Gerringong in tune with in-school music program

MUSICAL PROGRAM: Gerringong Public School students Riley Dwyer and Sam Le with other participants taking part in the Song Playground program. Pictures: Robert Peet
MUSICAL PROGRAM: Gerringong Public School students Riley Dwyer and Sam Le with other participants taking part in the Song Playground program. Pictures: Robert Peet

Belinda Laird didn't need to be convinced about research showing music lessons improve children's cognitive skills and academic performance.

But the Gerringong Public School relieving assistant principal was nevertheless pleasantly surprised to see first hand that music was also improving the wellbeing of her students.

"The students are loving it. They are outside singing and trying to keep a beat," Mrs Laird said.

"Just the other day when the lunch bell, which is a song, sounded, students just made a big circle and started singing and dancing.

"We've never seen that before at our school. We're so happy we decided to do this program."

Mrs Baird is talking about the Song Playground program devised by Dr Sumant Badami and Shelley Harland.

For the past four weeks the duo have had "heaps of fun" running the program at the school.

IN TUNE: Gerringong Public School students Emerson Hall, Gabby McKenzie, Chloe Pickens and Sam Le with Song Playground coordinator Dr Sumant Badami

IN TUNE: Gerringong Public School students Emerson Hall, Gabby McKenzie, Chloe Pickens and Sam Le with Song Playground coordinator Dr Sumant Badami

Song Playground combines musical therapy, narrative therapy and play therapy to develop skills in musical theory and practice, emotional intelligence and creative confidence.

Participants use reflective techniques and game play to work as a team as they create their very own song.

Dr Badami, known as Monty to most, said the objective is to provide a musical education program that engages students and equips staff with practical skills to make music a part of the school learning culture.

"We do this by providing a program that teaches the basics of music theory, the components of song composition and that connects back to the classroom curriculum," he said.

Dr Badami, an anthropologist and the founder and CEO of Habitus, a social enterprise that is all about making positive changes in Australian education, teamed up with singer-songwriter Harland because they found that music was a "really wonderful vehicle" to engage students as a whole person and "have loads of fun" at the same time.

The effects of learning through music whether you're a child or an adult are undeniable.

Shelley Harland

"Having taught at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels for over 12 years, I was frustrated by the number of students who struggled to think critically, communicate effectively, collaborate with others and find creative solutions to complex problems," he said.

"I would often find myself asking big questions like: How can we prepare our young people to deal with the challenges the future holds?

"Challenges like climate change, economic upheaval, political change, rising inequality, and the prospect that up to half of the current university degrees and occupations could be obsolete within the next decade?

"How do we reinvigorate a sense of our humanity and thrive in the face of an uncertain future? What kind of skills do we need to stand out in an era of rising automation?

"As an anthropologist, these are the very questions I am here to answer!".

CREATING MUSIC: Gerringong Public School students Karly Barrett, Madi Anderson, Lily Conkey and Riley Dwyer with Shelley Harland. Picture: Robert Peet.

CREATING MUSIC: Gerringong Public School students Karly Barrett, Madi Anderson, Lily Conkey and Riley Dwyer with Shelley Harland. Picture: Robert Peet.

The internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter Harland said she shared a love of music and creativity with Monty.

But it wasn't until having children herself and understanding how important music was for a growing child that Harland decided to write a children's album called 'Musical Creatures'.

Inspired by her two little sons and their inquisitive minds she wrote about 'real things' in their lives... self esteem, trying new food, difficult emotions, sharing.

Kinderling Kids Music Radio picked up the album and have been huge supporters as well as receiving many endorsements from child psychologists.

"We believe it is important for music and creativity to be in children's lives and in schools," she said.

"Actually I believe is the fundamental education that needs to happen in schools because what we have seen and why we have created this program is kids coming out of their shell.

"The effects of learning through music whether you're a child or an adult are undeniable.

One of the things we've noticed consistently is that after they have come on the program, they are singing, they are writing their own songs and they are writing their own lyrics and they are expressing their feelings.

Dr Sumant Badami

"Song Playground is about music but it's also about kids learning how to trust, how to be vulnerable, how to share, how to work as a team and so much more."

Participants taking part in the Song Playground music program at Gerringong Public School. Picture: Robert Peet

Participants taking part in the Song Playground music program at Gerringong Public School. Picture: Robert Peet

Dr Badami added students had responded well to the program.

"One of the things we've noticed consistently is that after they have come on the program, they are singing, they are writing their own songs and they are writing their own lyrics and they are expressing their feelings," he said.

"Importantly the kids are writing lyrics associated with the school's Enquiry unit - 'social justice'. Their topics include fairness and friendship, celebrating difference, walking in someone else's shoes and we can make a difference."

Gerringong Public School year 6 students Sam Le and Riley Dwyer said they enjoyed participating in the inclusive program.

"I'd say learning to write a song was the best best part," Riley said.

Sam added he particularly enjoyed the fact the program linked back to students' enquiry.

"I thought that was really cool and we have three great teachers," he said.

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