What can babies do

A rough guide for first-time music practitioners / entertainers on what babies (18 months and under) can do physically and some tips and suggestions to making your session plans.

A useful guide to read is the EYFS, Early  Years Foundation Stage which lists what a child can do in every stage of their early life, and how an adult can help them to move on safely to the next developmental stage.In the book it states “Children develop at their own rates, and in their own ways”. It lists the prime and specific Areas of Learning and Development such as making relations and building self confidence and self awareness to listening and attention to speaking, moving…etc. It would be good if you look through the book. It’s useful to focus every lesson plan around one developmental area and sub-area.

All children are different and develop at their own rates.

page 2 and footnotes

Use this as a rough guide and if you are not sure, ask and use your judgment. At about:

  1. 4 – 6 months they will be making sounds 
  2. 5 months start crawling – some children may skip crawling completely.
  3. 7 months start standing by holding on to things
  4. 12 months start walking on their own – and for some it may take longer
  5. 9 months clapping and gradually they perfect this. Although don’t expect that they can clap the beat to an entire song until much later
  6. 24 months (two years) to walk and clap at the same time
  7. 18 months will be saying some words
  8. 18 months will be very mobile, move around independently and through a ball (or let it fall from their hands)
  9. 20 months putting words together. Don’t expect them to sing you the whole song but they can shout out a word every now and then and may carry a tune
  10. 24 months their attention span is short so activities should be around 2 minutes long and gradually as they get older make them longer
  11. After two years of age expect children to be able to do controlled and simultaneous actions with all limbs, to cross their hands and place them on their thighs, or place one hand on their tummy and one hand on their heads. 
  12. Babies won’t be sharing until well after 30 months old (2,5 y.o.) but will know that some things belong to them and some to others from about 18 months. At this stage it is easier if they share a toy with their practitioners rather than with other children. 
  13. Play hiding games, show pictures, pretend vocabulary (let’s pretend we are frogs), use animals and make funny noises – These are always a hit!

FURTHERMORE:

If you are in doubt about what children can do, ask the nursery practitioner of the group you need clarification on.

You are building intention. They will not sing with you loud and clear or clap every time when the song says so but it shouldn’t stop you from working on this verbal and action vocabulary. There is no set date to start developing individuality and self awareness. Babies learn very fast so be patient, they are processing. 

The ratio of adults per babies in nurseries in the UK is 1 nursery practitioner for 3 babies – you should not be in the count. As they get older the ration changes.

Most nurseries will group the children according to their age (months) into different rooms. When a baby turns above a specific month and / or their physical, social and mental development exceeds expectations, then they move on to the “bigger” room. The room with older children. You may not be informed in advance. You will have to adjust your session plan to who you have there and accommodate to the majorities’ needs.

It’s useful to prepare a progression of your activities and how to break it down to something simpler. This way you can easily adjust according to who you have on the day. 

This is only a rough guide. You may know children that started walking at 10,5 months and others were still wobbly at 16 months, or could do simultaneous actions with both limbs earlier. Ask and be alert for changes sooner than expected.

Even if children can’t physically do something, they can’t do it YET. That means that you can build onto that skill. You can still ask the 20 month olds to put one hand on their tummy and one on their head. You will show them how to do it and move on to another activity, or break that activity down and allow each child to interpret it as they want. Be considerate. Don’t push them to do something they can’t do yet but guide them, show them and encourage them to do it when they are ready. Babies give feedback instantly, so if they feel frustrated about something you will know. Calmly congratulate them for what they have achieved and move on to something else that is more familiar.

During this designated music time with babies, you are building intention, perception, anticipation and expectations, feel safety and confidence in their abilities to carry on with their development. All this through music and sound exploration. So you are also offering an experience, the world through the auditory sense. All these qualities are invisible for a while but are there and are being cultivated through systematic and careful preparation.

I’d love to know your thoughts and how it goes for you!

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Lesson plan 1: Love our Body

Name of activity
Our lovely body
Age
0 – 12 months

Duration: 20 minutes

Aim of Activity: Learn the parts of our body and make sounds like clapping, and tapping
Skill:  Social skills: waiting for our turn, cooperate with our friends, listen and respond
Knowledge: learn our body and what we can do with it, learn the song Germ, Germ go away, practice standing and rolling a ball

Link to curriculum (EYFS)
“ Concentrates intently on an object or activity of own choosing for short periods”( EYFS, Development Matters, Communication and Language: Listening and attention, 8-20)

Link to overarching learning objective (EYFS)
“Begins to move to music, listen to or join in rhymes or songs”(  EYFS, Development Matters, Expressive arts and design: Exploring and using media and materials, 8-20 )

