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Berkshire Maestros 2 year EY project with Children's Centres in Reading

Berkshire Maestros has completed a two year Early Years Music project to enable local children’s centres in the most deprived areas of Reading to offer music sessions for children under 5 with their parents or carers.

The main aims:

  • To improve Early Years practitioners’ skills in delivering music making activities, enabling them to engage effectively with those families who are often harder to reach and may have limited prior experience of high quality music making.
  • To increase opportunities for Early Years children to access age-appropriate music making activities which allow them to develop their musical skills.
  • To strengthen the bond between Early Years children and their parents/carers, supporting increased confidence and improved sense of wellbeing for the children and parents/carers.

We were able to achieve all three of our intended outcome despite some major challenges presented by the global pandemic, and the need to adapt our original plans. The model of coaching EY practitioners to be upskilled over the period of a year works well. It allows time for them to observe, build confidence, and experiment with implementing their new skills. Providing the resources for them to achieve this is a significant part of the success, since many would not have funding for this.

Project Structure

  • The original project, started in January 2020, was designed to offer live music sessions for 0-3 year olds with their parents/carers, in four children’s centres that had been identified as being in the lowest 30% most deprived areas of Berkshire.
  • Sessions focused on songs and activities that strengthen interaction between the children and their parents/carers (lots of eye contact, actions, touch, swinging, bouncing, tickling etc.).
  • Each children’s centre had 20 weeks of sessions led by an Early Years Music specialist and 10 weeks of follow up support.
  • Each centre nominated a member of the children’s centre staff, committed to participating in all sessions, with a view to running sessions on their own after the project ended (or integrating music making into their setting as they see fit). They were provided with a resource pack full of ideas for songs and music activities, and were coached by the EY music specialist.
  • A box of music resources worth £550 was provided for each setting to keep; including a range of musical instruments suitable for under 3’s, instruments for under 1’s, as well as song board books and props like scarves, soft toys and stretchy lycra.
  • To keep the classes personal and engaging there were twelve spaces in each class. Families were charged £5 for each block of five weeks to contribute to both the running costs of the children’s centre and to also encourage regular attendance.

What happened…

The intended format was working very well for the 8 weeks up until the covid-19 pandemic happened and sadly we had to stop all of the classes. During that initial time the nominated members of children’s centre staff gained lots of ideas for incorporating into their own sessions and they were enthusiastic about continuing as soon as possible. The children’s centres remained closed for an extended period of time (March 2020-July 2021) so it was not even possible to arrange any online offers. In the meantime, we recorded lots of songs to our Youtube channel and invited the centres to share it with parents.

Eventually, from November 2020 we were able to start offering classes online, and they were surprisingly successful. The main change we made to the format was that we agreed not to charge any fees for the classes, and we also made the online sessions 30mins rather than 40mins when they were live. The baby music sessions were particularly popular and we found we were able to give parents/carers lots of ideas for interacting musically with their babies at home. I was able to answer questions and continue coaching the children’s centre staff online after each class.

How do we know it worked?

Teacher observations, parent questionnaires and children’s centre staff observations have all helped to build a picture of the success. The feedback from parents was very positive, and anecdotally I can report that the participants came from a wide variety of backgrounds, many of whom would not normally have access to music classes. One parent said “We had a brilliant few weeks. I’ve taken away with me all the songs I can remember. ‘Splish splash splosh’ makes C giggle during bath time and it’s lovely to see. The sessions were our introduction to online classes and got us into a bit of a weekly routine which I really appreciated.”

Parents were asked to compare their child’s participation in singing, playing instruments, and moving to music before and after the 5 week set of music sessions. All the data analysis from the survey indicates a significant increase in each of these skills, as well as an increased understanding of the benefits of music making with young children. For example, 26% of parents reported singing daily at home before the project, and this increased to 69% afterwards. The questionnaire asked parents to what extent they thought singing could strengthen the bond between them and their child (before and after the classes). At the start 30% parents believed strongly that singing helped them to bond with their child; after the classes that went up to 79%. We also have child observations from staff stating when they noticed increased levels of participation from parents and babies who were initially reluctant, as well as noticing increased interactions and eye contact between parent/child.

The initial surveys of EY practitioners had revealed a lack of confidence in delivering music sessions – but all have now reported an increase in their confidence delivering musical activities, and some have gone on to deliver music sessions at their centres. One centre offered exciting outdoor music sessions throughout the Summer holidays. The practitioners reported the following benefits of the training for themselves and their centre:

  • I feel more confident in delivering a music session.
  • I do intend to use the resources.
  • I liked learning how to teach parents to interact with babies through songs and music, understanding how using the same or similar songs benefits babies.
  • I liked learning about music education, inspiring me with ideas and getting constructive feedback.
  • The range of songs and ability to add you own words to tunes for everyday life was useful.
  • I do intend to use the singing sheets in our future sessions.
  • I have more confidence in delivering sessions.
  • This showed us a wide variety of methods to use in our centres.
  • I think all the staff now have a better understanding of the delivery of music sessions and how to make them more engaging and inclusive.

All practitioners reported using the resources (box of instruments, scarves and books) and also using more singing in their existing timetabled groups.

What could be better next time?

  • The long term impact of this project could have been even stronger if it hadn’t been for the high turnover of staff at the children’s centres. To mitigate this in the future I would suggest that a minimum of 2 people from each centre commit to training, and that their line managers are also formally involved in the process as well. If the importance of music in the EY is understood at a management level, then appropriate support is likely to be in place at the centre regardless of staff turnover. (To be fair though, some of this would have happened naturally if we had been able to deliver the project in person rather than online).
  • The coaching style approach to training staff was effective because it built on each staff member’s skills, and allowed their confidence to build steadily. In addition to this it would have been useful to have one session with all of the staff involved together – to share their learning, build connections, and reinforce skills and knowledge gained.
  • I would suggest agreeing an anonymous method for collecting personal data about the participants so that we could monitor the effectiveness of our inclusion strategy. Anecdotally, I can say that we reached families from a broad variety of backgrounds, many of whom would not have otherwise accessed music sessions for their children due to financial and also perceived language barriers.


This was a highly successful project and I would encourage others to adopt a similar approach in Early Years settings that have been identified as being in areas of deprivation. Recent research in to the benefits of music making to the developing brain of a baby are astounding. Music making benefits every aspect of a child’s development, and at a critical time of brain growth. The more we can empower Early Years practitioners to understand and share this knowledge with parents/carers, the bigger the positive impact we can have on the future of our children in the UK.