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Music and singing

Gifted and talented?

By | Education, fun for children, Music and singing, Uncategorized
by Helen Abbott, Banstead Prep School

If Einstein could not talk until he was four or read until he was seven (which is apparently the case) and Didier Drogba studied accountancy before finding himself playing for Chelsea at the mature age of 26, how can we hope to spot the gifted and talented amongst the cherished progeny that walk through our gates? What does ‘gifted and talented’ actually mean and how should we be supporting them?

Gifted and talented is a term generally used to describe children who are beyond their peers either in academic ability or in a specific skill. ‘Gifted’ tends to refer to those who have a high academic ability, while ‘talented’ relates more to those who are adept in a practical subject, such as sport, music or art. The general assumption in the past was that these children would thrive no matter what. This is most definitely not the case.

Children who are inquisitive, read early, have an excellent memory, are good at problem solving and learn to speak very young (although clearly not the Einsteins of this world) are possibly gifted. I say ‘possibly’ because anything to do with children is an inaccurate art and I tremble at the idea of putting a child in a box with a label on it – and with many people being late developers, there is often nothing evident at an early stage anyway.

When I set about writing this article, I had in mind the plethora of extra activities that we offer our gifted and talented at our school. From maths challenges to gifted writers’ workshops, from refereeing matches to representing the school in a given sport, from workshops at senior schools for instrumentalists and drama prodigies to being mentored in advanced art club. Every opportunity exists to go above and beyond.

However, as I continued to write, I thought back to the days when I attended toddler groups with my own children, where a host of affirmations from adoring parents who were keen to describe their infant’s latest achievement greeted me. Whether it is taking their first steps holding someone’s hand or doing a backward flip, murmuring their first word or reciting the alphabet backwards, proud parents coo over their newfound talent. When do these talents stop being counted as significant? When do we stop noticing every advance and consider it just ‘average’?

Banstead pupil Georgie Forster, age 10

Many high fliers struggle when they are younger because they have learning disabilities, which they are able to hide well. These children are frequently overlooked. Thomas Edison was told by his teachers that his brain was ‘addled’ but he went on to become one of America’s greatest inventors. Every child in the class needs access to a higher level of learning and at our school, we offer challenges to encourage our children to be courageous and tenacious.

Children need freedom to extend themselves but freedom within boundaries. I have to return to languages to give an example because it’s what I know best: it is not enough to simply say, “Now write your own question in French”. Rather say, “Write a question to your best friend/to the prime minister/to a unicorn!” Allow them to use their imagination but frame what they need to do.

Extension activities should provide greater depth on the subject. Research materials should be readily available, but children shouldn’t just be left to work on their own projects. Even as adults, we need support, a second opinion and a good sprinkling of praise!

Classwork should challenge from the beginning. Children should have different amounts of information, as much or as little as is needed to challenge them, but they should all complete the same task so that the outcome is the same. Teach to the top of the class and support those who need it. Aim high and inspire excellence!

At home, children need fewer boundaries for their passions. Days out exposing children to new experiences; encouraging them to read widely, whether it’s a literary tome or a football magazine; and having open conversations are all essential. And, when needed, have an open dialogue with your child’s teacher about their strengths.

I do wonder, although my fingers are almost sticking to the keys in my reluctance to type this, but maybe the geniuses of the future will be YouTubers or game makers. The geniuses of the past certainly faced criticism for their passions! However, unless you are prepared for your YouTubing offspring to burn out at the age of 21, I suggest you make sure they have exposure to other experiences as well!

In my years of teaching, I have never met one of those students who sits their GCSEs at nine or goes to university aged 11. They are few and far between. Every child is gifted and talented in some special way, whether it is in leadership skills, having a way with the spoken word or playing Mozart. Our school ethos of Education with Character, offers a variety of ways of learning, ensuring that we, as teachers, spot unique talents and cultivate them, and parents are encouraged to do the same. We need to push our children as far as possible in their ability – and then another little nudge beyond. Let’s make sure we don’t fail to spot any Thomas Edisons or Albert Einsteins of the future.

