This article was originally given as a short presentation at the Suzuki Association of the America’s Leadership retreat last week. It was parent of a series of short talks about working productively with parents. If you would like to share it please do!
How do we work productively with the parents in our studios? How do we help new parents understand what being a Suzuki parent involves? How do we help them be successful working with their child as they learn and grow?
I was trying to come up with the most useful thing I could share with other teachers on the topic of working with parents. So, I started to think about all of the things I do in my studio like conferences, parent education, and parent talks.
There are lots of things we can do as teachers to help parents be successful. However, I would like to ask teachers to think bigger picture than that.
As a young violin teacher I heard a concept that blew my mind at the time. When you look at the beginner student in front of you – don’t think about what they need in order to learn to play twinkle. Think about what they need in order to play a Mozart Concerto and teach them with that in mind.
I believe we need to do the same thing with new Suzuki Parents.
- What do the parents we work with need to know about the process of helping their child thrive in the Suzuki method?
- What can we explain better from the start that will keep parents from struggling later?
- What bad habits can families get into that might not matter for a beginning student but will cause big problems down the road?
- How do we take parents – who probably don’t know what they are getting into when they get started with us and help them make the Suzuki method work in their everyday lives?
- How do we help get them come on board and be willing work with us to help their child succeed?
When I think about the families that I work with the most productively I think about families that:
Much research has been done on the effect of summer breaks and academic performance.
Research shows that when students are not filling their summers with educational and enriching activities (Here is an interesting study) they may lose months of progress compared to their peers who keep learning in an enriching environment (like education camps, reading books from the library, and other activities like this).
Some articles I’ve read suggest it taking at least four to six weeks to catch up again each fall, other suggested up to 2.8 months.
The same thing can happen if students “take a break” from lessons over the summer. We had a great discussion about this in the Suzuki Triangle Community. Teachers agreed that it takes 1-3 months, on average, to get a student back to where they were at the end of the school year if they don’t take summer lessons.
The first ten years or so that I taught I didn’t require summer lessons and I started to notice some trends beyond the amount of time it takes to playing skills back to their former level:
When something used to be easy is now a struggle (especially a struggle that students already had to go through once before) students feel frustrated.
I started to hear things like “I can’t” and “It’s too hard.” from students who certainly could just a few months before.
This really affects a students motivation to keep playing. I started to see a pattern of students not returning in the fall (because the idea of restarting after a long break was daunting). Sometimes those who did return had such a frustrating time that they didn’t stick with their instrument for long.
Playing an instrument is hard work. It’s motivating when we see progress and see our ability begin to grow and develop.
It is NOT Motivating if we lose those skills and have to relearn them.
While I don’t require students to take lessons each week in the summer I do require a level of attendance that I feel will help students maintain their playing skills over the summer months. I want them to be ready to spring ahead into new things when we get back into a fall routine.
Summer can Actually be a great time to make progress:
I’m excited to announce my new eBook What You Practice Today is Not Important: but who you become along the way is!
A lot of work went into it’s creation and I am happy to finally share it with you! You can read a short excerpt from this new resource below and get your own free copy by joining the Suzuki Triangle Community (you unsubscribe at any time).
Click HERE to sign up and get your copy through email!
An excerpt from What You Practice Today is Not Important: but who you become along the way is!
Practicing can feel like it’s all about the little details.
It can feel like it’s about perfection and doing everything right.
Sometimes practice feels like a list you can never accomplish.
It feels like there’s not enough time to do all of our assignments from our teacher each week. It can be a challenge to get everything done.
But it’s not really about all that–it’s not about what your child does today that is most important. It’s not about doing all the tasks perfectly, all of the time.
Practice INVOLVES a lot of little details and trying to get things right for your next lesson.
But practice is not ABOUT all of that.
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In my last two blog posts I have been talking about how parents set the practice environment for students and a 3 minute system for parents to use before practice that will radically change your practice sessions.
This week we are going to talk about building an emergency toolkit for young students. I find that once we have set a good environment for practice and prepare ourselves as adults to have the best practice session possible (see the posts above for more information) the next step for productive practice sessions is to have some tools on hand that help keep young students engaged in the practice session. The younger the student is, the more helpful this is. I find the older students are and the longer they have been playing their instrument the less this type of toolkit is needed because student have learned how to practice and how to concentrate and focus more fully. However, even middle school students enjoy rolling dice for repetitions and using rhythm sticks to count out a difficult rhythm from time to time!
During my first 4 lessons with new parents in my studio I primarily focus on parent education and preparing the new family to be successful in the upcoming weeks and months. Each week I assign families a few tasks to do at home that will help them establish good practice habits (listening assignments, finding a practice time each day etc). One of week three’s at home assignments for new families (this is primarily for third grade students and younger, which is the age I typically start) is for them to make a home practice toolkit.
The practice toolkit is a group of items that will give you extra support during practice. Some days you won’t need this at all and practice will go smoothly and
Last week on the blog I wrote about how parents (not the physical space) are their children’s practice environment. You can read the article by clicking HERE.
