Oldham Council Music Service made a successful bid for Youth Music funding to fund a 1-year "Musical Beginnings Extra" project. We worked with young children 0-4 years old and their parent/carer. There were two specific groups: children who were Looked After or adopted and children with Additional Needs. This blog outlines the project and, in particular, looks at the planning model we used for Musical Beginnings Extra sessions.
Musical Beginnings Extra
Looked after and adopted children 0-4 years old and their parent/carer
Children 0-4 years old who have additional needs and their parent/carer
I’m writing this blog post at the end of a successful Youth Music funded project. Oldham Music Service has a proud tradition of music-making within Early Years but we felt that we wanted to share this with two specific groups of children and their families who would really benefit from the power of music.
The “Musical Beginnings Extra” project runs on Tuesday mornings at the Music Centre in Oldham. There are two sessions for children 0-4 years old to attend with their parent/carer:
10am: Children who are Looked After or adopted
11am: Children who have additional needs
We have a very successful “Musical Beginnings” (MB) planning model which we use for the majority of our Early Years work in the community and in schools. It forms the basis of our weekly Friday MB sessions which are open to any families with children 0-4 years old and are divided into three age-groups: 0-18 months, 18 months-3 years, 3-4 years. The “Tune-in to Talking” programme (using music to develop speech, language and communication skills) also uses the MB planning model. It was a natural move for us to use the MB planning model for Musical Beginnings Extra.
At the core of the planning model is the familiarity of a predictable routine and repetition of songs and rhymes across a number of sessions. The repetition was varied due to use of different props (scarves, lycra, scrunchy, balls, pom-poms etc.) The sessions are centred on a theme which usually lasts for 3-4 weeks.
We use the same hello song every week. The children become familiar with the song and many now jump up on cue to say hello.
This section always contains a choosing song where the children each choose a different action for the song.
We all know how important it is for young children to exercise their fingers and hands – it’s great preparation for being able to carry out practical tasks such as zips, holding a pencil, picking up small items etc.
Action Songs with props
We have a wide variety of props including peekaboo scarves, lycra, giant scrunchy, cheerleader pom-poms, balls, baby shoes etc. The musical focus is usually on pulse and rhythm but the main aim is to engage and enthuse the children and their parent/carer. We develop gross motor skills and pre-writing skills too!
Many traditional counting songs use descending numbers (10 Green Bottles, 5 little ducks, 5 little speckled frogs etc.) However, children have to learn to count up before they can count down. We have spent time this year developing our own range of counting songs which focus on counting upwards from 0 to 5, and sometimes 0 to 10. We have found that it was even better when we had physical objects to count. In its simplest form, this was an A3-size pin-board with pictures of the animals/minibeasts to count. The children really enjoyed taking it in turns to add a picture to the board. Toy cars, sea-shells, a wooden bus with people to add in, toy trains and autumn leaves were all successful physical props and gave the children the opportunity to extend their sensory experiences and their speech and language skills.
Gross Motor Skills
This is where we “get on the move”. The first song is led by the session-leader and encourages different ways of moving around (stamping, jumping, swaying etc.). In the second song, the children take it in turns to choose a method of moving around the room. Children who are not yet able to walk enjoy experiencing the different sensations when their parent/carer carries them around whilst moving in different ways. Some of the children enjoy sitting on the floor in the middle of the room and experiencing the vibrations of the floor when we thud around the room.
We ensure that we circle one way around and then the other so that the children develop their balance and spatial awareness. We always finish with an “in and out” verse (Hokey Cokey style!) and all the children love to meet their friends in the middle of the circle.
Storytime and Listening
After all the physical activity, everyone (especially the grown-ups!) is ready for something more restful. The session leader reads a story which links with the theme of the session. Good quality texts are used, often with rhyming words. Lift-the-flap are always popular too.
The music we choose to listen to (approximately 1 minute excerpt) links to the theme of the session and the children are encouraged to “find the heartbeat” if it has an obvious pulse and to respond physically to the music. Music which has obvious contrasts (e.g. pitch, dynamics, structure, tempo) is usually used. Everyone’s favourite is when the session leader uses the bubble machine whilst we are listening to the music!
Exploring and creating sounds
We have a good range of hand-held percussion instruments that is suitable for small hands. We sing 3 songs in this section. Often, one of the songs is repeated from earlier in the session but now using the instruments to accompany. Some of the songs are linked to the theme of the session (farm animals, under the sea, weather, at the beach etc.). We explore different ways of producing a sound (tapping, ringing, shaking, scraping, banging etc.) and the children have come to recognise these different descriptions of sound and some can now choose appropriate instruments to replicate the sounds. In the additional needs group, we have had a particular focus on start-stop songs and have a repertoire of a few songs which consolidate this skill.
The Gathering Drum
This was the most exciting purchase using the Youth Music grant. The Gathering Drum is large enough for a group of 8 children to sit around. Each child uses either a large, soft beater or their hands to make the sounds. We focus on the start-stop songs and on loud/quiet. The drum is so large that it really has the “wow factor” for the children. It is strong enough to support a child who decides they would like to explore the sensations in the centre of the drum-skin!
Closing song and goodbyes
We sing one more song and this usually encourages a cuddle and/or a tickle with the parent/carer. The goodbye song is based on the hello song and is exactly the same each week.
Of course, the success of a session is about much more than just the planning model. We have a team of experienced Early Years music practitioners who know how to engage and interact with young children and their families, we use a range of exciting resources and we have a great venue for hosting our music sessions.
We have had the pleasure of seeing the children reach amazing milestones and have been able to be part of a supportive network for the parents and carers. For these two particular groups of families, the opportunity to be able to meet other families in similar situations has been invaluable and this has been one of the most successful outcomes of the project. Similarly, the children who are fostered or adopted have had a wonderful opportunity to bond with the parent/carer in a fun and engaging session. We have provided song sheets on a regular basis and all the families have reported that they have used these at home. One little boy even made his mummy join in his music lesson whilst he pretended to be “Angela at music”!
Children have clapped for the first time after weeks of singing the same song at Musical Beginnings Extra. A little boy has made huge progress in making and maintaining eye-contact and suddenly responded to the “play and stop” song after 6 months of us repeating the same song each week. It was a magical moment and all the adults at the session shared happy tears. The predictability of the routine enables the children to anticipate the next activity. This is great for building confidence.
The Community Paediatric nurse and a Speech & Language therapist have been to observe specific children in the additional needs group. They were impressed with the quality of the MB Extra sessions. They were also very willing to offer general advice and reassurance to the families who asked for it at the end of the session.
It’s impossible to summarise in writing the impact that Musical Beginnings Extra has had upon the children and their families. We have seen children make huge strides in their development and relationships. This isn’t solely due to Musical Beginnings but it has played an important part in it. The adults have all valued the opportunity to network with a group of adults in similar situations. The additional needs group have been able to sign-post each other to other agencies, groups and practitioners who can support their child. For me, as the session leader, it’s been an amazing year and a great privilege to work with these children. I have developed my own knowledge and expertise in working with the two groups of children and this is something I will take forward into my work next year.