Promoting children’s well-being, right to make choices and engage in playful activities in restricted environments through music and singing

In an environment where children can experience loss of control over decisions and restricted play experiences, musical games and activities offer children affordances to improve these experiences.  They also support areas of personal, socio-emotional and communication development, turn taking and overall wellbeing.  Singing in particular is noted as a universal human activity (Powell and Gouch, 215) and a conduit for emotional exchange (Elkind 2015; Spratt 2012).

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Photo: courtesy of The Champion Centre, NZ

The Singing Medicine delivered by Ex Cathedra http://excathedra.co.uk/education/singing-medicine/ service is an award-winning project (Outstanding contribution to the field of arts and health, Royal Society for Public Health 2011) that is delivered weekly to wards at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. The Hospital has an on-site school which works within the framework of the Early Years Foundation Stage (and other legislative curriculum frameworks) and where the programme is offered to children who are well enough to attend school. The Singing Medicine service brings all the benefits of play through singing to children staying in hospital.  In an environment where children can feel they have lost control over their lives adapted games offer children ways of making decisions.  The games also support many other areas of personal and social development important in any child’s development such language and speech development, turn-taking, taking an individual responsibility, learning to lose, confidence. The programme aims to respond to children’s emotions providing either stimulation, or offer calm as required.  On the Neonatal wards, Vocal Tutors (VTs) are often asked to sing to particularly distraught and crying babies in order to soothe them – sometimes even singing them to sleep.

The deeper breathing required by singing enables participants to reconnect with core muscles, and helps increase lung capacity.  Singing activities often include some movement to increase physical mobility, and VTs are often approached by physiotherapists to work with a patient in a particular way in order to increase the development of particular muscles in conjunction with exercises they have set.  Working in patient or family groups singing sessions relieve boredom, offer a distraction from the ward around them, and reduce social isolation. Singing with others promotes human bonding and oxytocin, supporting children’s relationships with caregivers. This in turn can lead to an increase in wellbeing in a situation where psychological deterioration can lead to deterioration in health.

This study is funded by the Froebel Trust and aims to describe and analyse the views and perceptions of parents and professionals who care for and support children who participate in the Singing Medicine service. A further aim would be to understand how the application of Frobelian principles can help us to understand and conceptualise children’s rights and well-being in the context of their family and community in restricted environments such as a Children’s Hospital.

Interviews with parents and clinical professionals will be followed by a Focus Group Meeting of Vocal Tutors to map the findings against Frobelian Principles of children’s right to play and creativity in restricted environments.