This week I am going to share the 3 minute process that can radically change how productive and positive your practice sessions with your child are. I consider these few valuable minutes to be the most important thing you can do that will set up your practice environment for success. This is a practice I developed with my own children and I go through it mentally before each student that I teach as well.
It is tempting to think this is an unnecessary step,that we don’t have time, or that we’ll just make it as we go and get the same results but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Being intentional about how we run practice sessions as a parent sets our children up for success. It is 3 minutes a day (or less) that will save you hours of wasted time and save you tons of frustration.
I hope you’ll try it for a couple of weeks and let me know how it’s going!
1. Find a small notebook (your regular practice notebook works) or open a document on your phone to use on an ongoing basis.
2. Use the template below to jot down a few notes about the upcoming practice. You may choose to do this right before the practice session or right after a practice session for the next day (review the notes before you start the next practice).
3. Use your answers to the questions below to structure your practices, set the tone and stay focused on what is really important.
Practice Pre-planning Template
“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” – Albert Einstein
I came across this quote the other day and was hit by how true this is of many Suzuki teachers I know and how they teach. We strive to really teach the children in front of us, not only to teach the instrument or song a child is learning.
The quote also got me thinking about the way parents practice with their children. Are the parents that I work with practicing with their children with this kind of attitude? Do they focusing on understanding how their child learns and then setting up practice to use that knowledge to help their student learn? Are we setting up a practice environment that helps them thrive?
In Suzuki ECE training we learn that we as adults are our children’s practice environment.
The tone we set . . .
The mood we bring . . .
The attitude we have . . .
Even beliefs we have about what & how children can learn.
All of these things work together to created the environment that your child is learning and practicing in all week long. Read more
I’ve finished most of the parent teacher conferences in my studio for the year (If you want to read more about my process you can read more HERE & HERE). The most common issue I heard (besides learning to practice well as students start to become more independent in practice – a theme that kept coming up for the middle school students) was that in a number of families the parents felt like it was a daily battle to get practice started.
Let’s be honest – it is not very motivating to keep taking your child to music lessons if you know it means daily squabbles with your kids over the practice. Many working parents have just a few quality time hours a day with their kids and spending part of that time fighting about something is not a fun idea.
This is why parent teacher conferences are so important – I don’t know what practice is like for families at home without these honest conversations and sometimes these situations can be turned around quite easily, as long as parents are willing to put in a little effort to change the tone for practice.
In each of the cases where this issue was brought up we decided that the number one priority for this student and family was not moving forward on the instrument – it was developing a positive attitude about practice.
If practice is always a student playing something, an adult telling them what needs to be fixed and then student playing again and looking to the adult to tell them if it is good enough something is lacking.
Progress might be made but the student is not learning how to practice, how to self-analyze, or how to think critically.
Especially as students get older it is much more effective to ask questions than give the answers.
“How did that sound to you?”
“What do you think we should try to do better/improve?”
“Did you remember _______ (insert the teacher’s assignment/focus point here) for the whole song/section?”
“Did you think about what you were playing the whole time?”
“How do you think we should practice that?”
This post is the last in a series about inspiring and motivating students through lessons and practice. You can read the other posts here: Overview, Seeing Progress & Feeling Capable.
Learning to enjoy the process is a critical part of helping our children and students stay motivated and inspired. Of any of the aspects of motivation we have discussed in this series, it has the most long-lasting effects on them as people and musicians. It is easy to get too focused on outcomes and results and kill the joy of learning in the process. Let’s find ways to help both students and ourselves (as teachers and parents) enjoy this process together!
If learning something new is a daunting and dreaded task then why would anyone want to keep doing it?
I often tell parents that games and rewards can be very useful for very young students until they start to see learning music (and enjoying that process) as the reward. How do we develop this in our children and students?
Below are 5 great ways to help students develop the ability to enjoy the process of learning music. I was inspired for this post by a great article on the website Parents.com (click here to read) . The points in the article really echo what I see in my teaching and I expanded on some of them to fit our experiences as Suzuki parents and teachers.
- Understand how your child learns – Young students learn very differently from teens (or how we learn as adults). Within each age group there are variations in the style of learning that works best for each individual student as well.
This Post is third in a series on keeping students inspired and motivated. You can read the first two posts here: Overview, Why Students Need Help Seeing Progress.
“I can’t do this!” “It’s too hard!” “I’ll never get it!”
Comments like these (or trying to avoid practicing a specific practice task) are strong indications that a student does not feel they are capable of something we are asking them to do.
Some students may not even be able to verbalize these thoughts and simply act out or seem to lose interest in studying their instrument.
To keep our students motivated it’s important to to address these feelings. Feeling capable and seeing that it is possible to accomplish something plays a huge role in staying motivated.
I’d like to suggest 4 ways to help students feel capable & would love to hear what you think works the best for your children or students.