1. Warm up

2. Sing 2-3 songs

3. Sound story:
About a Germ that came to the nursery and climbs on the babies’ bodies.
Use something like scarves for props and sing the song Germ, Germ go away 

4. Listen to music and keep the rhythm
Music suggestion: Mozart Rondo Alla Turca you can listen to here

5. Table drum. 
Use rolling toys like balls and cars on the table.
Music suggestion: Dani Howard Argentum you can listen to here 

6. Sing two songs

7. Warm down (1 minute)
Listen to relaxing music, dim the lights
Music suggestion: George Karpasitis Lullaby available here

8. Say goodbye to everyone

Resources
Music source (iPad, tablet), table, rolling toys, small balls, scarves 

Download detailed lesson plan here. It includes what to expect from the children to do, what to ask the practitioners to do, as well as some song suggestions.

Let me know how it goes!

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020, lesson plan for nursery schools music

Finding my voice as an Early Years Music Practitioner

Tips for introverts on managing communication

The Nursery made it clear to me from the beginning that they didn’t want a music entertainer (the word they used). The entertainer was defined as the person that gathers the children – and the nursery practitioners – around sings songs for 20 minutes and has a party-like feel. This is the very simplified definition of an Early Years Music Entertainer, but nonetheless, this is what I was told. They wanted their music practitioner to interact and involve the children in the process of music making through games and activities.

My intentions as well! 

This post is my personal experience.
It may inspire you. 

Back to our story…

I had to do something to keep the children engaged for longer periods. Some nursery practitioners were deliberately setting bad this just enforces that I had to change something in my approach. My manager came up with the ‘persona’ idea, not a clown, but a…a… caricature. I needed a hook like a magic music bag or a sparkling singing teddy, to keep the babies and children involved in the activities. She showed me a few videos on YouTube for inspiration, and pictures of their previous guy for the job, who was called something like “Sparks” and had a “magic box” with instruments, his guitar, and sang songs to the children. He had the “Magic” concept.

The guys on Youtube, were holding their guitar, singing very loudly, and the children with their parents were sitting around this main singer. This is the “Entertainer” style they explicitly told me to avoid at the beginning.  The parents were singing while holding their children to not move around much. The Singer used props and instruments as you would expect.

I was shown these videos to see how devoted the children were in the sessions of the Entertainer Music Man. The comparison was clumsy to say the least. The videos would start with all the children around and finish with just their parents sitting there. The children wondered off and didn’t come back. As these sessions were parents with their babies, so each baby had an adult for themselves, instead of my setting that was 3 babies to 1 adult. Also, they were men (sarcastic comment: 95% of the nursery practitioners were women so I wouldn’t be appealing enough as a guy would be!!!), singing loudly, with a guitar (and as we will see later, the guitar was a no go) and had minimum interaction with everyone. Again, a NO-GO.

Essentially, the nursery staff wanted a Guy to have party time with the adults.  

Looking past the clumsiness in the way they chose to inspire me into elevating my sessions, here is what I took out of our conversation and I think these are good tips for anyone to consider especially for introverts /and with low self-esteem like I was:

  1. Children love a good story. Anything to lure them into a fantasy world for just 20 minutes is brilliant! Possible ways to achieve this is by creating a mystery: the “magic bag with instruments”.
  2. To sing a bit louder and with more confidence. The children mimic behaviours so to see and hear someone speaking with confidence (sensibly loudly) will reflect on their way of singing and later on general speaking and behaving.
  3. Carry on with the 6 children that are participating instead of trying hard to get the 2 wanderers to rejoin the session is an advice to keep. Those 2 children will come back eventually. Confidence is key.

The nursery had a very solid child-led philosophy (I believe in this as well) so these are the topics that according to the videos, I should avoid:

  1. Singing a lot louder that the children 
  2. Not engaging with the children at all 
  3. A guitar or ukulele might be nice to have but as it was an extremely risk averse Nursery, a string might snap and injure a child or baby. So having them regularly was a big NO. 
  4. Giving a singing performance for every session 
  5. Not to keep the children in one position for the whole session but rather encourage them to move around purposefully. 

I believe it took a lot of clarity in the moment to identify what exactly I needed to improve in my delivery style so I don’t become a marionette that obeys other people’s visions without checking my values and abilities. It is good to test your limits and come out of your comfort zones but if you don’t feel comfortable with it, the chances are it will not be a success….

