Being a Teacher and a Parent
I recently started teaching my daughter violin lessons. She is now three years old, and my mother got her a violin for her birthday. While I have taught music to children her age before (I have some Suzuki teacher training on violin), this is the first time that I've been a parent. It's been a fun and rewarding journey so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing how my sweet baby progresses. However, being a parent, not just a teacher, has definitely given me a fresh perspective on learning music at a young age.
Daily Practice Is Tough
Like all teachers, I've encouraged my students to practice every day, if possible. After all, regular practice is necessary to develop any skill. For young children, I've helped parents learn how to practice with their children, since kids under six or so are really too young to practice independently. But, like many teachers I know, I hear "we didn't have time to practice this week" over and over again. As a parent with a child who's learning music, I'm more sympathetic than I used to be. Establishing a practice routine is tough. My daughter likes her violin, but she also wants to color, play with play-doh, and watch endless amounts of "My Little Pony." When I first started working with her, it took plenty of chocolate to get her to practice!
A Routine Helps!
While at first I relied on chocolate to convince my daughter to practice, as we developed a routine and she felt more comfortable with her instrument, she's seemed more excited and interested (we're down to only needing about three M&M's per practice). Now, violin has become a regular and predictable part of her day. It helps that daily practice also makes her sound better! It's important for any parent to remember that starting a new activity always takes a little bit of time--everything feels new and confusing, it can be a bit overwhelming. But with slow, steady effort and a little bit of fun and encouragement (chocolate!), it gets much easier very quickly.
Embrace Short Attention Spans
Too many parents bemoan their children's short attention spans, without realizing that it's developmentally normal and appropriate for young children to have them! So instead of fighting a child's natural development, go with it. I keep practice sessions short (fifteen minutes or less), and focus on doing a wide variety of different activities to keep my daughter from getting bored with doing one thing over and over. Often, this amounts to switching between bowing exercises and left-hand exercises, with a little bit of singing and listening practice thrown in. If my daughter gets tired or distracted, we're done. It's less important to have long practice sessions (especially at young ages, when children get tired and bored easily), than it is to have regular practice sessions.
Overall, I've loved sharing music with my little girl, and I hope that it will become something special that we can do together. There's lot of evidence that musical training helps children's brain development, but when it's done correctly, I think it can be a beautiful, enjoyable family activity as well.
Alexis Lantgen is a musician and writer who teaches violin and viola and plays in several local orchestras. She recently finished her first novel and had one of her short stories accepted into an anthology. In addition to her fiction writing, Alexis writes a blog, The Wise Serpent.