The #1 Gift You Can Give Your Child 

Child

Parenting is an all consuming job.

If you’re reading this then I’m willing to bet you’re a parent who takes that job seriously and tries to be the best parent you can be.

Being a Suzuki parent can be especially intense sometimes, because we’re asked to interact with our children so closely, to understand them well (when sometimes they do things no one can understand), and to help them play complicated instruments well.

Unless you also homeschool, this may the closest you work with your child on a daily basis.

Sometimes it’s not for the faint of heart.

Sometimes we need to take deep breaths and remind ourselves why we’re doing it.

And hopefully many times its also full of laughter, proud moments and exciting milestones that you helped your child arrive at.

As a grown up Suzuki kid myself –

I can tell you that all that intense interaction, when done in a healthy supportive way, creates a really close relationship between the student and practicing parent.

It teaches our children how to be goal setters and achievers.

It helps them learn to tackle other milestones coming their way.

In our culture

we tend to be in a hurry to teach independence. We want our kids to do it themselves as early as they can. We’re relieved when they can start to do things themselves.

And rightfully so!

But, I would challenge you

to keep engaging with your child as they practice.

When they’re a teenager they may shrug and say they don’t care if you listen to them or show up to their recital, but I realized with my own teens they really do care (they just may never tell us that). Even when they don’t “need” you to be there, your presence shows your support.

Long before those teen years as you practice with your child really be present with them. 

Put away cell phones, work and other distractions and give your child your full attention. It can be so hard to do this but there is really just a short window of time that your child wants and needs your full attention. Being fully present is the number one gift you can give them.

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“The greatest gift you can give your child is your presence.”

– Alice Joy Lewis

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I notice a big difference in families I work with who are really present in lessons 

I would bet they are equally engaged in practice sessions at home.

I see a high correlation between student progress and fully present parents.

Do they take more careful notes because they are so engaged in the lesson?

Maybe they have a better understanding of the way their child learns so they tailor what they are doing more closely to what their child needs?

They may have a different working relationship with their child because the child can see how engaged they are.

I don’t know the answer to why this is but I do see it in action in my studio all the time.

 

I recently came across a great article by Carrie Williams Howe, a mother working to be more present with her children and family (you can read it here). She admits that even though she knows the years go by fast and she should be more present with her children it is still a struggle.

She made a recommendation that I love which is to make a ritual out of connecting with your kids. Don’t just know you should do it, create habit or routine around it so it becomes more natural.

Her family made a ritual around the dinner table of no distractions and engaging with one another.

How can we do the same with practice?

Putting away work and devices and maybe making our favorite hot beverage can be a good start.

We can work to get into a routine, or habit that signals to our brain (and our children) that we are going to give our full attention to them our child and put other things aside for a few minutes.

Beginning with just 10 minutes of undivided attention to our children is a huge gift.

If your child is young and has short practice sessions this is a great time to start. You are really giving your child a huge gift when you can be there fully present with them. What do they need to enjoy learning? What do they need to begin to focus for longer stretches of time? What can you do to help them engage with the assignments from the teacher for the week?

What can you do so your child feels right there with them for those few minutes of practice and treasures the time alone with you?

Alice Joy Lewis goes on in her quote about being present to say: “It’s really a gift to you as well as your child. It’s a way of knowing someone that is pretty special. When parents are not distracted the opportunity for progress to occur is great.” 

It really is the #1 gift you can give your child!

All quotes are taken from Christine E Goodner’s book Beyond the Music Lesson: Habits of Successful Suzuki Families. Click here to claim your copy!

Beyond the Music Lesson Book Cover

15 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in Music Lessons

Help Your Child Succeed at Music Lessons

Do one of of these descriptions sound like you?

You signed your child up for music lessons because they have begging you for years to play an instrument.

Or, you play(ed) and instrument and couldn’t wait to get your own child started too.

Maybe, you always wished you could have taken lessons as a child and are excited to provide the opportunity to your children.

then reality sets in . . .

After the honeymoon phase is over, you realize that this is hard .

Making time to do anything everyday with our kids can be a challenge. When my kids were young, brushing teeth and combing hair could sometimes become an epic battle (who knew these things were such torture!?)

Developing the discipline to play an instrument? That is a whole other level.

We are choosing to do something hard everyday –  in order to achieve an end goal that children can’t really grasp. It certainly seems less important to their well being than teeth brushing and that makes it easier to quit when the going gets tough.

When everything is going well studying music is invigorating, exciting and a fun process to be involved in.

When things get tough what can we do as parents to help our children be successful in music lessons?

