Cambridgeshire Sing, Chat & Rhyme took place in three Child and Family Centres, preceded on two occasions by a Family Music experience as an introduction. We worked in Wisbech Oasis Centre, North Cambridge Child and Family Centre and Huntingdon Child and Family Centre.
Aim: Create a project as a foundation for our Music and Language strategy from pre-birth to nursery/school transition and foundation stage)
With both of these early years’ initiatives we have been working with Annette Brooker, Head of Cambridgeshire Early Years’ Service, and the Community Literacy Project which became Talking Together. Its objective is to promote and develop early communication, language and literacy skills through pre-school music projects, encouraging parents to engage in communication with their children through music, songs and rhymes. All activities are explained as we go and resources are provided for follow-up at home.
Research shows that children from disadvantaged homes have come into contact with thirty million fewer words than those from non-disadvantaged families (Hart and Risley 1995, and championed by the Oxford Language Report 2018).
Specifically, the programme of activity is developing over the four years through the research and critical reflection taking place. This is creating a programme for babies through to nursery/ school transition and foundation stage. Training is in place for settings’ staff to up-skill them in order that the work continue after the initial project, and to upskill Cambridgeshire Music tutors. In the first year a six week intervention took place in at least settings in each of the following areas: Wisbech, Huntingdon and North Cambridge.
Recognising that children show an innate enjoyment and response to rhythm, we needed to ensure that this initial confidence is maintained by empowering the parents to communicate effectively with their babies through music and music based games. The health aspects of music and singing in family life were also considered and discussed as parents were encouraged to continue all the activities at home.
Each set of six week sessions began with a gentle introduction; a welcome song, a circle song such as rat-a-tat-tat and some action songs. We went on a ‘journey’ each week to the seaside, the zoo, the forest, music land, a farm etc. and travelled via train, bus and boat. This involved moving around and singing Puffer Train, Wheels on the Bus, Row, Row, row your boat, changing the words each week as we went along so suit the destination. The story happened in the ‘new place’ and was either part of a picture book, purely made up by parents or told through song, using a lot of instruments. The tutors played to the babies, and they listened, quite mesmerised especially by the slow music. There was usually a storm involving a rain game, instruments and thunder. The journey was done backwards and once home the session ended with circle dancing games like the Bear went over the Mountain or Looby Loo. There was a mixture of traditional nursery rhymes and new songs. As the parents gained confidence they suggested songs and a French lady whose child previously spoke no English brought a French song and encouraged her little boy in the English songs too. All parents were given a special song book created for the project by Cambridgeshire Music and Wisbech Child and Family Centre.
Emily was a trainee on the first project. She went on to take a much greater part in the sessions and returned to lead the third project.
“The Sing, Chat and Rhyme sessions have been a huge learning curve for me, but in just six weeks I have developed the skills to lead a small-group session. I look forward to applying these skills in the future projects, and also applying my research knowledge of stretching a child’s vocabulary by incorporating challenging words into all my teaching delivery.”
This work has generated such interest from our staff that 5 members of the team are attended the early years training in Stevenage 2 April 2019.
The tutors delivering the project developed their own skills through reading and discussion, and the evaluation time with Centre staff. The two tutors delivering the second project wrote some of their own material and really encouraged the parents to develop their imagination when making music and communicating with the children. Working is being carried out to create our pre-birth to foundation stage music and language strategy.
Cambridgeshire Music has forged links with many inclusion and early years’ practitioners since working on this project. Our plans for next year are growing out of this year’s successes.
The increase in musical skills and knowledge is seen in the parents as well as the babies.
The parents have increased their confidence and will now happily sing to their babies and play musical games. They have built a network of friendship and look forward to the interaction. The babies begin to recognise each other and there is interaction with the instruments. Parents are helped to ‘let go’ and allow their babies to react to the music without being constantly tickled or rubbed. Many found this difficult – especially the non-English parents.
Each week there was reflection following the session, either written feedback or verbal in order to gauge how individuals were responding to the sessions. Evaluation sheets for parents and staff were given out. Video clips of conversations and parts of sessions were collected. Particular note was taken of increased confidence in parents singing and talking and naturally playing with their children – looking for responses and turn taking
Each week we filled in a chart tracking each child and parent on the following:
Response to sound, whether they were excited by songs, if they could do active listening, and anticipate action. We tracked parent confidence and level of engagement, and social interaction.
This enabled tutors to chart progression and vary content of sessions if necessary.
F, aged six months at the start, sat very quietly at the family music day and then at the beginning of the project accompanied by either her mum, or both mum and dad, who were devoted to her. She did not need to respond as her parents seemed aware of her every need.
By the second session (third week), she was definitely engaging from the start, and happily played shaker unassisted. She had her own spoon and saucepan stirring action for her solo in ‘Midnight in the kitchen’. She absolutely loved seeing and hearing the instruments and sat completely still to listen to the violin.
The following week, F once again followed the whole of the violin piece, and anything else that was performed. During songs she actually shook her own arms in delight, whereas before she has been very still.
It was interesting to see how much more she reacted when both parents were present – it was as though she felt even more confident to find herself when her full support network was present.
F’s parents grew in confidence as they would barely sing at the beginning, and as with some others, if they felt a bit too challenged they would pick that moment to either change or feed their baby to create space to watch. By the end these parents would suggest songs, happily contribute words for songs and take part in all the dance and song games.