Early investment in a child’s development can yield magnificent rewards. Educators of ECO crèches are often unqualified or partially qualified community members or sometimes just helpers who are not adequately remunerated for their efforts. With this come many challenges.
Our project aims to address these challenges through the use of music education. This music education is two-fold, firstly as structured music lessons focussing on specific elements of music education in child development and secondly for use in general classroom activities, helping with issues of discipline, listening, concentration, focus, teamwork and the development of early childhood skills.
One of the greatest challenges is raising the practitioner’s awareness of the invaluable role they play in the development of the child.
Many of the practitioners have come through a system where not much value has been placed on early childhood development and this is their point of reference. They do things in the way they were taught and it is often difficult to change this way of thinking.
Financial remuneration is often equated with importance of work. The disparity between significance and importance of the educator’s role and remuneration is clear.
The practitioners can’t see the immediate benefits of their input. The benefits are difficult to quantify so there is no immediate and tangible reward for the practitioner.
Parents of children often have a limited view on child development. Consequently they fail to attend parents meeting organised by the practitioners and often fail to support the practitioner’s efforts in the development of the child. This can be demotivating for the practitioners.
The environment that practitioners have to work in presents challenges of its own. Workshops are motivating and inspiring but when it comes to implementation in the practitioner’s real environment all enthusiasm can disappear. Often the classrooms are cramped, the practitioner/child ratio is big, lack of experience of practitioner in dealing with classroom discipline and a lack of equipment dampens the spirit.
Another challenge is getting the practitioners to use their initiative in taking workshop ideas and making them their own, being creative in the implementation thereof.
More specifically, there appears to be a belief that young children should be able to write letters. This might relate to the narrow view of child development held by many practitioners. Getting practitioners to realise the importance of developing gross motor coordination first is a challenge.
The practitioners are in need of positive affirmation and continual encouragement and reminding of the fact that their work is of vital importance.
The potential impact if all these challenges were addressed would be huge.
Children with educational difficulties would be identified early thus making early intervention a possibility.
Children would enter Grade 1 with the required skills.
Practitioners would be creative in all lesson plans and secure in the knowledge that what they are doing in the classroom has a positive benefit to the child in their care.
Music Voyage's programme strategy
The ‘Foundations in music education for ECD practitioners’ aims to use music in the classroom in a creative way to assist practitioners in developing the early childhood skills essential to the growth of all children. There is a link between music and developing brain capacity, music and social interaction and music and physical development. The music course is designed to meet all needs of social, emotional, physical and cognitive development in the child. This course runs for the duration of 1 year.
Workshops are held once a term for practitioners to attend. Here course content is discussed, games are taught, songs sung, instruments made and the value of music for young children spoken about. Music Voyage places great emphasis on the valuable role practitioners play in the development of the whole child. This is a platform for practitioners to discuss obstacles they face in the school environment. At each workshop concepts are consolidated and expanded upon, practitioners are encouraged to take initiative and be creative in lesson plans. There is reinforcement on the importance of music education for the developing brain and how to create an environment in the classroom where children are free to be creative and uninhibited, but disciplined, allowing for optimal learning to take place.
The expected outcomes of these workshops is that LCD practitioners will have (i) increased knowledge and understanding of music and the vital benefits for young children and (ii) how music plays such a critical role in the cognitive, physical and social and emotional development of the child. (iii) Practitioners will have grown in confidence and have the self-belief to use music in creative lesson planning, linking in with the theme for the week (iv) use aspects of music eg rhythmic patterning to diffuse difficult situations in the classroom and in dealing with classroom management. (v) Practitioners will realise that their work and involvement in the development of each child is of great significance and be motivated to use music in all areas of lesson planning.
