The magic of music

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  Published on Tuesday, 15 June 2021

The magic of music

Library Home  >  Profiles & Interviews
  Published on Tuesday, 15 June 2021

After working as an award-winning blues musician and touring artist for 25 years, Fiona Hunter-Espley - known by her stage name Lil’ Fi - turned her life around to become a music teacher for young children and early learning educators. 

In 2011 she had a serious accident that left her with a severe brain injury, no longer able to speak or write. Music therapy played a huge part in her recovery.

For the last ten years she has been using what she learnt during that difficult period to help children in early learning environments, and she has never looked back.

We interviewed Lil’ Fi to learn more about her experience and how it has changed her life.

What makes the service you offer children and educators unique?

My program is written to compliment the EYLF. It’s specifically designed to encourage educators to upskill their musical ability, all while embedding music into the children. This way they can use the songs that I’ve put in place to intentionally teach the children with music.  

For example, ‘Shake and Stop’ is a song I wrote to help children self-regulate, and to stop a child when they are about to do something dangerous. Singing to a child is kinder on them, and on you, than screaming at them.

As a songwriter of 30 years, I have an advantage of being able to write songs specifically for situations, and I’ve written loads of behaviour songs.

My goal is to inspire educators to think musically to teach children - it’s not an afterthought, it should be the first port of call. Music is a whole-brain experience; when we make music, it’s like a full body workout for our brains.

Music crosses the bridge between our left and right brain; it’s amazing and it works as a tool for learning. 

What does a normal day look like for you?

Before COVID shut me down, I was teaching in 16 centres, plus doing lessons for special needs children after hours. I was wondering how I was going to be able to keep up the pace.

Then COVID changed things. In March 2020, I reinvented and put my business online. I had to go on a crash course to learn how to present what I do online. Props are important to stimulate children, and I think quality instruments are important to musical and auditory development. 

These days, I get up and get my day ready to present the 10.30am daily music lesson [online through Zoom]. I have to fire up the computer and make sure that the new attendees have their info and log-in links and all the emails are answered.

I print out any paintings for the Wall of Fame (an interactive notice board: educators send in paintings from the children and I post them up for story time at the end of the lesson). 

Then between 10.15 and 11am I do a group music lesson. In the afternoons I do private lessons for children with NDIS funding who need one-on-one lessons. The children love these lessons and I’m so delighted that I’ve been able to work out how to provide music lessons online. 

How do your lessons differ for children with special needs?

The difference between the two is that I get to see the special needs children [in one-on-one Zoom lessons] and have the opportunity to read their cues and adapt my program to their moments.

In the daily [group] lessons the children see me but I can’t see them, so I rely on comments in the chat box to be able to relate to them. It’s more about facilitating the educators to engage musically with the children.

The children think I can see them because I’ve sung their names and made a connection that way, but it’s not as personal. The private lessons offer me the freedom to tailor the lesson to that child’s needs.

Working with special needs children is the best because not everyone gets them. I do. I really understand them, and music is a language that they respond to so positively.

Often, I am a part of their happiest moments, I get to give parents respite and encouragement, which is all part of being on the children’s team of support.

Supporting isolated educators and children has been something I’ve wanted to do for years. 

What are some of the advantages of working in early childhood education and care?

I love working within the early childhood sector. The people involved have the biggest hearts and care so deeply. They are highly educated and capable, and I think under-appreciated in our society. I’ve found my happy place.

My whole life has changed dramatically since working in ECEC. To make a difference in this industry you need to be authentic and immediately applicable. So many seminars I’ve seen give loads of info and are not applicable to the daily routine.

What I strive to always be is accessible and practical in my advice and techniques. Be real and loads of fun.

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Tuesday, 15 June 2021