Rachael Wyeth is a Senior Learning Support Assistant at I CAN’s Meath School for pupils with speech and / or language disorders in Surrey. Here she tells us about the pupils’ involvement in the “Meath Singers” school choir.
All through the week, groups of children can be heard singing one of our favourite warm up songs in the playground. By Thursday lunch-time, the children are bursting to come to the music room and sing (and sign!) some songs with their friends.
“Meath Singers” gives children the chance to make friends outside of the playground, which can be challenging for children with speech and language difficulties. The children can sit and talk whilst the grown-ups get things ready for the next song, and they all laugh together when we are doing our funny warm-ups. Being in a choir is a group activity, which means the children can feel confident performing among their friends. Some of the older children are more confident; to give them a chance to push themselves out of their comfort zone, we offer solos.
When the children arrive we encourage them to sit with children not in their class, so there is interaction across ages. We begin with a couple of ‘silly’ songs to get the children warmed up. Although the children think of it as a funny way to start, the grown-ups model and the children practise ‘good looking and listening’, developing their attention skills.
After we’ve warmed up, we jump straight in and start practising our songs. We sing well-known songs that the children love, meaning they don’t need to work too hard to learn the words. We spend more time learning the signs, making sure all the children are able to express themselves. Signing is so important to the children at Meath; it means even the children who aren’t able to sing all the words can join in and feel a part of the choir.
We work towards a performance at the end of each term, which motivates the children as it sets the goalpost for what they need to know. It focuses the children to work their hardest so they can be their best when they show their friends and family what they have learnt. Once we have learnt a song, and sing it the whole way through, the sense of achievement in the room is wonderful. “Meath Singers” builds their resilience as they learn that it can take a long time to learn something, and it’s okay to make mistakes along the way.
At the end of the session, the children grab their things and run off for the last few minutes of playtime, singing their favourite songs as they go!