Practitioners are then offered support in their creches through the mentorship programme, whereby support staff visit practitioners regularly. The purpose of these visits is to offer encouragement and support to practitioners and are not threatening in any way. This can also be called follow up training and is an essential part to the success of this programme. Each practitioner is visited at least once every two weeks. On some occasions when practitioners need extra help more frequent visits are arranged. Creches that are in Mpophomeni are visited weekly by the support staff member. As he lives in Mpophomeni he is able to visit two crèches a day if need be. The second support staff member lives in Lidgetton and visits Creches that are situated in areas that service farming communities are more difficult to access as distances are greater. This support staff member can thus only visit one crèche a day. The project co-ordinator also visits crèches and holds weekly meetings with the support staff.
During these visits the reality of the classroom situation / environment and the daily challenges faced by practitioners is appreciated. The relationship between practitioner and child is observed. The implementation of games taught in workshops might need to be adapted but the concepts taught remain the same. The support staff observe and informally document classroom activities. They evaluate practitioners on a formal basis once a month.
We guide the practitioners in allowing children to express themselves freely and to create an environment condusive to learning. We expect the practitioners to become more creative in their ideas, to take initiative and have increased confidence in implementing ideas. We also offer an ear to practitioners where discussion of challenges can be aired. The objective: for the inclusion of musical activities in lesson planning and classroom management to become second nature to practitioners so that when our programme and involvement in the rrerhe ends the benefits of our programme doesn’t.
Programme implementation so far
Implementation to date has been very successful. Much background work was done before the start of the course identifying schools and practitioners who would be interested in doing the course. Much time was also spent on developing appropriate course material. Before the course started practitioners were made aware that the duration of the course was 1 year and thus their commitment was also for 1 year.
Workshops dates and venues were scheduled for the year. The first and second term workshops have been completed; to dateS workshops have been held for the 51 practitioners enrolled in the course. 20 creches are involved in the music programme. Having the crèche involved in the music programme is beneficial as this allows for the much needed building of relationships with the supervisors of the crèches. It also allows for continuity of the programme should one practitioner leave and another becomes employed at the crèche and allows for ease of report back by practitioners to their fellow colleagues if they, for practical reasons, could not attend the workshop.
The Music Voyage support staff (mentors) have been busy visiting 18 creches and mentoring 44 practitioners (the other 2 creches and 7 practitioners are guided by the experienced ECD staff who are involved in their crèches). The mentors help practitioners with lesson plans and implementation of course content as well as offering support. Practitioners also request visits from the mentors which is a good indication that the relationship developed is a good one and that communication between the practitioner and mentor is strong. The mentors’ role is one of empowerment and the aim is for the benefits for practitioners of this music programme to be long lasting.
Implications for other programmes
Music cuts across the curriculum and can be used in all classroom lessons. Through musical games and concepts the physical, social, emotional and academic skills of children can be enhanced. Through music education children learn to concentrate, listen and focus whilst having fun. This is experienced firsthand by the practitioners in the workshops. Once the practitioners can see and experience the benefits of what skills music in the classroom addresses they are eager to implement the programme. Lessons can be creative and involve movement and dramatisation which all children love. Although music is an abstract art form, at this level it must be presented in a concrete form.
The process of visiting schools is very important. Many of the practitioners attend the workshops, participate in and understand the games, but then have trouble transferring the knowledge into the practical environment of their schools. There is an assumption that what is taught in the workshops is to be taught in exactly the same form in the classroom. Often this is unachievable as the environment might not be conducive to the exact replication of workshop ideas. The support staff (mentors) encourage the practitioners to develop the games to suit their environment and to be creative in the use of the knowledge disseminated at the workshops Focus is on encouraging the practitioners to use their own initiative in the use of the music skills taught at the workshops.
It is important that the support staff speak the language of the practitioners and can interact with the children. They may at times have to take the lesson for the practitioner to demonstrate different ways in which music can be integrated into the day. It is also vital that the practitioner feel at ease with the support staff as this relationship yields information that is essential to the course. The practitioners should view the mentors in the capacity of support rather than an evaluator there to crit their teaching skills and judge their ability in the classroom.