Banstead Prep School is a co-educational prep school and nursery for girls and boys aged 2-11 where there’s more to a good education than learning.
www.bansteadprep.com

Choosing a first instrument

By | dance & Art, fun for children, Music and singing

by Oliver Roberts
Penguin Instrumentors

As a parent the topic of music lessons will likely crop up at some point and knowing how to help your child with lessons can feel like a total mystery: “Which instrument should I choose?” “Are group or private lessons best?” “What should I look for in a teacher?” These are just a few of the questions parents can face before starting lessons. However, supporting your child in their musical pursuits doesn’t have to be a challenge and we have put together a few tips to help you and your child answer that all-important first question of which instrument to choose!

Before we get started
As obvious as it may seem, the first questions you should be asking yourself when choosing an instrument are “Will my child find this fun and enjoy the experience?” and “Does my child have any preference?” After all, enjoyment leads to enthusiasm, enthusiasm leads to engagement and engagement leads to – reward!

So which instrument?
The biggest decision when starting music lessons is deciding on the instrument your child should learn. But luckily this isn’t something you need to fret over because there is no wrong answer. The transferable skills learnt from being musical in general are just as important as the specific instrument being learnt. Besides, there are always opportunities to press pause if your child isn’t enjoying lessons and try something different.

So, assuming that you don’t already have an instrument in mind, the first step in choosing an instrument is to find out which instruments are easily available to you. This may mean researching what the local teachers in your area can offer or which instruments are taught at your child’s school. The size of the instrument may also be worth considering. Pianos for example are a fab first instrument, however, they are also pretty large pieces of furniture and not all of us have the space to house them (although a digital piano or keyboard are good alternatives if a piano won’t fit). Other instruments like cellos, saxophones and some of the larger brass instruments can also be heavy and tricky for younger hands to grip properly.

Age
Your child’s age is a big factor in choosing an instrument. The earliest recommended ages for most musical instruments is generally about seven or eight years old, with the ukulele and recorder being a bit younger, and guitars, big brass and drums being a little older. This is largely due to the development of a child’s fine motor skills. However, if your child is showing an interest in music before this age then activities like singing around the house, group music sessions for infants or even having fun with rhythms during impromptu drumming sessions (using household items) can all make for great introductions to music.

Cost
Budget is another important consideration when picking out an instrument. There are instruments to fit all budgets and prices can range from just a few pounds to tens of thousands. However, some music shops may offer financing options for pricier instruments and some schools and music schemes offer to loan instruments to their pupils. It may also be worth noting that not all instruments are always treated equal when it comes to lesson prices with orchestral, piano and singing lessons typically priced higher than guitar, ukulele and drums which may become significant over the long-term.

Motivations
The last thing to think about when weighing up your options is the reason for learning. Almost any instrument can fit any musical aspiration, however, there are a couple of points to be aware of. If you think a casual approach to music would work best for your child then maybe the guitar, drums or piano would be your best choice because of their relative ease when starting out. On the other hand, orchestral instruments may take a little longer before the practice starts yielding the same results but they are fantastic for providing unique social experiences with opportunities to perform in orchestras, chamber groups and other ensembles as well as large repertoires of truly beautiful solo pieces to enjoy. It is also fairly common for children to start learning an instrument like the piano and after a year or two switch onto something else

Size
Once you’ve decided which instrument is right for you and your child, the next question will be, what size? Most instruments come in varying sizes which are suitable for the different ages of children and many music shops will have someone who can help you find the correctly proportioned instrument to suit your child.

Still undecided?
At the end of the day, there are always ‘the big three’. Piano, violin and guitar and if in doubt you can always plump for one of these. There is a wide range of instruments available to buy, many teachers to choose from and a variety of directions that lessons can be taken from classical grades to pop, jazz and folk. And if that doesn’t work out, you can always change your mind and try something else!

Instrumentors is a music lessons service established in Brighton & Hove specialising in private one-to-one tuition and online lesson management.
www.instrumentors.co.uk

 

Live is best

By | dance & Art, fun for children, Music and singing, Theatre

With the summer holidays around the corner, there is a bit more time to treat children to a trip to see a live performance at your local theatre. Younger children will enjoy a show during the day, and you can take older children in the evening without worrying so much about getting them to bed on time.

Many theatres have more shows on for children during the school holidays and may also run workshops for those who want to get more involved.

