Learning with Lullabies

To request a full project report with statistical analysis, please do not hesitate to get in touch using the details on the Contact Us section.

The Learning with Lullabies project aimed to encourage parents to use singing and lullabies to bond and communicate with their young children; building confidence as parents and developing their musical awareness.

This encouragement was provided directly to parents through the medium of Parent and Toddler and Family Support groups and indirectly through fora for adults caring for children in a variety of settings.

To my knowledge, there has been no other analogous project and therefore no precedent to follow.  The project delivery was developed using the experience of the staff members involved and was flexible to suit the needs of the recipients.

It was initiated by Highland Pre-School Services (now Care and Learning Alliance) in association with partners Skye and Lochalsh Childcare and Family Resource Partnership and Inverness Childcare and Family Resource Partnership and was funded by the Scottish Arts Council Youth Music Fund.

The Parent and Toddler Workshops

There was a number of considerations in developing a programme of workshops:

  • The children can range in age from only a few months to over four years old; from being unable to sit unaided to very physically capable
  • Interaction with and involvement of parents are vital components
  • Songs are all from Scottish tradition

Between June 2006 and September 2007, 80 workshops took place in parent and toddler groups.

10 parent and toddler groups were invited to participate in Skye and Lochalsh and 10 in the Inverness Area, each group receiving 4 visits.  These included a mixture of Gaelic medium  'Rionnagan Beaga' groups, HPS member groups, Family First and Forward with Families groups.  Participation varied from group to group, from one parent and child to 27, and involved city, town and rural village based groups.

Parental feedback was gathered at the first and last visit with each group.  Responses given are illustrated in the charts accompanying this report.  Because of the nature of parent and toddler groups, not all parents attended all visits to their group and some attended more than one group, so that feedback is illustrative of a sample of parents, not exhaustive.

Comments from parents and other carers included:

The children loved the singing and actions and really looked forward to the sessions.  By the last session the kids knew the actions.

It's been a lovely singalong for the kids, my little boy loves it each time you come. Lovely slow pace for kids.

Thanks for coming really enjoyed it!

We hope you'll be back sometime, my boy enjoyed it a lot. Thank you very much.

Thank you so much, it's been great.

Children love Ali Bali Bee, I try to sing the Gaelic songs with them.

Thank you, Liam loved it!

Thank you so much for such an enriching time, bringing joy and culture to our group

As a result of the lullabies workshops, my daughter now falls asleep to me singing 'Three Craws' learnt at the sessions.

Children always love to sing and its helpful to keep them still when nappy changing etc

Now will sing more Scots songs!

Granny learned these things first time round!

Child went from not concentrating and running around to sitting and moving according to instruction.

In total over 200 children took part in workshops at parent and toddler groups and nearly as many adults.  Four parents opted out of the workshops.

It is clear, however, that it is the impact on individual children which is more indicative of the success of the project, rather than analysis of the statistics alone.

During the application process, the proposed number of visits to each group was increased from 3 to 4 and this was found to be a significant benefit, with both children and adults taking part far more enthusiastically and with much greater ease when they had the full four visits.

It was originally planned that each visit would take about an hour.  In going to each group it was apparent that it was necessary to stay for as much of the group's session as possible, in order to build familiarity and trust with parents and children in the group.

Few children with special needs took part in the workshops.  We used Makaton signs as actions where possible and this was particularly appreciated by one child with Down's Syndrome.  His carer took away copies of the songs to enjoy at home.

Health and Safety awareness included encouraging parents to ensure their chair was safely sited to avoid it slipping back in the dandling songs, and repeatedly reminding them to watch out for children passing on the floor during more active songs.  In one venue I moved the session out of the comfy seating area into a separate room because of concerns that lack of space could result in injury.

Children's own choices were incorporated into workshops by them requesting songs from previous workshops, favourite songs they knew already and offering to give solo performances.  In one group we included rehearsal of a version of 'Twinkle Twinkle' the group was going to present at a Christmas celebration and in another one child had made up new words changing the 'Hullo Song' to the 'I Love you' song, which we all sang together.

