a cross dowel (normally used for knockdown cabinets), a piece of threaded rod (often used as a long bolt of several feet), a hinge (usually for mounting cabinet doors), a knob (typically used to make woodworking jigs), to press a strip of wood securely against the bottom of the tray. It worked! That clamping “jig” has been used on many wheel chairs (and table tops). In adaptive jig creation it is important to be able to see the possibility of using something other than for which it is normally used. This actually is a childhood trait that often gets diminished in adulthood. The next time a child uses something in an unusual fashion, ask yourself, “I wonder what she or he saw that made her or him think she or he could use it for that?”

In any event, our Multi Instrument Holder exists with clamps in two forms. The original clamping device fit over most wheel chair and table edges, but it became apparent that some edges are so large they required a modification of the original clamping mechanism. So now we have two Multi Instrument Holders. The original one (Item #WCTM007) goes over most wheel chair tray and table top edges, while the one with the larger clamp (Item#WCTMDC007) fits over edges totaling 6”-7” in height. In either case, these holders can secure a mini cabasa, a triangle and striker, a small hand drum or tambourine and mallet, a cluster chime which we also make, a clave or rhythm stick, or a drum with a handle attached. We have four other clamps to which individual attachments can be fastened for holding these same instruments. These individual clamps deal with the size of the trays themselves, as well as the dimensions of the edges. When you look at these items in our catalogue or website, you may indeed ask, “What is that?” But, if you give it some thought you will see how it fits the context in which you work.

This is just one experience of “going through” the process to create an adaptive jig. It is a process in which I have engaged for every item in our catalogue or on our website. It is a unique and satisfying experience for me to engage as partners with persons in music therapy, music education, occupational therapy, special education, and elder care, to work through this process. This collaborative effort permits me to bring my woodworking perspective to a caring environment where professionals are striving to better the lives of children and other persons with whom they work everyday. The different perspectives we bring to the same problem are keys to a successful adaptive solution.


N. Raymond Day
A Day's Work, 2320 NE 8th Road, Ocala, FL 34470

(ed: Ray can enable music participation by creative use of his woodworking skills.)
Check his site: for more information on this valuable service.


N. Raymond Day