Live theatre can be a magical and memorable experience but recent research by Birbeck, University of London, has also shown that taking youngsters to watch a theatre performance could provide a host of developmental benefits, including improved emotional intelligence and opportunities to discuss difficult subjects.

It is now widely accepted that play-acting and role-play is a fundamental part of development, allowing children to engage in different personalities, work their way through complex social relationships and navigate emotional issues. Watching a live performance can offer some of the same benefits. Many of the shows aimed at children have an under-lying moral message and subjects such as love, friendship and bullying are often explored in a fun and safe environment, which can bring about unexpected but important conversations once the show has finished.

Going to the theatre as a family is also a great bonding experience. Parents don’t have to worry about entertaining their children (it’s being done for them on the stage) and everyone can relax, sit back and enjoy the show together. There are all sorts of shows on at local theatres during the summer. Some shows are for the very young and are short and interactive to keep little ones engaged, while others are full length plays aimed at older children. Many shows are now based on children’s favourite books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar or books by David Walliams or Jacqueline Wilson. There are also live performances and sing-a-longs of films such as Frozen or children’s favourite television shows. These can be a good first introduction to the theatre for young children as they will be very familiar with the story and characters.

In order to get the most out of any show, get children excited and looking forward to the show in advance. If the show you are going to has a soundtrack, you could listen to it in advance. This is a great way to get children familiar with the show without overloading them with too much information. If you know the basics of the story, you could tell it at bedtime the night before so children will know what to expect, but family-friendly shows are normally easy to understand.

Going to see a live performance is a truly memorable experience and it is a wonderful way to spark a child’s imagination – you never know where it may lead them!

Kids Week in the West End

Kids Week in London is a wonderful opportunity to see a West End show.
The price of West End theatre shows puts it out of reach for many people, but Kids Week makes it far more affordable and is a way of encouraging families to go to the theatre.

A child aged 16 or under can go free to any participating show when accompanied by an adult paying full price, and you can buy up to two extra children’s tickets at half price. And there are no booking or postage fees to pay! It has proved so popular that it is no longer just on for a week, but for the whole of August.

Tickets are now on sale. The top shows sell out very quickly, but you can normally pick up tickets for the lesser known shows fairly easily and perhaps see something that you may not normally go to.

For further details go to www.officiallondontheatre.com/kids-week

Hitting the high notes!

By | dance & Art, Education, fun for children, Music and singing, play

Experienced music teachers Sam Dixon and Carolyn Hextall, who run the music department at Brighton College Nursery, Pre-Prep & Prep School, sing the praises for a subject that is becoming increasingly sidelined in many schools.

music for childrenMusic helps us learn
No one doubts that learning music is fun. Sometimes, however, this concept can belittle the advantages that learning music brings and leads to it being given less emphasis in schools than other subjects. Research has shown that being taught music enhances skills such as concentration, memory and focus as well as offering physical and creative benefits to children. Similarly, an increase in the number of teaching hours dedicated to music and the provision of instrumental lessons for pupils can result in overall school improvement.

Busting the myth
There is a common misconception that those who achieve great results in music are naturally talented or gifted. It is a myth that often discourages children, or parents from families without a musical history, to embrace music as a subject. Music is a discipline just like sport or, let’s face it, any subject where success is achieved by children because they enjoy it and are therefore happy to dedicate time and energy to it. Enjoyment and dedication; these are two essential ingredients.

An early start
It is never too early for children to enjoy music and to start performing. Children as young as three can start to learn written notation presented in a fun, active way. Introducing them to the ‘Musical Family’ of Grandpa Semibreve, Daddy Dotted Minim and Baby Crotchet help to bring the notes alive. They learn the musical value of each note by physically moving in a way that suits the different characters; slow footsteps mark out the four beats of Grandpa Semibreve, whilst Daddy Dotted Minim loves to waltz – the children absolutely love the characters and the information sticks.

Keep it moving
Methods such as this introduce the body as an instrument and our youngest pupils begin to connect music with movement, the mind with the body. Note recognition becomes physically embodied at a tender age and this helps to combat any trepidation surrounding their learning to ‘read’ music when they are older. Pulse and rhythm can also be embedded as early as possible through the use of dance along videos and regular opportunities to use simple percussion instruments or even the banging of a humble bucket. Singing is fundamental to the development of ear training
and use of the solfege system helps children to improve their vocal control and develop a strong understanding of the musical scale.

