Songs – Not Just for Singing Time

Encouraging song in a sponaneous and constructive manner in the early years setting

Research practitioner:

Senior practitioner:

Project summary:

Observing the use of song in the EYC with a view to enhance and develop practitioner confidence and knowledge

Child playing xylophone


Froebel believed that music was an important tool to develop relationships and in an early years setting can help to foster those warm, nurturing and affectionate relationships between practitioners and children.

Within the setting we look at the singing occurrences and wonder if it has disappeared during Covid – 19, either due to the legislation stopping group singing at that time, the confidence and knowledge of inexperienced staff or losing the habit.

Family learning and engagement plays a vital role in the small community that surrounds the early years setting, through song we can introduce local cultures and introduce new ideas and cultures to ensure diversity and inclusivity in the setting, where children can learn in the setting and share with their families at home, to support any gaps in language development and literacy.

Early Learning and Childcare and the Scottish Attainment Challenge ” singing games and rhymes is an effective approach of supporting children’s emerging oral vocabulary”.


The centre is situated in the lowest SIMD area within the local authority and is recognised as an area of extreme deprivation. Families have varying capacity in parenting, literacy and engagement. As a centre we provide families ways to help support their child’s learning and development. Developing the use of song within the centre and establishing a lyric and tune resource would support families to improve language and communication skills together with early literacy skills. For our younger children, families will benefit from nurturing times with their child as they use song during caring routines, or bedtime lullabies.

Over the past few years our centre had already begun to adapt the environment and resources as part of the Language and Communication Friendly Establishment. When undertaking a certificate in Froebel Practice, it highlighted the comparisons with Froebelian Principles and our centre ethos was reinforced.

We chose to look at Froebel’s Mother Songs as a basis for our project, our aim was to observe how and when song was used throughout the setting and how we could develop the use of song. Our original hunch was that song was used only during group activities and not offered regularly by all staff. To discover if this hunch had substance, we needed to learn our staffs understanding of the benefits of song and if they used song during the day.

Our initial ideas to observe staff and prepare resources became too large and after reminder to start our project small, we narrowed our project to concentrate on staff knowledge and how they used it throughout the day.

We approached the collecting of information in 3 different ways. Firstly, we wanted to know if there was knowledge of the importance of song, this would be researched through a questionnaire. Then to observe staff to establish if what was said in questionnaires was reflected in practice. Lastly, we would meet with small focus groups to discuss the questions and ask what would support them in delivering song.

Before starting our project, all staff were given information on why the project was being undertaken and the participation expected from staff. All staff were given the option to be included in the project and signed consent was given.

The questionnaire was sent using Glow forms. To ensure that all staff had the ability to access the form, checks were made on their ability to access glow. Some of the staff reported that they couldn’t access the link sent. We resent links through the copied link process and also to reinvite directly from the Form. Staff also reported that they couldn’t access the laptops, QR codes were posted in staff room to help staff complete on their mobile device.


All adults were consulted in the process of observations and agreed to take part in focus group discussions and in completing questionnaires relating to the project. We did not observe children or involve parents at this stage.

“Musicality is within us and helps us to produce music, it is natural and spontaneous”. (Horning 2012)


The staff questionnaire was completed by 19 people. The results showed that staff had a good awareness of the benefits of song, mentioning developing language and communication skills, early literacy and nurturing moments. Staff reported that they used song for ring games, together time or for sleep time.

When asked to rate the importance of song the majority gave being extremely important response. No responses returned for lower ratings such as not being important or a little important. There was nearly a 50/50 split for how often staff used song between very often and regularly.

When asked how confident staff were at singing with the children, responses were more varied. Only 1 respondent was not confident in signing, 4 were somewhat confident, 7 fairly confident and 7 extremely confident. When asked why they gave these responses it became clear that staff’s singing voices were reasons for why they were not confident to sing. Conversely some who said they had the worst voice were happy to lead singing.

From the outcome of the staff questionnaire, initial thoughts would be that staff used signing throughout the day and for a variety of reasons.

After carrying out observations it became clear that on paper staff saw the benefit of song and reported using it however in reality, it was not observed in practice. Observations showed that there was variance to the amount of song heard in the 0-3 age group to that in the 3-5 age group.

The 0-3 age group were observed using song at various points during the day and used song for a variety of reasons. The 3-5 age group were observed using song mainly at group times and often song was not heard at all during the flow of play.

