Where words fail, music speaks – the Hey Dee Ho journey
Jenny Wilkinson is an established presence in the world of early childhood education and care (ECEC), having purchased the Hey Dee Ho organisation in 1996 when the business came up for sale. From there, Jenny and her team of franchisees have worked with a core support team from head office to bring the world of music, drama, yoga and fitness to ECEC services around the country.
Jenny recently spoke with The Sector Assistant Editor Freya Lucas about running a successful business, the growth and evolution of Hey Dee Ho, and how educators can more meaningfully embed music, drama, yoga and fitness into their daily work.
Interviewee: Jenny Wilkinson
Organisation: Hey Dee Ho
Topic: Music, owning and operating a business, intergenerational workspaces
Freya: Tell me about your business – what is Hey Dee Ho all about, and how does Hey Dee Ho differ from other music incursion services?
Jenny: Hey Dee Ho started in 1987 as a musical class for families. I attended the classes with my son in 1996 and when the business came up for sale I decided that I would leave my job with a large multinational and make my passion for music a full-time occupation. That was 21 years ago.
Although music is our flagship program, Hey Dee Ho also offers yoga, fitness and drama programs to the early learning sector. Hey Dee Ho is so much more than a music program. Although we are intent on teaching the basics of music – tone, dynamics, pitch and rhythm, we recognise that music is a powerful tool to support and nurture childhood development.
Hey Dee Ho is FUN. It is a musical adventure to stimulate the imagination and language development – for example, we use puppets and instruments, which we know are wonderful for fine and gross motor skills. We incorporate props, dress ups, drama and dances to encourage social interaction as well as balance, strength and co-ordination.
Freya: What sort of background do the Hey Dee Ho presenters have? Is everyone who comes to implement the program from a musical background?
Jenny: Our presenters come from many different backgrounds. We have presenters who have been high-profile children’s entertainers, members of Hi 5, presenters on the Humphrey B Bear show, cast members of the Aladdin stage show and The Voice semi-finalists, through to qualified psychologists, lawyers and early learning educators.
Early one Saturday morning I received a call from a gentleman in response to an advertisement I was running for a presenter. He was calling on behalf of his wife, who was looking for work and asked a lot of questions about the job including “does it matter how old you are?”
This lady had been a professional singer for many years, but was concerned she may not be the right fit for a room full of bouncy young children. We pursued her to come along, and give a session a try. She is now one of our long standing franchisees, and still actively working the business. She’s a bundle of energy, and not showing any signs of slowing down, which just proves that music and children keep you young!
Freya: Obviously having been in business for 21 years, you would have had the opportunity to see children grow and develop across a lifetime. Do you have any stories that stand out in your mind?
Jenny: A number of presenters are parents who took their children to Hey Dee Ho classes before joining the company professionally. Many of our franchisees and support office staff have also had children during their time with Hey Dee Ho. We call these children the ‘Hey Dee Ho kids’, they all participated in the classes. They range in age from 4 months to 25 years, with two more expected to arrive this year!
One of our Hey Dee Ho kids now works as our support office marketing assistant, another was a presenter for Hey Dee Ho in China for over two years. We also have one of our Hey Dee Ho kids who is about to start presenting for us in Hobart, and a past yoga student worked for us for many years as a receptionist.
We consider ourselves very much a family and as time rolls on, children come back to us as adults either to join the company, or as parents who enroll their children in our classes.
One presenter took her three children to Hey Dee Ho and after having sat through the sessions for seven years decided that she had better start presenting them herself.
A director of one of our long-term early education centres in Victoria, decided that she wanted to work less stressful hours and subsequently became one of our most loved presenters.
We feel that the long-standing relationship that our presenters and staff have with Hey Dee Ho is a testament to the magic of what we do – high-quality programs, delivered well, with people who are passionate and interested in opening up the more creative channels in children’s lives.
Freya: How can educators carve out space for music and movement, particularly in services where there’s a push for “school readiness”?
Jenny: Research states that music makes children smarter. I believe that music and movement provides a perfect platform to educate children about school readiness. All topics can be covered in song – making friends, what they will wear, what will be expected and so on. We have a school readiness program where children get an opportunity to ‘role play’ the different scenarios. Everything is easier with a song!
Freya: Can you tell me more about the courses and programs you offer using Auslan?
Jenny: Auslan was one of the very first language development tools we incorporated into the program when I bought the business and redeveloped the program with an educational/brain development focus back in 1997.
I was fortunate to have an amazing friend who joined me as my very first employee, and then went on to become our very first franchisee, who had spent a lot of time working with Monash University researching sign language and its impact on communication skills for children with autism. She had three autistic children herself and it was through her incredible dedication to their education that we realised the value of including Auslan within our program.
Children often develop their gross motor skills before their aural skills and so are able to use gestures to communicate before they can talk. Incorporating Auslan into our program was a natural progression as we delved into language and brain development. The more we used this wonderful language the more we saw incredible results.
In 2009 we embarked on a five-year period in Chongqing China, using the Hey Dee Ho music program to teach English – and Auslan was an important part of this curriculum. It was considered to conform with the language teaching method known as “Total Physical Response”.
Freya: Jenny, can you tell me more about the intergenerational programs Hey Dee Ho runs? How do they work?
Jenny: Hey Dee Ho run concerts in aged-care residences and invites kinder groups, early learning centres, and families to attend. The songs and dances are primarily aimed at the children, however all activities involve the adults – parents and residents alike.
It is wonderful to see three generations enjoying the magic of music in such an interactive environment. There are a few ways these concerts can be set up, but in general there is little or no cost to the early learning centres and parents attending. These concerts cover off the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and National Quality Standards (NQS) requirements for community involvement for early education services, as well as those required by aged-care residences.
Freya: What do you love the most about your business?
Jenny: Now that is a big question!
I love working with the children, seeing the joy on their faces and how music nurtures their development. I still love singing and running sessions although I don’t do it on a regular basis now. You can often see children blossom before your eyes. It is the most rewarding profession I could ever imagine myself doing.
I love being able to give my franchisees an opportunity to set up a business around their own personal circumstances: parents who want to work part time; musicians or teachers who want to supplement their income; people from many different backgrounds take up the franchise option.
Similarly I love being able to encourage people to take up a job that they love. Many of our presenters have been told over and again that singing is not a ‘real job’ and Hey Dee Ho gives them a real chance to develop that side of their careers.
There is a great deal of personal satisfaction in giving people an opportunity to earn an income following their real passion.
Freya: Anything interesting on the horizon for Hey Dee Ho in 2019 and beyond?
Jenny: We are always developing our programs to ensure we are delivering the most up-to-date curriculum that aligns with the EYLF. We are fortunate that we have a very creative team who are able to bring innovation to everything we offer.
We are continuing to grow our presence in New South Wales and Western Australia and aiming to bring new franchisees on board in both states, as well as continuing our growth in all other states. We are about to extend our operations into Tasmania which is very exciting.
We have been contacted about expanding our operations and delivering our educational programs overseas. I am not sure where that will go but I am looking forward to finding out.
Freya: Thanks Jenny – as we finish off, what’s one piece of advice you would give to someone beginning their career in ECEC?
Jenny: Understand that everyone learns in different ways. Listen to what the children say (and don’t say). Try lots of new things and most importantly – love what you do.
Freya: Wonderful, thanks Jenny