An interview with Musical Dots co-founders Anna and Meg on what’s behind their work and the benefits of music for children's mental health
We were SO excited to team up with Musical Dots during this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week. Co-founders Anna and Meg are professional performers and teachers with an extensive career in the music and entertainment industry. They’re committed to teaching music and performing arts to children, providing quality and fun music to little people and supporting adults along the way.
Our Doodle Diary Positive Pencils joined The Musical Dots for the whole of Children’s Mental Health Week. We shared a different song and doodle activity on our Positive Doodle Diary Instagram account every day, all the while talking about mental health in a way that children can understand. We ended the week with a bang with The Musical Dots going live with a musical extravaganza for kids on our Doodle Diary Instagram account! If you missed it, you can catch it here. We asked Anna and Meg to give us some background to what they do and the benefits of music to children's mental health (and ours too!).
1: How would you describe your work?
MEG: Anna and I, Musical Dots, are committed to helping young children and caregivers engage more with the positive benefits of quality, appropriate music in our rapidly digitalising world. We compose, we perform and we teach. Our unique, multi-genre, original songs with relatable themes for children bridge the gap between nursery rhymes and pop songs, proving that children’s music needn’t be babyish!
Our Musical Dots characters are role models for children founded on equality and diversity and their adventures promote a passion for music and the value of learning musical instruments and understanding music terminology. Each Musical Dot embodies a resilient behaviour and value. So in all, the music and the Dots combined promote children’s social, personal and emotional development.We founded Musical Dots because we became frustrated that the quality of music written for young children didn’t match the quality of commercial music surrounding them. With pop lyrics becoming more and more inappropriate for little ears we decided to write our own unique songs. So as I say, it’s all about empowering and educating children and caregivers, parents and teachers, to connect more with the positive benefits of quality appropriate music in the home and the classroom.
Having taught in some of the most deprived areas in the UK, we’re huge believers that music unlocks potential in all personality types. It's also a huge engagement booster no matter what a child’s doing. Music really is an untapped resource and it’s something that can support both adults and children.
2: Why do you choose to work with kids?
MEG: We both love working with children and feel it's a huge privilege to be able to work with them in a creative capacity. We not only get to hear and witness their perceptions of the world and their laser sharp ability to call things exactly as they are. We also experience their blossoming imaginations run wild. And that’s a joy to behold!
Over the many years we’ve been working with children in schools and other education settings, we’ve seen so many characters bloom, find their feet and grow in confidence. It’s hugely exciting. Children make the world a brighter place. That’s for sure!
3: What do you hope your work will achieve for them?
MEG: As proven by the pandemic, nobody knows what the future holds and we’re moving rapidly into a further digitalised world which is having an impact on childhood. A childhood that’s an accelerated one already.
We hope to achieve a broader awareness of the positive benefits that can come from appropriate, uplifting and quality online content that can also inspire creativity offline and a broader awareness that music and quality music can play a vital role in children’s development, particularly as our world continues to evolve.
It provides tremendous escape, inspiration and opportunity for expression and abandonment, movement and joy! Not to mention the developmental benefits that musical inculturation has in early years children. We work with 0-8 year olds, so we bridge that gap from the early years through to Key Stage 1.
4: How would you say your work boosts children’s mental health?
MEG: The origin of Musical Dots really lies in our formula of quality music that rivals the chart music children are enveloped by in our modern culture, plus relatable themes for children and The Dots. Our wellbeing themes and all of our songs are written very specifically to reach the child, inspiring expression and confidence.
For example, our lullaby Slumbertown has a lyric that’s become so poignant: “You are safe just where you are, those who love you near and far.” The song was actually written to help children cope with separation anxiety before we knew lockdown would ever be a thing! So it’s the quality that is so commanding and engaging and gets children coming back for more because they hear our songs and think they’re listening to the music their caregivers listen to. It really sounds that up-to-date.
We founded this musical formula on what we were seeing working with children in deprived areas of London. We witnessed them enjoying chart-quality music that wasn’t always lyrically appropriate for them and we thought what if we created music that was this commanding but we married it with themes that could support and nurture them. So for example, our healthy eating song sends kids wild! They love it! But they’re singing “fruit and vegetables, they taste so good.”
And then we have the Dots. Our animated, loveable musical spokespeople are all founded on child resilience values reflected in their musical names. Children find the strongest affinity with the Dots. It’s completely exceeded our expectations! It’s magical how they’re able to use the Dots to express their emotions. We hear children saying I’m pianissimo today - Pianissimo is our very quiet Dot. We’ve also seen children who’ve never spoken at nursery before shout out their names when emulating Forte. Forte is our loud, confident Dot and forte means loud in musical terms. The Dots are an incredible tool to nurture children’s wellbeing.