The show must go on
The fundamental principle of performance underpins music teaching at all levels and learning an instrument or singing gives children the opportunity to become involved in musical ensembles, performing with one other, and to explore a wide range of repertoire. Participation in ensembles as varied as orchestras, jazz and swing bands, percussion groups, pop groups, guitar, classical and piano ensembles are a brilliant ways for children to develop the important skills of listening, responding and analyzing. They allow children to work on the art of preparation and offer them vital performance opportunities on all scales.

Technology in music
When composition is introduced at a very young age, through call and response and simple improvisation children respond quickly to the introduction of songwriting, writing music to accompany films or music from particular genres. In a world where so much music is produced by technology, an understanding of notation and composition software such as Cubase and Sibelius is important and should be encouraged.

Making connections
Listening to a wide range of music and putting it into a historical and cultural context helps children to appreciate the links between music and other subjects being learnt at school.
So, when we listen to Baroque music and introduce pupils to the towering genius J.S. Bach, we consider what else was happening at that time. Who was on the throne in England and what was happening in Bach’s hometown? Was he a practical joker like Mozart or, like Handel, did he have a legendary temper? Researching contemporary pieces which use similar techniques, for example Goldfinger’s ‘Superman’ which uses a Baroque ground bass, makes their learning feel more relevant and accessible.

Onwards and upwards
Learning music is a three way process between parent, pupil and teacher. Each one relies on the other for their commitment, participation and development. Parents are key in providing a regular, realistic practice time for children who learn an instrument and ensuring it takes place in an appropriate environment. They can also help by exposing their children to a smorgasbord of different musical styles; it could be as easy as exploring the different channels on the radio, attending concerts or joining local choirs and community music groups. Music is such a wonderful thing to explore with children and parents really do not have to be the expert. If there is something you enjoy, share it with your children. An enthusiastic response to their practice efforts or dancing along to your favorite tunes is all it takes to get started.

Sam Dixon and Carolyn Hextall run the music department at Brighton College Nursery, Pre-Prep & Prep School educating over 500 pupils between the ages of three and 13 in curriculum music. Their provision is supported by a body of over 30 visiting instrumental music teachers who deliver individual and group lessons to the children.
www.brightoncollege.org.uk

Top tips for sleepovers

By | dance & Art, family, Food & Eating, fun for children, Music and singing, parties, play
by Kitty Jones
The Dreamy Den Company

Sleepovers are a childhood staple but can be a daunting time for parents. Have no fear, we’ve put together some helpful tips and advice for a smooth sleepover experience.

1 Food
Hungry children are no fun so make sure you have plenty of food and snacks to keep them fuelled and happy. Self-serve stations are great fun and easy to prepare, try a burger bar, taco bar or a noodle/pasta bar with a selection of toppings and sides. Grab some recyclable ‘take-out’ boxes to minimise washing up.

2 Setting up camp
Living rooms are a good option due to size and TV access for movies but make sure pets can be relocated and the TV usage is monitored so they don’t stumble across any late night horrors by accident. And don’t forget to move any precious ornaments!

3 Midnight feast
This definitely doesn’t have to be at midnight – as hopefully everyone will be asleep by then! Consider having a break in the movie and doing a fruit fondue or a popcorn bar with a selection of toppings and sauces. Try some sugar alternatives to keep the sugar rush under control.

4 Entertainment
Garden games are great for summer and for burning off energy. For rainy days you can try DIY pamper packs or craft packs. Alternatively hire an external entertainer to come in and give you a few hours peace. Movies are great for later on and you can always have a pre-selected list to minimise arguments.

5 Nervous children
Be open and discuss action plans with parents beforehand, especially if a child has never been to a sleepover before. Make sure you know where each child’s parent will be and always get two contact numbers from parents.

6 The morning after
Choose your collection time as mid-morning giving the children a chance to have breakfast and, most importantly, don’t plan too much for the next day, you may all need a few impromptu naps to recover!