An outline of the content of a typical workshop in the order used for this project:

  • Physical and vocal warm-up - basic stretches, vocalised yawns, sometimes themed around stars in the night sky or going to bed.  Parents with babies and very young children assisted them in moving arms etc.  This established the start of singing time and involved all participants in the same activity while not asking them to sing straight away.
  • Warm-up song - the Hullo Song, modern words put to traditional Orkney fiddle tune (Bonnie Tammie Scholar) Simple, catchy chorus using high and low hand actions to reflect high and low notes in the song, identifying the difference between verse and refrain, easy actions in verses.
  • Dandling songs - usually starting with Ali Bally Bee (Coultart's Candy) as this was often one parents found familiar, followed by shorter songs like Wee Chookie Birdie and Hey Jock ma Cuddy, with Crubag Bheag in Gaelic medium setting.  Parents asked to sit child on their knee facing them for these songs, encouraging eye contact.  Dandling involving moving child in time with song, bouncing, 'rowing', jigging, 'dropping' and so on, to establish link between heard and felt rhythm and develop gross motor control.
  • Action songs - children very often facing me copying actions and joining in where capable.  Songs included I Had a Wee Hen, 3 Craws, Katie Bairdie
  • Singing Games - circle games like Brochan Lom, parachute games like The Big Ship Sails and Chuir iad mise, chain games like Underneath the Arches and the Fairy Lullaby, encouraging group participation and turn-taking and again identifying the difference between verse and chorus through distinct actions
  • Baby 'swinging' and dancing - gentler songs like Gille Beag o with the strong rhythm used for full body action either holding a pre-walker with sufficient head control round the trunk and gently swinging in the first part then turning with them held close to chest and using up and down motion for second part, or standing facing confident walker, holding both hands and swinging arms side to side echoing swinging movements.  This emphasises the heard and felt rhythm and eye contact and is more calming than action songs.
  • Cuddle and cool down - rocking gently on parents knees or lying on floor with cushions with songs like Nam bu leam fhin thu or Dream Angus
  • Story - in many groups we followed up the singing with a story associated in some way with the songs used

Sustaining Participation

 It was planned that I would work with HPS Parent and Toddler Group Facilitators and that the Skye P&TGF, Michele Garner would take part in the project as trainee.  In practice, the Inverness Area P&TGFs Jayne Ferguson and Annette MacLean participated as trainees as well, broadening the knock-on effect of the workshops.

A resource CD has been made available to all the groups taking part in the project and CALA member groups which were not included.  The songs on the CD include those used in the workshops and additional songs which might be useful for the groups.  Each CD contains a booklet with full song words and ideas on how to use them in the groups.  CALA staff continue to promote Learning with Lullabies in all member groups through of these CDs within groups to sustain the project. The P & T G Facilitator in Ross-shire is actively supporting 12 P & T groups to Learn with Lullabies.  Parents in some groups have also bought copies for their personal use and permission has been given for groups to make copies for parents to take home.


CDs were included music resource boxes which were distributed in Inverness Area, as part of a separate project taking place during the course of the Learning with Lullabies project.


All three P&TGFs have reported positive responses from parents and children in groups which took part in the project and have gone on to use the experience gained in other groups since.


Nine fora for adults in childcare took place.  Participants came from a variety of capacities

  • Family First volunteers
  • Childminders
  • Playworkers
  • Nursery Teachers
  • Parent and Toddler Group Facilitators
  • Community Support Workers,
  • Senior Early Years Worker
  • Student nurses
  • Nursery nurses
  • Parents

These fora constituted an opportunity for me to pass on information about the project and share experiences on how the workshops were put together, why specific songs were chosen and how these worked in different locations and discuss the benefits of singing for young children and how the forum participants might take this material and these ideas forward in their group.

Feedback was collected at the end of the forum and this is summarised in the chart accompanying this report.  Additional comments made were:

Really useful to understand theory behind the practice

Very good workshop, Christina sang and explained very well

Very good workshop liked your singing

Really worthwhile

Very good, very informative, lovely singer

Has given me some great ideas to include parents into my setting.   I will benefit from this session, thank you

Looking forward to introducing this to my group

Very friendly and relaxed

Very good enjoyed session a lot

Thanks you made me laugh

Always good to learn new action songs and to hear the benefits the children get from them

Very enjoyable session, hope more to come

Really good to come and encourage this group

Very much enjoyed the traditional Scottish and Gaelic songs

A bit longer session earlier in the day.  Would go to another session in the future


Part of the joy of working on this project has been observing the change in the children's response to singing and taking part in group activities, particularly when their parent has assumed that they are not interested.

This project has given parents and children the opportunity to try an activity which some had not considered or discounted.

Of course, there are parents who sing often at home and a number who already sang a few traditional Scottish songs.  It was striking that where a child was being brought to the group by a grandparent, they were already familiar with one or two of the songs and sang them at home.  One mother mentioned to me that she had been sung these songs by her mother, but it had never occurred to her to sing them to her own children.

