Grant holder
Jessica Pitt, Royal College of Music
Project status

Research exploring how wordless sound-play can be used by educators in early childhood education.

Project summary

This research project is a partnership between the Royal College of Music and Magic Acorns: an early childhood arts organisation based in Great Yarmouth, with a strong research-practice history.

Dr Jessica Pitt (Froebel PhD Scholar, 2010-2014), Lecturer in Music Education at RCM, and Director of Magic Acorns, will supervise a Magic Acorns-recruited research associate to analyse peer-reviewed and other sources, video data, and ongoing artistic work produced with children and Magic Acorns artists.

The research questions, inspired by Froebel’s idea that through diverse experiences we come to know the world as it relates to us, and our inner life as it relates with the world.

By listening to children’s sound-play - a central feature of the artistic pedagogy of Magic Acorns - this aspect of Froebel’s philosophical understanding of children is particularly resonant and has inspired the following research questions:

• How do children express their inner worlds through sound-play?

• What happens when educators and artists practice a pedagogy of listening - where the quantity and quality of adult talk is measured and attuned; listening to children's sound-play is prioritised, as is joining children with their own playfulness?

• How do these findings relate to Froebel's writings about children and education?


An introduction to the project

A short article introducing one of the Inside Out research project leaders

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Webinar recorded on 23 January 2023. This event was part of this Froebel Trust funded research project - a partnership between the Royal College of Music and Magic Acorns.

Background to the project

SALTmusic, a recent Youth Music-funded project (Pitt & Arculus, 2018) produced findings that a wordless environment, focused on children’s sound-play as initiation for interaction, led to an increase in children’s use of words and a reduction in parental anxiety. Further Arts Council England-funded projects (Near and Far, In Between Spaces, Germination) have honed and refined sound-play without words as a pedagogical framework for Magic Acorns practice and training for artists and early childhood educators.

Between 2016-18 the music-arts team at The Priory, Great Yarmouth (now working as Magic Acorns) undertook SALTmusic (Pitt & Arculus, 2018, Pitt, 2020; Arculus, 2020; Pitt & Welch, 2021) an action research project. The music-arts team, already very experienced in child-centred practice, worked alongside speech and language therapists(SLTs) with children (24-48months) with communication needs referral.

Through reflective practice artists and SLTs were able to share their knowledge and skills, based on a desire to better support these families. Noticing that parents and carers were often very anxious about their child's perceived deficit, that trying to get them to say words was fraught with stress, and that children were frustrated when they were not able to communicate their needs, the artists decided to remove words and talk. This shifted the adults’ focus from the child's failure to meet adult-devised milestones. towards freedom to experience their child's ability, their musicality, and their imaginative play. Additionally, introducing simple signing helped children’s frustration, resulting in a more relaxed, playful approach in which a child's attempts at speech could be heard and validated.

Magic Acorns now holds an archive of rich data sources which detail the development of this approach beyond the original speech and language focussed work. This grant will enable deep study of children’s sound-play, its importance for practice, for giving children a voice and for shaping future expressive arts practice for early childhood education.

Read the final research report for this project and follow how the project progressed via the research team's blog.

'Making music as we grow up'

The researchers leading this project presented their work at the EUNet MERYC Conference at Autonomous University of Barcelona on 4 - 7 July 2023

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Free resource

Songs, rhymes and finger plays

Find out more about the importance of introducing young children to regular music and signing activities. A free to download Froebel Trust pamphlet for educators.

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