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:
Summer can mean less homework and less extra-curricular activities vying for a student’s attention.
It can be a great time to make progress on new material or on a particular technique that student want to improve on.
While some students make huge strides in progress during the school year and try to maintain over the summer for others the opposite is true-they make huge gains over the summer and slow progress during the school year due to other demands on their time.
What I decided:
As a teacher I decided that the cycle of stopping and restarting lessons was too hard on my students. There are a few who might do fine in this situation, but they are the ones who kept playing in the summer (both at camps and in their own practice) and didn’t need the structure of lessons to keep picking up their instruments all summer long.
So, a few years ago when set out to start my own studio (after teaching in a music program for ten years) I started making a summer lesson requirement.
I let students know when I am teaching (allowing a few weeks off for my own travels, teacher training and camps I teach at).
Then I ask them to sign up for a minimum of 2 lessons a month between June & August. I know some teachers require a different number of lessons over the summer but it really depends on what each teacher has found works best for their schedule and their students. Right now this seems like a good balance for my students and many sign up for as many weeks as I am teaching.
In addition to lessons, most of my students attend some kind of summer camp or institute over the summer.
We also have a summer practice club to help keep students motivated to get out their instruments and play even on weeks when there may not be a lesson.
I try to put some unique activities into the summer months. I incorporate music theory games and supplemental music into lessons more than usual so students get a chance to work on some new skills (note reading, theory etc) that doesn’t always happen in the school year when we are preparing for recitals and auditions and the like. This makes summer feel like a fun part of lessons, not a chore.
Students keep their skills up over the summer and certainly keep up their motivation.
This creates a studio culture where we come back to fall ready to make progress forward and there is a sense of excitement to get back to group lessons and prepare for concerts rather than the drudgery of trying to relearn lost skills.
The formula I have found for keeping students motivated, cutting down on fall frustration and keeping our skills maintained is:
Some Lessons + Camp or Institute + Unique Activities + Practice = motivation, forward progress & a thriving studio.
What is summer like in your studio? What have you found that keeps your child motivated to play over the summer?
Please share in the comments below!
Special thanks to the Suzuki Triangle Community for sharing ideas and helping me brainstorm this topic! You can join the discussion HERE
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