LSO Discovery: Working with parents

LSO Discovery, the London Symphony Orchestra’s community and music education programme, has a long-standing early years strand and offers a range of opportunities in music for young children and their parents including weekly sessions, workshops and family concerts. This resource was created for the Youth Music Spotlighting module by Dr Susan Young, lecturer at the University of Exeter and Alison Harmer, film maker and editor, with the support of LSO Discovery.

An effective practitioner will make parents welcome so everyone feels at ease and included.

Obviously a session for babies and very young children is also about working with parents.  Working with the baby and parent pair requires a specific model of practice.

The ‘feel’ of a session is subtle, but can be crucial in encouraging parents to feel comfortable and to sustain their attendance.

  • Easy arrival with push-chairs, removing outdoor clothing
  • Flexible start time and easy integration for late-comers
  • Individual welcomes; learning everyone’s name
  • Relaxed atmosphere; a ‘low-key’, warm informality
  • Appropriate but minimal instructions to guide parents’ participation
  • No public comments on individual children’s or parents’ participation [unless someone’s behaviour is negatively impacting on the participation of others]
  • Occasional comments to point out how children typically respond or join in
  • Modelling for parents – both musically and in how they might manage their children’s participation

Vanessa not only expects the parents to take ideas from her session, she also recognises that the parents ‘give’ to the session as well.  Rather than ‘one way traffic’ in which it is assumed that the session needs to provide parents with ideas of music to do at home, she looks for ‘two way traffic’ between home and session music and expects to build on what parents are already doing. 

Different parents will parent in different ways and their style of parenting will be on show in the session.  In first sessions they will want to know how they are expected to participate and to feel they ‘fit in’.  Music sessions tend to fit closest to a white, middle class model of mothering where the mothers give scaffolded assistance to their children and are used to joining in, playfully.  For fathers, for parents of different socio-economic, ethnic and religious backgrounds, this model of parenting may not be as familiar or come to them as easily.  Understanding and recognising these differences, the attentive practitioner will vary their approach.  It’s another example of ‘give and take’. 

It is also about remembering that the mothers may have many reasons for coming to a session, beyond just the music – it may be an important break, a chance to socialise and get out of the house.  Musically the mothers will be able to learn songs and activities that they can take away from the session and do at home with their children.  For some families, participation may be about learning language skills and for the children to socialise in group activities.  Being aware of all these different reasons why taking part in music sessions can be valuable is important for music leaders.

Click on the links at the bottom of the page to see more videos and notes on key aspects of the LSO’s early years programme.

Read the full LSO Discovery report