All the better for verse, Maria Corby believes in singing

7th May 2004 at 01:00
Circle time is our morning greeting and news session for every class. I sometimes follow it, from class to class, starting in nursery, where they're singing and signing "Hello Maisie, how are you?" to the tune of "Skip to my Lou". The children need a bit of help and some of them find sitting in a circle difficult, but they sing the same song every morning, and they're getting used to the routine and even anticipating.

The juniors are also enthusiastically singing "Hello". They put photos of themselves on a board so everyone can see who is at school today. I watch as the same routine is developed in each class until I come to our 16-plus group, where one student is leading and matching the names to that day's activities. He too would have sung the "Hello" song in nursery and here he is, leading the group.

Music is a vital part of the curriculum, and singing, particularly with younger pupils, is an effective way of cueing them in, giving repetition and structure, and teaching language and communication skills.

I'm not a brilliant singer, and have seen children fling their hearing aids across the room as I approach. But in common with colleagues, I use singing a lot. In nursery, as well as the greeting song, they use a lunchtime song ("Hungry, hungry") a going home song ("Goodbye, goodbye") and even a tidy up song (you've got it - "Tidy, tidy"). Music is also used to cue in sessions throughout the school: new age music for relaxation and massage sessions, Sheherazade at the start of story time, lively music for PE warm-up, and music from other cultures and times for topic work.

The speech and language therapists use singing too: little games that involve passing objects, making eye contact, anticipating events, using everyday items and asking for "more" are made fun and given structure by putting them to the tunes of familiar songs.

I once made a mistake I'll never repeat. It was the end of the day and I was working in nursery. I got a bit confused and started singing "Goodbye, goodbye" to the "Skip to my Lou" tune. The children began to wail. The staff looked a little shaky too. "That's our hello tune," cried Cathy. "The children think they've got to go through the whole day again." I deftly segued into the correct tune ("Nuts in May") and peace was restored ready for home time. Powerful stuff, music.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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