Here are 15 Ways you can help your child succeed:

 

  1. Make a long term commitment. Studies show this is more important than any other factor in music students long term success.
  2. Believe they CAN do it.  Suzuki teacher Alice Joy Lewis says that families she sees be successful are the ones that believe their child absolutely CAN learn to play well.
  3. Find the best teacher you can. A good teacher will help coach you through the rough patches and has the tools to help you turn things around when it’s feeling hard.
  4. Buy or rent the best instrument you can afford. Playing on a bad instrument is like trying to run in bad shoes. If it’s really hard to make a beautiful sound, playing the instrument is not that motivating!
  5. Find out what motivates your child and do that thing. When your child gains more skills on the instrument the music they learn will be their motivation. At first they need help to want to practice. Figure out what motivates them and do that thing a lot
  6. Be Encouraging. Don’t point out the 10 things your child is doing wrong. They likely know they are not Joshua Bell yet, encourage them with something they are doing well. Even if that thing is simply how hard they are working or concentrating. Children do more of what we praise – use that to your advantage.
  7. Help Build ownership. If practice = an adult tells me what to do, children tend to dislike it. Coach them through practice while also letting them feel like they are making some decisions. Ask questions. Give them two acceptable choices of what to practice next. Let practice become something that is for them.
  8. Find time in each day’s schedule for your child to practice. Children are not good at time management. They will need your help to find time to practice.
  9. Don’t give up! Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes our kids fight us on practice. Don’t give up. This is really normal. Your child can do it (see #2)
  10. Go to live concerts. Seeing performers play music live is so motivating! Many communities have free or inexpensive events to attend if you seek them out. Ask your teacher for recommendations.
  11. Connect your child to a social outlet for their music. Working on something hard, alone in a practice room is not the point of music. Play with and for other students. Join an orchestra when your child is ready. Attend a group class or simply invite a friend over who plays an instrument for a musical play date.
  12. Be your child’s biggest fan. We cheer when toddlers learn to walk (even though they hobble around and fall all the time). Cheer on any and all progress. Make sure your child knows you are their biggest fan no matter what.
  13. Make listening to music part of your family culture. When children are surrounded by music in their lives they are much more successful. Just like when we are learning a language immersion is the best way to pick it up quickly.
  14. Connect to other parents. Whether it’s in online groups, other parents in your studio or a friend whose child also studies music – connecting with other parents on the same journey can make us feel less alone and we can learn from each other what works best.
  15. Do something every day. Literally everyday. Play something, listen to music. What we do daily becomes part of who we are. What we do once in a while can be hard to follow through on. A daily habit is makes a huge difference.

What would you add to this list that has helped you or your child succeed in music lessons?

Here are some other articles on practice you might enjoy reading:

3 Minutes a day to radically change your practice sessions

You are Your Child’s Practice Environment

5 Ways to Help Your Child Enjoy the Process of Learning Music

For In depth reading on the subject get your copy of 

Beyond the Music lesson here: 

Beyond the Music Lesson Book Cover

Back to School Practice Problems

Lessons have just started for the school year here in Oregon.

As a parent this can be a hard time of year for practicing with our kids.

Here are some things you might be experiencing at home right now:

Your child is getting used to long structured school days again and it feels unfair to make them practice at the end of the day.

Your child is tired after school and doesn’t have much energy left for practice.

Your teen is trying to figure out how to organize time for homework and practice is falling through the cracks.

You are exhausted by the frenzy of back to school activities and to be honest practicing with your kids is less than appealing right now.

Here’s the good news . . . 

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Working Productively with our Children in Practice

In the Suzuki method we work with our children very closely in practice. The younger a child is, the more parents are involved in the process.

As a teacher I depend on the parents in my studio to help their children practice and complete listening assignments at home. Without their help very young students would not remember all the details I am asking them to practice all week long.

Practicing with our children isn’t always easy though. You can read more about my struggles with my own children in this article: Confessions of A Suzuki Parent.

As a young mom and new teacher I had a pretty idealistic and unrealistic idea of how to practice well and it certainly got in the way of helping my own children learn their instrument to the best of their ability. At least until I started to learn more about how to do it well.

Ever since I have been trying to learn and share as much as I can to help parents and students work together successfully.

As parents we all have our own reasons for signing our children up for music lessons. It also becomes clear very quickly that one size does not fit all when it comes to practice tips and ideas.

It’s important to make sure we’re practicing in a way that works with the unique child in front of us.

How do we work together with all of this in mind?

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Scheduling Your Child’s Fall Lessons

As a parent I know all too well what it feels like to get children’s schedules lined up for the school year.

Your child may be involved in many different activities and it may feel like a puzzle to get them all to fit together.

Alternately, your family may limit activities to a couple each season but getting signed up for the right ones before they are full and making the schedule work for your family may be a challenge.

What about music lessons?

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Working Productively With Parents

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.

Working Productively with parents

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:

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Why Summer Lessons are So Important

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:

Frustration:

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.

Motivation:

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: 

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Why Parents Must Practice with the Big Picture in Mind

 

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!

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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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Why all Parents Should Build a Practice Toolkit

[This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on the link and purchase something it doesn’t cost you any extra but it does help support the cost of running the blog. Thanks for your support!]

 

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

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3 Minutes a Day to Radically Change Your Practice Sessions

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!

Steps

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

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