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Norfolk youngsters get a very sound start in life

PUBLISHED: 08:30 17 November 2011

Didi Briggs, who will be standing down as Presma chairwoman, pictured playing the maracas with Phoebe Sinha, 3, and Chloe Gawne, 11 months. Picture: Denise Bradley

Didi Briggs, who will be standing down as Presma chairwoman, pictured playing the maracas with Phoebe Sinha, 3, and Chloe Gawne, 11 months. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant copyright 2011

Babies are born to dance...and sing. A Norwich-based charity has been bringing music to young children for almost three decades and banging the drum about the importance of rhythm to tots. STACIA BRIGGS finds out about the Pre-School Music Association.

It’s a natural instinct for us to sing to our babies to soothe them – even if we can’t hold a tune in a bucket.

The Pre-School Music Association, based in Norwich, has taken this concept to the next stage by encouraging children under the age of five and their parents or carers to have fun enjoying and sharing music at special classes taught by Presma Practitioners.

Children enjoy singing, movement, puppetry, listening to and playing instruments, meeting other youngsters and having fun while they learn through music.

Didi Briggs, now chairwoman of Presma, became involved with the organisation when she and her eldest son Angus, now 18, joined a class when he was six months old.

“There wasn’t a great deal of options for parents back then and I knew I couldn’t take Angus to Tumble Tots because he had two left feet even at that stage and I knew we’d end up in casualty!” she said laughing.

“He absolutely loved the classes. If you think about it, children have been listening to rhythm since they were in utero and they heard their mother’s heartbeat, so it makes sense that, when they arrive, they love anything rhythmic because they’ve come from a rhythmic world.

“We started with a practitioner called Christine Anderson who was incredibly creative, introducing us to all sorts of wonderful things, like creating an underwater world with a coat-hanger and green bin-bag seaweed and a wintery scene with wonderful cottonwool snowballs!

“I loved the way that sessions were individually planned with a theme and that we were being taught to learn alongside our children.”

Presma was registered as a charity in 1983 by a group of motivated, local parents and music teachers who resolved to promote the benefits of music among pre-school children.

Initial groups were held in homes or local church and community halls for children under the age of five and their parents or carers.

Today, there are 10 self-employed practitioners taking weekly classes across Norfolk and Suffolk in groups of between 10 to 12 children and the Presma membership now numbers around 600 children.

Members pay an annual subscription of £15 which helps the organisation to produce a newsletter, events such as Christmas parties and helps to subsidise the reduced fee scheme which ensures that music and its benefits in the early years are available to all.

For families who would find paying for the £3 to £4 sessions a problem, Presma will pay up to 75pc of a child’s term fees meaning that families can enjoy music for as little as £1 per session.

Didi explained that the central administration of the charity was run by a voluntary management committee of trustees with two sub-committees, one made up of teachers and another of dedicated parents and carers who kept new ideas flooding into the charity and arranged fund-raising events.

“We also have a library of incredible instruments and equipment which can be used and some of our teachers are very artistic and make the most amazing props for their lessons.”

The Briggs family later moved from north city to Newmarket Road and began classes with Ingrid Roberts, who has composed many of the songs in the new Presma songbook, which will soon be launched as a companion aid to the organisation’s CD.

Second son Bill, now 16, joined the group when he was born and Didi joined the general committee in 1994, becoming chairwoman in 1996. She will relinquish her role in a few weeks, although she will remain on a voluntary sector committee until a replacement can be found.

“Through music and movement, we are helping children to stimulate both sides of their brains which helps with 
co-ordination and educational development and we’re also developing children’s social skills and bringing a community together,” she said.

“You’d think that a room full of under-threes would be chaotic, but in fact it’s not at all. Even babies recognise stops and starts in music and will be quiet when the music ends, waiting for it to begin again.

“The quiet moments are some of the most important ones because it’s time for the children to focus, and when you focus, you learn.”

Didi, along with treasurer Yvonne Bell, will shortly retire after six years’ service as trustees and their roles will be filled by Maureen Hanke, head of the County Music Service, Andrew Gibson, Damian Fisher and Sara Cleminson.

Having been involved with Presma since her teenagers were tots, Didi is keen to spread the message about the benefits of using music to encourage children to communicate.

“People shouldn’t think ‘I can’t go, because I’m not musical!’ I definitely wasn’t musical, I was just someone’s mum who went along to a class and loved it.

“I’ve loved seeing our children grow with the scheme – we now have one class where three generations of the same family have been involved with Presma.

“It’s fantastic to bring people together, for the mums and carers to meet each other and for the children to make new friends.

“Best of all, it’s a time to share with your child and join in with activities that you might never do at home while having lots of fun. It’s a time you’ll always remember, and that’s very special.”

In addition to weekly classes, Presma also has a national support network which includes a local induction programme for training practitioners, an opportunity for outreach work with other organisations and support and information to any early years workers who use music in their daily work place.

To find a class suitable for you and your child, contact the Presma office on Norwich 628626 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10am to 1pm (term-time), visit presma.org or email 
office@presma.org.

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