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Seeking out sounds - helping children get school-ready

The best communicators are also the best listeners

Talking, communicating and singing all start from the same point – listening. Children need to listen and tune into spoken sounds to understand verbal language, plus be able to hear, monitor and adjust the sounds they make when speaking. What better way to promote listening than by using music? Children have been sung to from birth, even if parents don’t think they are singing; the natural tendency to talk in a lilting, flowing way to young babies captures their attention, so why not with pre-schoolers too? Singing songs slows down words compared to just speech alone, which gives children time to process the different sounds, understand what is being sung and then reproduce them. Songs and singing can extend vocabulary, encourage rhyme and rhythm recognition (all found in speech), develop listening and turn-taking, and promote social confidence when done in a group setting.

Feel your way around music

To extend music-making from solely singing, use body percussion, dance and movement and tapping rhythms with sticks or drums. Not only will you be able to keep music-making fresh and exciting in your setting, it is also a fantastic way to support language and early literacy. Through tapping syllables in songs children will internalise language learning by breaking down words into their smallest units. They will actually be feeling the words as well as learning to say them. By sequencing body percussion sounds, it will support them to be aware of patterns of sounds, which is the basis of language. The children can then play around with the sounds, get creative and make up their own patterns. Need some inspiration? Here are two songs for you to try that support this style of learning.

Playing your way to school readiness

We all know the power of play, and the value of children being playful to enhance their learning. Music is a great partner to play, and young children often bring music and singing into their own child-initiated play. In your role as play-enabler, follow the child’s lead when it comes to songs and sounds. If you see them tapping a rhythm on the sand box, observe what they are doing, see if they invite you to play and then try mirroring the sounds and rhythms they are making. This can really validate what they are doing and give them the confidence to try out new sounds and songs in the future. Try this strategy with a collection of recycled boxes, cardboard tubes, paper etc. Empty your collection on the floor and observe how the children play with the materials. Build on what the children are doing and incorporate songs and rhymes. For example if a child is banging on a box, use this as a springboard to singing Grand Old Duke Of York. 

Homemade instruments

Can't afford an orchestra in your setting? No problem at all - just make your own! Easy, instant, sustainable and eco-friendly percussion instruments from your own recycling bin. You could start by just exploring the different sounds that can be made from different materials, and then extend it to a separate craft project to make a basic Boogie Mites kit of shakers, sticks and drums. Making instruments and junk percussion is a fantastic way for children to use creative play and also have a sense of ownership over the instruments they use. Plus they will be developing their fine motor skills, language and communication skills and social skills, which are all key for School Readiness. 

Empower children to practice

One sure-fire way of encouraging children to practice their listening, musical and leadership skills is to make the resources available in their free-play time. Put the instruments, and any other props in a music corner and support the children to explore them on their own terms. Let them lead the other children with drum games, explore the different sounds their voices can make and arrange their own marching band! The confidence that music can bring will set them up for school and help promote a fun way of interacting, learning and expressing themselves.

PACEY's research report of 2013 found that term "School Ready" was interpreted by parents, practitioners and school teachers as children being emotionally and socially ready and possessing a curiosity about the world and a desire to learn. Music is endlessly flexible in providing opportunities for social skills and empowerment and need not be an expensive activity. We can make music with our own bodies, our vocal cords and the contents of our recycling bin in flexible, creative and fresh ways to keep children interested and engaged. We can use it to provide leadership opportunities, listening skills and creative and imaginative play, equipping children with the skills, confidence and readiness to start their school life.

About the authors

Harriet Thomas (right) is a Director at Boogie Mites, training parents, practitioners and children to use music to support pre-literacy skills, and to promote physical and emotional development. Boogie Mites' music and movement programmes introduce new and inspiring songs written specifically to capture the imagination of young children and to link early years music making to the EYFS and Letters and Sounds Phase One.

Liv McLennenLiv McLennen (left) is a community musician and Boogie Mites tutor and trainer who is passionate about the power of music to enhance wellbeing, learning, social cohesion and personal development. She is currently enjoying seeing the benefits of Boogie Mites music programmes first hand with her 2-year-old daughter. 

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