Songs have a more prominent role in the Gaelic medium Parent and Toddler group sessions, where their value as a tool in speech and language development is better recognised.

The eagerness to participate of the children seemed to be directly related to the enthusiasm of the adult with them.  One parent in one of Jayne's groups spent the whole session involved in paperwork and group organisation.  It was difficult to hold her son's attention without her participation and he sometimes got a bit unruly.  When Jayne was attending the group, he felt comfortable to take part on her knee.

One father in one of Michele's groups was pretty reluctant in his participation (without actively refusing to take part) and his son spent the first part of the session underneath Dad's chair, until they both 'warmed up' a bit.

There were many moments in the delivery of this project that will stay with me.  Two stand out as favourites:

On the first visit to one group, a mum with a baby and a toddler set the baby on the floor mat with a toy at the beginning of the workshop, while she took her toddler up on her knee.  I asked her if I could have the baby, so she lifted her onto my knee and gave her a book to amuse her.  She said she thought the baby was too young to participate.  I set the book aside and lead the session with the baby on my knee.  On the final visit, the baby was getting excited at songs she liked and clapping hands in time with the appropriate verse in the 'Hullo Song'.

One boy refused to tolerate any singing from his mum, to the extent of climbing up onto her knee and covering her mouth, on the first visit.  He tolerated me singing in the room, but his mum said he became aggressive if she tried to sing at home.  On the fourth visit, the group had just received a loan of the ball pool from the Toy Library and he was very excited about trying it out.  I thought we had no chance of getting him out of the pool, so tried one song with him in it, and then suggested we sing Ali Bally.  He dropped the balls he was holding and scrambled out of the pool onto him mum's knee and participated eagerly with all the songs.  She told me he had completely come round at home and now was happy for her to sing along to anything.  He occasionally still said 'Silly Mummy' when she sang, but significantly, she now had the confidence to not let it put her off.


This project succeeded in a number of areas:

  • encouraged many parents who had not felt confident about singing with their children
  • gave parents ideas of more traditional Scottish songs they could use
  • informed parents and other adults in childcare of the benefits of singing with children in bonding, communication, speech and language development, physical awareness
  • provided support in a practical way to Parent and Toddler Groups
  • introduced children to basic musical awareness with recognition of rhythm, and the concepts of fast/slow, verse/chorus, high/low
  • inspired CALA staff to include singing in their work with Parent and Toddler groups
  • helped children become comfortable with group participation
  • gave some children an outlet to express their own creativity
  • inspired and informed my own approach to working with young children and their carers

The statistics gathered from adult participants illustrate reaction to the project.  As a general overview, however, the development in the children is most striking.  Even if the project had not succeeded in most locations, it would have been worthwhile for particular individual children.  These include the boy who could not concentrate through the first workshops and spent most of his time running around, as he normally did at toddler group, but came and sat attentively, focused well and participated in the fourth workshop, and the girl who cried through the first half of the first two sessions, because she found sitting in a circle overwhelming, but came and sat on my knee for most of the fourth visit.

Organisationally, this project has set the standard for traditional song development work in Scotland.

Learning with Lullabies has really demonstrably touched the lives of so many of the children involved and reignited interest in traditional song as a powerful tool in child development across the Highlands.

For more information on other CALA projects:







Singing Together

Margaret Chrystall

"SITTING on your mummy's knee" is where most of us learned songs like Ally Bally Bee, the one the line comes from.

Christina Stewart knows that - and the fact that these days we know that youngsters and mums and dads sharing simple, traditional fun songs is a great way to strengthen the parent-child bond.

It's also a great way for toddlers to learn everything from rhythm and balance to memory skills, as they learn to remember the words.

And a new series of workshops - Learning with Lullabies - being run by Christina with groups across the Highlands will help the 0-to-threes age group to improve their social skills when they meet other parents and kids.

Two years ago, Christina produced a CD of lullabies, called Kist o Dreams, which went with a set of workshops she taught to various groups around the Highlands. The CD sold out its 500 copies.

Now Christina has broadened out the songs she is teaching and passing on as part of a series of workshops from Tuesday.

She explained: "I am now working with Highland Pre-School Services on a youth music project for toddler groups in Inverness and Skye.

"But in fact this time I'm including quite a lot of different Scottish traditional songs with lots of activities aimed at involving parents - and centre staff - interacting with their babies and toddlers.

"Some of the music is traditional dandling songs, there are some action songs and also lullabies.

