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Early Years Music – Durham Music Service 2019 – 2021

Developing the musical confidence of the early years workforce

Source: Unsplash (Jelleke VanOoteghem)

This case study explores an ambitious project across Durham and Darlington that aims to embed music more widely into the work of 16 early years settings. Written by Culture Bridge North East.

This is one of 25 case studies highlighting the value of arts in schools and education settings, curated by arts education researcher Sarah B Davies. The suite of case studies illustrates the research The Arts In Schools: Foundations for the Future, by Pauline Tambling and Sally Bacon, due to be published in 2023.

About the project

Durham Music Service delivered this early years project during 2019 and 2021 with £99,454.80 funding from Youth Music Fund B. Key partners were the 7 regional Music Education Hubs (MEHs), early years settings, parents, Education DurhamSage Gateshead and Theatre Hullabaloo, Darlington. This was an early years project, with 16 nurseries, 32 staff, and 900 children aged 2-5 years taking part to explore new approaches to developing music.

A programme of CPD supported early years practitioners (EYP) to develop and share their learning and skills in music with the rest of the nursery staff, children and parents. Termly CPD was also delivered to a nominated member of staff from each North East MEH.

The project aimed to embed music into settings as an everyday activity, with the learning being rolled out across the seven other North East MEHs. There were five objectives:

  1. Develop the confidence and skills of Early Years Practitioners in nursery settings and childminders.
  2. Improvement in knowledge and understanding of Early Years Music Practice (Music Education Hub training).
  3. Good child-initiated musical learning is embedded within the practice of EYPs, childminders and music leaders.
  4. Through musical activity, children will build their vocabulary and their knowledge of the structures of language.
  5. Improve parents’ engagement in music-making with their children.

What worked well

The project had a very positive impact on the early years (EY) music practices of EYPs and MEH staff overall. The training enabled practitioners to develop their EY music practice and for music to become more embedded in their settings. For the MEHs, EY music has been either introduced into the hub with impressive results, or enhanced current knowledge and understanding of EY music with a ripple effect into early years educational settings and further into private homes with young children.

Nursery staff reported 2 to 5 year-old children singing songs on their own with an understanding of the lyrics evident from the actions they were doing and how they used the props. In settings children were playing with the sounds (e.g., splashing, whooshing, crunching).

The planned contents introduced into the nursery training sessions included: developing musical expertise systematically from early on; assisting language learning through singing and rhymes and introducing child-initiated learning. The project team adapted their content at times to meet the needs of the practitioners, including training on Music at Home and Music for Wellbeing, a response to the ongoing pandemic, which worked very well.

“Fantastic. As a non-specialist I am intimidated by the thought of delivering outstanding music sessions, however, the meeting has given me peace of mind, knowing I am already implementing a lot of good practice. I am excited to use the new songs and ideas in my next music session. Look forward to the summer network meeting.” (CPD Attendee, face to face network training, February 2020)

The strongest evidence of impact of involvement in the project comes from the staff from the seven MEHs involved, who provided written impact statements. The statements revealed that the material introduced in the training sessions was indeed novel to some participants. The rest welcomed refresher sessions for consolidating and building upon their current practices.

“Upskilling and sharing resources and finding new ways of doing things. Theory behind things … Used to using Sound of Intent – using new things gives broader perspective. Seeing what everyone else is doing/chance to connect with other people in the field and not being stuck in your area.” (Sunderland Music Hub)

A podcast series for parents has been recorded and will be launched shortly as a legacy of the project. This will provide a fantastic resource to enable parents to engage in music-making with their children.

More information:

What was challenging

The project team rose admirably to the challenges of dealing with Covid restrictions, continuing to provide quality training to stakeholders.

Part of the project had a two-way plan to target EYPs in settings and in training, and childminders. For the in-setting practitioners, Durham Music Service worked with 16 named nurseries in total, bringing them either weekly or fortnightly music sessions during two autumn terms. On top of that, network training was provided for professionals in the Darlington, Durham and Gateshead areas to maximise reach. During Covid restrictions, the training was moved online to Facebook Live, showing great adaptation during this time. Additionally, the team spent considerable time thinking of alternative ways to reach practitioners, including weekly live music sessions for different age groups of children. Two joint training sessions for EYPs organised by Durham Music Service and Sage Gateshead with external speakers enabled a coming together of skills and expertise and provided fantastic opportunities for further training and reflection for all involved.

There is also evidence of effective partnership with Education Durham, the County Council School Improvement Service, which helped to maximise the impact of the training even though it was moved online.

What can others learn?

The richer the musical offer in the early years setting was, the wider the impacts became. It was impressive what a musically enthusiastic nursery staff enabled children to do. Given ideas for repertoire and how to nurture children’s gradual musical development, EYPs could guide the music sessions on their own and let the children independently explore their own musical expression.

Nursery staff will now use the lessons learned from the project for the new cohorts in their nursery and local MEH staff will be able to provide them with the necessary support. The recorded online training sessions make it possible to reach EYPs after the project has ended, and Durham Music Service has acquired an efficient way of engaging directly with the parents through the online channels. However, as the pandemic restrictions are now lifted, EYPs will undoubtedly welcome the opportunities to make music face-to-face again.

There are some exciting developments as a result of the project, including one hub which previously had no offer of EY music programmes but now has a team of EY music tutors delivering programmes in schools. Each Music Hub will create further projects in their area that will distribute Early Music Education to the nurseries and further to the families in the area. Survey responses to the training received each term are very positive.

As a Bridge we often pose the question: How can we ensure the appropriate training and skills of practitioners who are delivering the arts into the early years foundation stageAnd what happens to the quality of the offer if this is not in place? It certainly is evident from this case study how important quality musical training is and how it can make a huge impact. As a Bridge we have included Durham Music Hub’s EYFS CPD in our own training offer and it has been very well received.