5: Tell us the funniest experience you’ve had working with kids.
ANNA: This is a tough one as honestly every time we work with children they always make us laugh! It's one of the best things about our job and it's what we’re missing most during this time. We can't interact with the kids in person.
Two things do spring to mind though...
The first is a mobbing outside the staffroom in one of our founder schools that inspired our first album. They had Superfood (Fruit and Vegetables) blaring in the playground and word got out that we were in the staffroom. The children all flocked to the window busting out the dance moves from the music video and belting out the rap “I’m a mean green vegetable eating machine”. The teachers joked that it was the closest the school had come to Beatlemania!
The second was asking children to feedback on our demo songs as we were developing them. Children speak the truth!! They make excellent product developers. My niece and nephew are on our board as 'Chief Content Consultant' and 'Quality Control Inspector' - no lyrics go unturned by those two!
6: What does playfulness mean to you and how important is it for both children and adults?
MEG: Playfulness is finding magical flow. Being so in the moment and experimenting, laughing and feeling as you go.
Play is so important for both children and adults and I’ll come back to the idea of our modern world with digitalisation and the fast pace of today. It’s vital that we find time to play and just be without expectation or pressure. Play with children always exceeds expectations! It’s the most important way of allowing their imaginations to flourish. There is little more magical than seeing a child in playful flow and the simplest stimulus can set that ball rolling!
7: Your work with kids involves a lot of creativity, but how do you fit creativity into your own life?
MEG: I love this question! It’s obviously a challenge at times being co-founders and co-creators. We wear very different hats in our work life; sometimes we’re in business mode and other times we need to be creative. If that ever feels stifled, we know we’re not allowing enough time for personal creativity.
Creativity can take so many forms: Anna will sit down at the piano and she also loves sewing and cooking. I like getting out in nature, yoga, reading and singing. We also both love journaling and find that’s a really powerful way to fence off some creative time for ourselves to just be and see what comes to mind.
It can be hard to make space for personal creativity but without enough creative outlet in our personal lives we feel our professional selves don’t perform as well. On top of that we also find sometimes during creativity - a walk. dancing or whatever - we can have some of our best creative ideas for the business. So personal creativity is of huge importance. We’ve become better at planning activities into our working week as a priority.
8: What’s your go-to self-care tool?
MEG: I’m going to say two things here:
We’re both big fans of epsom salt baths but always with accompanying music. We find music and baths generate some of the best revelations and freest thinking or no thinking at all. Just chilling out. Of course music for both of us is definitely a big part of our self-care. We collate playlists as we go. So we’ve got party playlists that are attached to memories from holidays and other joyful times and we’ve got relaxation playlists that we associate with loved ones.
In our work we talk a lot about music for self-care and creating a soundtrack to your own life. We always remind people of all ages that neuroscience research shows that music uniquely activates every part of the brain that’s been mapped. The power of music for that reason is limitless, even magical if you like. Music soothes the soul. It impacts us biologically, psychologically and socially. It’s a connector and it can reset our emotions and how we feel. This is how Anna and I describe music as a support tool.
9: What do you miss most about being a kid?
ANNA: Having boundless ambition and dreams!
We both loved music and performing as children and come from large families so we roped our siblings into putting on shows and endless rehearsals. This love and passion led to us to go into the performance industry. As everyone knows, it's a tough place to be. We've both been lucky to have had amazing experiences and jobs but there have been the inevitable knocks. You can look back and think gosh we just had no idea as kids but we knew it was what brought us joy and had to give it a shot.
We met performing in a musical together and this love of music sparked our friendship. We try to revisit those big dreams and memories as much as we can to inspire future generations to enjoy music as much as us.
10: What’s your number 1 karaoke song?
ANNA: Oh great question! As we sing on stage professionally, we love to be silly with karaoke. With anything you wouldn’t expect us to sing so rap and rock for example. We actually have a rap-a-oke car game that we have a youtube playlist for. The passenger on long journeys tries to sing a song the other person has picked. We're huge Dolly Parton fans too - 9 to 5 is our go to karaoke classic!
As lockdown 3 dawned in the UK, Anna and Meg released a free Wellbeing Through Music Activity Pack, designed to support home learning for EYFS and KS1 children. Email email@example.com to receive a pack.