"We're using songs which will probably be familiar to the adults, like Ali Bally Bee, Wee Willie Winkie, Hey Jock Ma Cuddy and Three Craws, along with less familiar songs like I Had A Wee Hen, Dance Jeannie and Wee Chookie Birdie.

"These are songs we sang as kids and it's lovely to see our kids asking to do them again - and again! I hope the workshops will also help to give parents ideas. A lot don't do these songs."

Choosing which songs to include was not too difficult.

"Some were obvious for workshops and were ones I was actually already doing at workshops. Some were chosen because they were action songs. I wanted ones where the children could be bounced on their mum or dad's leg and I went to Foot Stompin' Records to ask for one. They mentioned Hey Jock Ma Cuddy, which I didn't know.

"I happened to mention it to my mum and she sang it to me. I thought 'I've got this resource sitting in front of me!'. But though she knew the song, she never sang it to me as a child.

"In the workshops, I'll introduce a core of songs and we'll add more in as we go along to give the group the opportunity to expand on what we do at the start "I've tried to make it as easy as possible for people to use the material with their children - and at home.

"There will also be a few very simple Gaelic songs too.

"I usually use some Gaelic songs with the lullabies - I start off with a simple Gaelic one. A lot of groups don't speak Gaelic, but it's a case of listening to the sounds then coming in. You don't have to understand the language, just repeat the sounds.

"It allows the adults to see what it is like to sing something simple and repetitive when you don't know what it means. It sinks in really quickly and it gives the adults an idea of how a child perceives the learning of a song."

The value of getting young children involved in music in early age is never underestimated these days.

Stephanie Bruce, quality manager of Highland Pre-school Services said: "In very young children, it's not just about developing musical skills, but a whole range of skills - physical, emotional and personal.

"Children also develop their sense of rhythm, movement and language too with the repetition of songs - plus memory and listening skills. Music is a great starting point.

It's been known for a long time that music helps in the development of very young children, but now research is proving it. Early this year, research from music charity Youth Music and Northumbria University showed that children as young as two are able to memorise and learn long sequences of words, phrases and sentences, when they are attached to music, long before they can master the same skill in speech.

Christina Stewart with daughters Marsaili (left) and Grace. Pic: Trevor Martin

Taking part in musical activities also seems to benefit the children in social, emotional and physical development.

Areas found to have developed through the twoyear research with over 400 children aged 0-5 included counting, vocabulary, listening to and understanding instructions, creative story-telling, basic addition and subtraction, conversation and sentence building, sequencing and patterning - skills necessary for maths, motor skills and concentration span.

It comes as little surprise to Christina, who has enjoyed singing and playing musical games with her own children.

But she added: "I think children are also developing their attitude to music and fun and games at that age."

Christina feels it is important to make sure that everyone - youngsters and their mums and dads - will have a good time at the sessions.

Her daughters Marsaili and Grace have helped form Christina's views about the best songs to choose.

When the girls are asked for their favourite song from the ones Christina has chosen, they are quick to come up with their own choices.

The idea for the Learning With Lullabies sessions came from the success of Christina's earlier project, Kist o Dreams - and an invitation to come and perform at the Highland Pre-school services AGM.

Ann Brady, chief executive of Highland Pre-school Services said: "We had heard what Christina was doing and invited her to our AGM. It coincided with trying to extend that and trying to take the music and working with music out to parents a bit more.

"We thought this project was a very positive way to take music out to the parents and toddlers, basic singing and enjoying music and helping parents to enjoy their children!"

Funding from the Scottish Arts Council and the lottery has allowed Christina to take 80 workshops with the groups (there are 20 groups in each area, each receiving four workshops).

There are also 10 seminar-type events for playleaders and other professionals in the pre-school childcare sector.

She said: "We are also producing a resource CD of the songs used in the workshops (and other similar ones which the groups can use.

"There will also be other resources such as visual prompt cards and a booklet with background information to help the groups continue to use the songs."

There will be 24 songs on the CD - recorded with Ross and Cromarty Area arts worker Bob Pegg and musicians Olivia Ross and harpist Bill Taylor.

The CD will be available from HPS and Christina hopes more will go on sale. Workshops begin on Tuesday in Dornie, with the first Inverness area workshop on September 22 in Hilton.

Christina then travels round the area until next July 2007.

Most of the Highland Pre-school Services member groups will have four fortnightly workshops, while the other groups, such as Family First, will have one workshop a term.

.For more information for parents about music and their child, check out www.ltscotland.co.uk/earlyyears and www.youthmusic.org.uk and a new online resource for early years' music www.BongoClub.org.uk


sitemap | cookie policy | privacy policy | accessibility statement