Focus groups showed that staff had varying knowledge of songs and requested development of a booklet to enhance lyric and tune knowledge. Staff would also like to learn more about the project being undertaken and Froebelian principles. As a result, plans are being made to present information at an in-service training event on the importance of song, the benefits, links to Froebel and supporting gaps in family engagement and literacy skills. This will be enhanced through the creation of a poster/newsletter and interactive song book.

One of the main questions the results raised was why there is such a difference between to 0-3 and 3-5 age group and how we could develop song use in the latter age group. It is hoped that by producing a lyric book and an information event, song will be developed within the 3-5 room.


Staff who took part felt they had good knowledge of why song was important and made suggestions on what would support them. Through observations, we did not uncover any evidence that staff in our 3-5 room use song throughout the session and the majority of observations showed that no song was used. The 0-3 age group used song throughout the day for a variety of reasons such as routines and to soothe or comfort.

In a nutshell by the age of 3 our children only experienced song at group time or an organised group.

We plan to hold In-Service training event on the benefits of song, produce a lyric book and poster for guidance.

Research implications

The research project will afford the manager a focused time to observe her team in practice and to ask questions needed to support the development of her ideas in creating greater opportunities for singing in the early years setting. It will confirm or deny any thoughts she may have had, but most importantly will enable the staff team to work together to develop their knowledge and confidence in children’s song that will in turn enhance the provision for children.

The nursery is set within a tight knit community where there are levels of deprivation and some gaps in language and literacy development. Along with other options such as book bug and a lending library, this opportunity to develop song will hopefully provide a more inclusive way of encouraging family engagement that is not reliant on literacy skills of the adult; that not only will it build confidence in their staff team to understand the benefits to all in song but their confidence knowledge will also reach the wider community and further encourage family engagement and learning.

As the centre encourages unity and connectedness through practitioners working to a shared goal in developing song, linking with community and reaching out to the families to engage in traditional song with the children, being enriched by the diversity and uniqueness of the individuals and to encourage a sense of belonging.

Limited resources will be required to produce materials for this – printing of a song book, inclusive of QR codes, linking to audio. A booklet/poster to practitioners and to parents to develop and understanding of the importance of song in developing language and the link to Froeblelian principles and the importance of play and creativity, supporting knowledgeable and nurturing practitioners to self-reflect and continue to enhance their practice and working in partnership with families and the community.

When referring to the importance Froebel put on literacy experiences that offer a lifelong enjoyment of communication, informed discussion, reading and writing, Tina Bruce states that “Children are then encouraged to actively enjoy the process of becoming literate with support for their intellectual life to flourish.” (online)

Realising the Ambition reminds us that language development is the key to unlocking all learning for children and in co creating spaces for children to enable them to sing, talk, rhyme and play with sounds and that the amount of vocabulary they have access to is crucial.

We understand that children in this setting require as many opportunities as possible to access language and vocabulary and song can play an important role to introduce the family to this opportunity.

With responsibility for professional learning in the early years community in East Dunbartonshire Council, I believe our findings from this research and the materials produced could be further disseminated amongst our settings. I would be very interested to follow up the impact of the materials on practitioners, children and parents. – Last accessed 04/04/23

Practitioner enquiry

As a reflective practitioner and having undertaken the Scottish Improvement Leadership programme I have a strong grounding in practitioner research and inquiry to effect change with impact and improvements that have an impact on children.

With that in mind my role in quality improvement and quality assurance relies on practitioners undertaking research in their own settings.

Alongside this as part of the professional learning offer there is an expectation for practitioners to undertake a test of change where they are involved in the research and development of a specific change aim.

Leadership learning

I very much believe in the principles of knowledgeable practitioners to support an early years setting; where they are confident and comfortable in continuous learning opportunities. I feel that I have been able to encourage the manager to embrace this opportunity. I would also say that providing autonomy, not only for our learners but also our practitioners ensures their engagement with an improvement project; that it fuels divergent thinking and encourages change for improvement. I have also found that motivation for my role has been enhanced through the opportunity to support and lead on this project, enhancing my interest in research and new knowledge.

I also believe that when you join practitioners in research they are then keen to know more and have a thirst for knowledge – to this end we have created a poster to fill in some detail to the project and hopefully help them to seek out more information and continue researching

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Leona Stewart
    Leona Stewart
    13 Jun 2023 at 2:01 pm

    I thought this was a well worked project Jean, where you were very aware of your demographic and thought about your parents and encouraging engagement in familiarity with song to develop literacy. It was sensitive to the practitioners and took their views into account. I know you are not finished your journey yet and I look forward to seeing your progression.

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