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Music Practitioner or Entertainer

In a Nursery Setting

Being an Early Years Music practitioner or Early Years music Entertainer are two different styles of music enlightening, music delivery. Both styles are great for the children. The learning objectives may overlap, there are differences in the delivery style. There is a possibility to have traits of both approaches while leaning clearly towards one. That is what worked best for me even though it wasn’t very easy to learn how to do. 

Music Entertainer
I think of it as the Entertainer is the singer or actor on stage inviting the children in their storytelling or singing. In a nursery setting, as the in residence musician, it is more likely that you will be the singer that creates vibrant concerts. You will have a list of 10-15 nursery songs to sing with the children. You may be holding an instrument like a guitar or a ukulele but check before with the nursery school’s policy and risk chart.

Music Practitioner
The Music Practitioner is an explorer of sounds and plans child-led activities where investigation and experimentation are essential parts. Each song has a developmental purpose for being there and it might be repeated a few times with variations. This is my definition and how it was explained to me. I’d love to hear yours. 

Perhaps one of the best learnings a child can get through music time with an Entertainer that creates concerts is social etiquette (apart from songs and copying skills, and motor skills, talking, etc…). The course of the session is designed so that children wait for their turn and listen to instructions. 

And one of the best learnings from an Music Practitioner that created space through sound activities would be accepting and adapting to alternatives (apart from creativity, social skills, copying, motor skills, talking, and of course music properties). 

In both styles the children will develop

  • language
  • learn about numbers and animals
  • develop their motor skills
  • social skills, sing songs
  • create bonds with their practitioners and so on…

And both the practitioner and entertainer will still be

  • creating positive environments
  • setting boundaries
  • stimulate
  • support individuality and so on…

You can see as well, that it is the style of delivery that is at question here. And the style of delivery is what most clients are after. Whether you want to sing 10 songs in each session and have a party or want a child driven session, or something in between it is up to you and your personality and if you are able to adapt that is a bonus for you. You will have to please the adults as well as the children and one group is more important that the other. Do you know which one? Discuss with your clients what their vision is and plan accordingly. 

The main key here is: keep all (in reality is  most of the children, about 80%) engaged and taking part in the session. Whatever style you have your sessions are a success if you see the children interacting with you and each other, gradually staying focused for longer periods of time, and taking part in the songs and activities.

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Music For the Early Years

Music Education in Nursery Schools

Photo by CDC on Unsplash
Of course I wasn’t allowed to take pictures so these are stock pictures

All the way back in the 2010s I worked in a nursery school. At first as a nursery practitioner in the baby room and a few months later I was promoted and my title became something like: the music practitioner in residence. I immersed the children’s and babies’ time in music across all six locations of the company’s nursery schools, all located in London, UK. My schedule was regular in terms of which day I would be at each nursery and what time I would teach in each room, and it would change every three months or so. 

Taking this job opportunity was very exciting and adventurous. I was constantly learning about teaching, interacting with adults and children and how music works with children and babies. It is safe to say now that my confidence levels on taking up this job were quite low, I had no idea what to do and I was learning on the job. I asked friends, and fellow classmates, and Google of course all the whats and hows and whys and as you might expect (not saying it ironically), the information was still a bit scattered. It’s not just piecing things together but also finding what would work best for me and the nurseries.

I organised and delivered music sessions with a lot of singing, and activities that allowed the children to explore, interact and learn about music and sound. The babies were from about 6 months old and the oldest children around 3,5 to 4 years old. Each session was focused for only one age group, babies, toddlers, preschoolers and the in between toddlers and preschoolers. This job comes with a handful of challenges, rewards, moments of exasperation and moments of contentment. There are many ways to think about this and to one that troubled me the most was:
Is my primary purpose to entertain or educate? The answer may be obvious but as I will explain in a following post, it wasn’t as simple. I wanted to have a very creative approach, one where the children would be investigating and experimenting with throughout the 20 minutes of their session.

With this series of articles I’d like to share with you some of my experiences and learnings from this process as well as some of the lesson plans and activities I developed and played with the children, what worked and what didn’t and potential improvements. So, if you want to find out more about the job of being a music practitioner, or want to incorporate more musical play with your children then these posts are for you.

I will be sharing some of my lesson plans, tips that I picked up, difference between an entertainer and a music practitioner, general advice for working with children, toddlers and babies, what to look out for when working as a musician in a nursery, and at some point I will also try to figure out if a musician (knows how to play an instrument, and studied music in university or conservatory, is serious about music and knows and appreciates the complexities of many music genres and subgenres which are and not limited to: classical music, contemporary classical music, folk, traditional, modern and pop music from various countries).

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020