Sightlines Initiative have been working on the subject of tuning in to children's musicality, through various Youth Music-funded projects, since 2002 when we began with a one-off project in a Newcastle nursery school.
In 2007-8 we developed and ran a new project, involving two settings, one in Durham and one in Sunderland. This was followed (2009-11) by further work with three foundation stage settings in Sunderland and Durham. The overall aim of all has been the same, but with each increment we have been seeking to build on our experience and knowledge. For simplicity here we are referring to the whole overall focus as ‘The Drama of Sound’. (We termed the most recent phase ‘Sound Sense’ but we discover that there is a community music organisation of the same name in southeast England.) The projects have generated various seminars, conferences and publications prior to this, notably ‘The Sounds of Leaping’ (2009) which systematically presents an in-depth account of the development of a particular project experience.
Introduction to ‘The Sounds of Leaping’ 2009
“We observed that a group of children were interested in jumping from ‘rocket’ towers outside. Together with the children we constructed a project exploring how they could compose music expressing their movement ideas. The children took the lead in exploring and composing their own music, and we acted on new ideas from them throughout the project, for example when they wanted to work with new movements and instruments. We enabled ttof the children to become leaders, and work with younger children to explore these ideas. We worked with the children to create a film of their movements, to which the group composed their own musical soundtrack. The children made crucial editorial decisions to create the film, supported by the staff and music leader. At the end of the project they presented their work to other children in school and to parents.”
We worked with two complementary approaches in Drama of Sound: firstly, by enabling children to respond creatively to music through movement and other media, and secondly by enabling children to create their own music in response to their ideas and fascinations. We built on what we had learned about the delicate nature of creating a ‘response-able’ environment for music1, and the more recent projects we featured more the exploration and creation of music.
We are particularly interested in enabling children to express and develop their own ideas using music as a ‘language of expression’. We worked with the children by observing their interests and fascinations, and talking to them about how we could help them to develop these ideas in a musical way. Throughout the projects the children’s ideas and educators’ reflections shaped what took place, and the processes of regular analysis shaped educational practice development as well as the content of the projects.
Children’s ideas and enthusiasms are crucial to the direction of the work, according to their interests and fascinations. They work with documentation and material of their work (audio, video and still photography) in exploring their interests, and in presenting their work to the broader school/nursery communities.
In the 2009-11 work, we worked with children aged three to five, and their educators in three settings. Trimdon Grange Infant and Nursery School (Co. Durham) was the continuation setting (having been involved in our preceding Youth Music-funded project2); Rosemary Lane Nursery School (Co. Durham) and Houghton Community Nursery School (Sunderland) were new to this project work, but equally enthusiastic and committed.
We selected the settings according to the overall criteria that the settings were keen to engage in and develop reflective practice, and that the particular educators involved had a need and desire to develop their skills in early years music education. The children had had no previous in-depth opportunities to develop their musical awareness/skills.
The general pedagogical approach which we bring to the work can be characterised by the ReFocus Principles (ReFocus’ Compasses and Tools) and we have written elsewhere about the development of this approach in ‘Adventuring in Early Childhood Education’ (2009). ReFocus is a UK professional network for early childhood education, facilitated by Sightlines Initiative and comprises educators, artists and musicians engaged in developing creative reflective practice in early education. It is particularly inspired by the work of the preschools in Reggio Emilia.
Sightlines Initiative project mentors stayed in close contact with the educators, music leaders and trainees throughout, to work with the teams on issues and possibilities as they arose. They made regular visits to each setting to observe the project activity, help guide refelctive processes and give advice, questions, other possibilities and points of view.