County Music recently ran a very exciting programme to develop language skills through singing. We worked with children in nursery and reception (ages 3-4) and alongside their teachers. The children were put into small groups and taught songs and exercises. These songs and exercises were very carefully chosen to develop their listening and visual skills as well as teaching them specific vowel and consonant sounds suggested by their teachers.
There is plenty of evidence to support the use of singing to develop language skills within children. 'Parents should sing to their children every day to avoid language problems developing in later life', according Sally Goddard Blythe, a consultant in neuro-developmental education and director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology.
Singing traditional lullabies and nursery rhymes to babies and infants before they learn to speak, is 'an essential precursor to later educational success and emotional wellbeing', argues Blythe. 'Song is a special type of speech. Lullabies, songs and rhymes of every culture carry the 'signature' melodies and inflections of a mother tongue, preparing a child's ear, voice and brain for language.' The Guardian Newspaper 2010
'Singing songs teaches children about how language is constructed. When you sing, words and phrases are slowed down and can be better understood by your baby. Singing regularly will help your baby to build up a vocabulary of sounds and words long before they can understand the meaning'.
BBC CBeebies site 2014
The case for singing as the right approach to children with special needs is made by Dr. Michael Heggerty, an expert on literacy. 'How do teachers reach students with special needs that are included in their classroom? Music is a tool that is developmentally appropriate, facilitates language fluency, helps brain development and, above all else, is joyful’.
The Listening and Spoken Language Knowledge Centre 2010
The first results from our Early Years Language Development programme are encouraging. One of the many interesting observations was that the behaviour of the children in the singing sessions was different to that in the class situation. Teaching staff were able to watch and really observe how the children formed their sounds. The school has requested a continuation of the project and other schools are also interested in exploring the use of singing to develop language skills. We intend to work closely with Teaching Schools in the area to offer training programmes for colleagues working with Early Years and we anticipate considerable demand.
Warwickshire Music Hub is leading two exciting singing projects this year. The first is a partnership with Ex-Cathedra, supported by funding from Arts Council England. This partnership involves 11 primary schools and around 2,000 children and adults; culminating in a singing day at the University of Warwick Arts Centre on March 11th.
The second project is a partnership between Warwickshire Music Hub, Coventry Music Hub and 4 secondary schools, supported by funding from Youth Music. This project is creating a choir of 100 young people, ideally who are not used to singing in choirs, with the focus of two major performances in 2016.
By definition projects such as these, supported by external funding, are created with very definite start and finish dates and clearly quantifiable objectives i.e. how many children are involved and what rehearsals/events are due to take place. This is all very worthy and very exciting for those involved.
But the big question has to be - what happens next? All too often these excellent projects simply stop once the money runs out because they are time limited. Our challenge is how to create a more lasting legacy and the reality is that money is needed, whether through further funding or sponsorship or simply creating new groups that require membership fees.
Getting the balance between time limited funded projects and creating something that lasts is a challenge - but one that is really worth exploring. The planning has to consider the future and what structures - in this case choral - are already in place.
The primary school project 'Singing Playgrounds' should embed singing within the participating schools but that cannot be taken for granted and so discussions need to take place with the participating schools to see what support they might need to continue the positive outcomes of the project.
The secondary school project is called the 'Joint Choir Creation Project'. Wouldn't it be great if the legacy was to actually create a brand new choir that met regularly after the project itself comes to an end? At the very least the young people involved deserve the option of continuing to sing; whether as part of a school based group or within a singing strategy created by the respective Music Hubs.
This is where working in partnership with schools and other Hubs is potentially so powerful. The reality of creating lasting legacies is that all too often they are reliant on external funding. Our challenge is to create internal structures that are self reliant; and this starts with partnerships.
By the time you read this, I’m afraid, it’ll be too late to attend the Christmas concert of the community choir to which I’ve belonged for a while now. I know, I know, you’re gutted. But maybe it’s better that way: the weekly rehearsals have become such an oddly transporting highlight of my week that it almost feels too personal to mention in public. I’m not alone in this, I realise. These days, with amateur singing exploding in popularity, there’s no happiness advice less original than “Join a choir!” So it’s strange that we still don’t really understand why it feels so good.... Read the full article
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Illustration: Thomas Pullin for the Guardian