Gerry Mannion knows a thing or two about how to get very young children singing. Almost 20 years ago, she set up Tick Tock, a music group for under-5s in Islington, London. It’s run by professionally trained actors and singers and has been a rip-roaring success – there are now branches all over London and beyond. There’s a big element of performance to each session: the team of three perform a new routine every week and it generally involves several instruments, half a dozen costume changes and an eclectic repertoire of songs from ‘Old King Cole’ and ‘Wind the bobbin up’ to ‘Feed the birds’ and ‘All the nice girls love a sailor’. We’ve been going along for three years and in that time I’ve seen cartwheels, robotic dancing, and some surprisingly convincing animal impressions – the energy of the team is something to behold.
I asked Gerry some questions about children and music. And this is what she said:
What can music, song and rhyme do for very young children?
Listening to music can transport you to another place immediately. In the early years, singing and playing music help to develop your child’s listening skills. The repetition of songs and nursery rhymes increases their vocabulary but also helps them to think imaginatively and sensitively, while different sounds and rhythms encourage musicality and song identification. And of course, it’s so much fun!
What do they get from attending music groups?
A sense of belonging and making music together; enjoying and engaging in role play and gaining confidence with encouragement from the group; learning awareness of others, how to participate as part of a group and understand the role they can play as individuals.
And if they seem reluctant to join in?
Remain positive and respect their decision on what they want to be involved with. If they sit and listen and watch, then they are absorbing it and will probably talk about it or certainly return to it during the week. We will always gently encourage the quieter members to engage. If your child seems unresponsive don’t worry, sometimes songs and rhymes are repeated, sung and enjoyed months later.
What can you do at home to encourage them to develop an interest in music?
Play lots of music, anything you like from pop to classical, and talk about the instruments and how the music makes them feel. Make your own instruments using saucepan lids and wooden spoons and rice and beans in jars. Have a music box to keep instruments in. Encourage them to sing and play percussion and tap out rhythms. And SING, SING, SING to your child. Make up your own songs about getting dressed, having breakfast, walking down the street, anything!
What do you like most about what you do?
The children: watching them week by week grow in confidence and musicality, seeing their imaginations grow and developing as little people. Over the years we’ve have had incredible feedback on how the sessions have inspired and initiated a love of music and drama, which has led to enjoyment and success in playing of an instrument and in some cases some fulfilling careers in the arts.