Monthly Archives: January 2015

Are we ready? Yes we are!

Excited children ready to learn. Eyes wide, smiles on faces, obviously felt anticipation is filling the room. These children are eager for music-making today.

BB freeplay 6From the start I can see how much more involved the teachers and pupils are this term. Confidence is running high, songs have been sung in-between sessions. I am enjoying watching the eye contact between children and teachers during songs; a shared smile and enjoyment in making music together abundant today. I’m noticing the confidence and ease in singing and beating: heads are held up and voices are ringing out, ears are listening, ready to learn. Teachers are brimming with enthusiasm and children are responding to the attention and happiness they receive from workshop leaders and teachers alike.

Sessions have developed over the Soundplay project, to end with this term’s theme of ‘People Who Help Us’. We’re building on previous sessions, including more difficult phonic work, use of different languages, singing in two parts, using traffic signs, dressing up role play, visual props, phonics bags and being more creative during musical freeplay with letter-writing and craft activities to complement stories and music-making.

But what did I see and hear today that made the day so special?

Guitar bandA boy quietly sets out a music stand and with beater in hand starts conducting the freeplay session; his eyes closing, arms waving and face smiling. Three boys formed a guitar band: one boy using a makeshift bow and holding his guitar like a cello, they nod at each other when to start and stop, strum and stamp their feet to the pulse and howl in their own special way. Two children playing panpipes, keeping eye contact and watching each other for when to start and stop (and falling about laughing at the results) whilst in the background two girls play piano, one playing notes from high to low, one from low to high.

Pan PipesChildren are clearly finding their voices today. Confident, happy singing from a boy whose voice suddenly burst out over the others in an explosion of uncontrolled musical delight. Sounding out phonics with precision and volume, words and syllables sung in time with the pulse. Trying out new languages together, singing confidently and understanding the meaning of the words sung. Solo singing from children who have never before sung solo during sessions. Children writing letters and sounding out their phonics musically whilst they write. Hearing snippets of songs sung by children during freeplay that they had heard for the very first time only minutes before. Children singing a round in two parts, excitement on their faces and sounding in their voices, noticing the shared thrill when harmonies ring out and rhythms cross, and watching their shared satisfaction of a job well done. Wonderful tapping and beating skills today, children instinctively knowing when to beat pulse, crotchets, quavers, stop and start. Hearing voices drifting away still singing songs from our sessions as children leave the classroom ready for home time.

Looking forward next week to learning how children have enjoyed sharing their songs with their families at home, hearing stories of singing together at school and experiencing the sessions’ visiting musician, the exciting and wonderful John Ball, tabla & santoor player and musician in residence at the University of Sheffield. I simply can’t wait!

Vanessa Johnson, Soundplay workshop leader

A 4ft homemade postbox, a Scalextric Le Mans 24, an inflatable giraffe, 300 kazoos, a cello and a cup of tea…

As I sit surrounded by a 4ft homemade postbox, a Scalextric Le Mans 24, an inflatable giraffe, 300 kazoos, a cello and a cup of tea, I am getting excited about restarting the Soundplay project with children aged 3 – 5 from nurseries around Sheffield.

The project, led by Music in the Round in partnership with ESCAL (Every Sheffield Child Articulate and Literate) and Sheffield Music Hub and funded by Youth Music, aims to develop the personal, social and emotional development of young children at higher risk of delay through participation in creative musical activity.

I, joined by the creative team (Vanessa Johnson, Martha Hayward, Kate Thompson and Fraser Wilson), have just filmed the fourth video of songs included in this year-long project. The videos that we post to YouTube are a key tool in spreading lots of creative ideas and methods for engagement to early years staff engaged in the project, wider network early years and Key Stage 1 practitioners, and parents and carers to encourage a generally more musical community. Songs are chosen to improve children’s communication, language and literacy development including question and answer songs, solo, pair and group singing, exploring phonic sounds and using our voices differently, and musical story-telling songs. Our choices include Calele, Who’s got the Drum?, We Can Be Marching Mice as well as It’s a Good Day for Building and I’m a Train by our dear friend, Early Years expert Sue Nicholls (who led a wonderful training day for us all at the start of the project).

Children participating in the project might speak English as an additional language or have special educational needs, and they are from some of the most economically disadvantaged areas in the city. We have developed wonderful techniques for communicating with the children, primarily through musical instructions but also through hand and face signals, traffic-light signs, and phonics and character picture cards.

The project also aims to develop nursery teachers’ confidence and skills in incorporating more music in their everyday learning. At the start of the project the Early Years practitioners said they all think music is important for children but many would run out of songs and methods for developing activities further – they would often stick to the trusty 5 or 6 nursery rhymes! For non-specialist teachers, having videos has helped them absorb the tunes and remember how to lead them with their children and keep referring back to them.

Parents and carers receive a songsheet after each workshop with the video links to encourage more of them to explore the songs at home. We know that if adults can share their children’s enthusiasm for learning, the all-round benefits are great. So we look forward to the video being ready and the sessions in settings starting up again this week, and to a busy and exciting last term of Soundplay!

Polly Ives
Workshop Leader

You can now watch the video at: