Soundpots - Stoke Libraries using music to support children’s early language development

Stoke were wanting to increase children’s early language and communication skills through a variety of interventions. One was to support early years practitioners to deliver more effective music sessions through a programme of training. They also wanted to use the music sessions to support parents’ engagement with their children and enhance their home learning environment.

The challenge

Early Years children’s communication and language skills were below the national average in Stoke. Stoke were wanting to raise the level of communication and language across their early years

The solution

Stoke City Music Service, in partnership with Make Some Noise and with steering from Stoke Speaks Out and Stoke Early Years Team, successfully bid for funding from Youth Music to develop and deliver a wide-ranging Early Years music programme - Soundpots.  There are strong links between music, language development and early vocabulary, and Stoke CMS had already delivered successful Early Years music programmes in schools.

The overarching objectives of the Soundpots project were to support young children aged 0-5 with their communication and language skills through musical activities, and to increase the skills and confidence of adults and care-givers in sharing musical activities with the children in their care. The programme worked across lots of different Early Years settings including schools, childcare provision, childminders, children’s centres and parent groups. Training was also delivered to the Stoke Librarians.

The aim of the training was:

  • to give library staff some new ideas to use in their Early Years singing/rhyme/story sessions
  • to develop staff confidence in leading/supporting these sessions
  • to deliver a relaxed, fun and participative music session for parents/carers and their young children

The two music sessions in each library took the place of the usual library singing/rhyme drop-in sessions.  In some cases, children came along from local nurseries to attend the session.

This work was championed by the Principal Librarian, Jayne Stanley, who ensured that all staff at the City Central library attended at least one of the two training sessions provided.  These training sessions took place before the Soundpots session in the library with parents/carers and their young children. 

The impact

All staff thoroughly enjoyed the Soundpot sessions and gained lots of new ideas about the different resources available, learnt new songs and rhymes, as well as practical hints and tips about delivery. As a result, the libraries now have a few more “volunteers” to deliver sessions from staff who feel more confident about their own ability to lead a session.

The family sessions were just as well received.They complemented the work already done by library staff and helped to reinforce the key messages about story sharing and the importance of rhymes in the early years.

Families enjoyed the input of a professional musician, and the children had great fun singing, clapping and using all different types of instruments. Parents reported feeling more confident about their ability to share songs and rhymes.


How is the new approach being sustained?

This initial programme was in 2014. Stoke’s current Soundpots project, again funded by Youth Music, includes work in Stoke and Staffordshire libraries. This has been set up differently, and librarians have no specific training element. The main focus is to share engaging and simple activities to encourage interaction between parents/carers and their children at the session, and hopefully at home, using readily available resources (like paper plates and wooden spoons) and rhymes and songs that are easily remembered or familiar

Two teddy bears and musical instruments in a library


These recent sessions have been very well received by parents/carers, and some have asked for more which is always a lovely thing to hear! The librarians have been welcoming and supportive and have seen and listened to the session in these open-plan libraries. They have been complimentary and thrilled to have been able to host them. 

Stoke Libraries also delivered two sessions called ‘ Bish, Bash, Bosh!’ as part of the initial project. Although the Principal Librarian admitted to being a little nervous about agreeing to host these sessions as they involved lots of resources not typically used in libraries - ladders, junk etc., she was pleased to say that these innovative sessions were a fantastic and welcome addition to their programme of events for families. Children of all ages were engaged for the duration of the session, and lots of mums and dads were too. As in all good sessions, children were learning, being creative and at the same time having tremendous fun. The sessions certainly enhanced the library visit for our customers, and Stoke would welcome the opportunity to deliver more sessions in more of their libraries.


Ruth Steele