The project has made terrific progress since its start in June 2016, and the Autumn of 2016 saw the first sessions take place. Children aged between 24-36 months were recruited by the speech and language service who had difficulties in expressing themselves, some of whom had a diagnosis, and they were placed on an eight week group programme with their parents/carers. There were three groups of up to ten children, arranged as one in Norwich and two in Great Yarmouth. Each group was joined by an early childhood music practitioner, a music apprentice, and a speech and language assistant and/or speech and language therapist from the East Coast Community Healthcare team.
Our groups entered a playful environment every week, where tuned and un-tuned percussion instruments, objects to encourage speech (toy animals, vehicles and plastic food), construction materials, and sensory materials like scarves and large foil blankets were free for the children to explore.
The first part of the session was ‘free play’ with practitioners interacting with the children’s sound and play. The practitioners would Observe, Wait, and Listen and copy and extend the children’s playful ideas. Meanwhile, parents were encouraged to play with their children. The second part of the session was slightly more ‘led’ music group time. Musical material for this section was varied, and the format was simple and accessible. Music, rather than a visual timetable, was found to be the best way to structure our time. Our sessions were not about what the children can’t do; there was no pressure to speak. This in itself is a hugely important aspect of our work.
We reflected on each group, remaining self-critical in our approach. We ran the programme with a number of different groups in Norwich and Great Yarmouth, and each one was given a celebration session for the families as well as an evaluation of the programme. We used a holistic set of resources to evaluate and run our sessions, such as videos of the sessions, practice sessions, and attendance registers.
One of our main focuses for this project was to build an effective data collection tool. This has been adapted by the team and has been guided by constant information collation from each programme. We are really pleased by the tool we have created, which measures wellbeing and involvement, social interaction, and expressive behaviour.
We strongly believed in setting up an in-depth communication between all of our participants. We therefore included the children and parents in the actual process of our researching. For example, they could watch our film data and their reactions would demonstrate their voice. We also actively listened to the parents’ views which further built a rich source of findings.