Back in March, folk musician Nicola Lyons and nine other LMN musicians were in the middle of delivering year-long music residencies in schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as part of our SEND Inspire programme. The sessions came to an abrupt halt with lockdown restrictions. A couple of schools, including Manor School – a primary special school in Brent, London – where Nicola was resident, moved some of their sessions online for children who remained in school.
At the start of October, Nicola was one of the first LMN musicians to resume her visits to school in person, following government guidance and LMN protocol for Covid-safe music sessions. LMN’s Karen Irwin spoke to Nicola to see how the first “in person” session went.
What did it feel like going back into school?
I’m SO pleased that I am able to return to Manor School and complete my residency (in real life!). The safety measures that Manor School have in place are fantastic and I felt very comfortable returning to school.
What preparations did you have to make?
I had a Zoom meeting with Emma the music teacher to discuss which pod and classes I’d work with for the remainder of my residency. Emma asked whether I’d prefer to work with children who understand how to socially distance. We agreed that, since I also visit other schools, this would be best. I appreciated that Emma had given me the option as this was something I hadn’t thought about.
I sent Emma a list of percussion instruments that I wanted to use during the sessions – she had kindly brought these to the pod just before I arrived. I set aside 20 minutes after each session to sanitise the instruments before moving on to the next group.
I invested in a visor so the children could see my facial expressions, which can be so important when working in this type of environment.
On the day Angela (deputy head) met me at the school gate and went through the health and safety briefing which included the route I should take in and out of school. The pods and corresponding routes are colour coordinated, which I think is a brilliant idea!
How did you adapt your sessions to make them Covid secure?
I kept the structure of my sessions similar to before but adapted some of the activities to maintain social distancing.
For example, I usually start my sessions with a ‘Hello Song’ which includes a sensory aspect – I move around the circle and ask each child if they would like to play my ukulele after I sing “Hello” to them. I still wanted there to be an element of one-to-one interaction, so altered this part of the song to include ‘silly actions’! After singing “Hello” to each child, I performed a silly action and invited them to copy it. I’ll develop this further in future weeks (asking the child to suggest their own action).
We also did some ‘safe’ singing in the session. I used a favourite, “Grizzly Bear”, which encourages the children to sing quietly in line with Covid restrictions.
And how did the children respond?
The children’s responses were as lovely as ever! It’s a shame that we have to omit some things from our sessions, but it’s important to remember that we are still making music, which is such an invaluable experience for children with additional needs. I feel so lucky that I still have the opportunity to carry out this type of work during these unusual and challenging times!
Resources for SEN schools
During lockdown, Nicola created some fun musical activities for children to do whilst she wasn’t able to visit in person which you can see below.
You can look at video resources made by other LMN musicians on our new online video library for schools and families here.
We are grateful to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, John Lyons Charity, John Lewis Foundation, MVAT and Stoller Charitable Trust for supporting LMN SEND Inspire “Musician in Residence” programme during 2019/20.