Friday, February 11, 2011

Parent Talk (Practice Talk)

Carrie Reuning-Hummel's Parents as Partners' talk is labeled Practice Talk above the video and Parent Talk on the video. It's both.

Carrie has an interesting perspective, because she has been on all points of the Suzuki Triangle.  She was first the student (among the first Suzuki students in the US), even having some lessons directly from Dr. Suzuki, then she became a teacher, then a parent. Her children are now grown.

Her most positive experiences as a student were the times when adults could see her for who she was.  Even as an example student on stage with Dr. Suzuki, she always felt he gave that to her.  She encourages parents to strive to do that with their own children.  The old Suzuki term for a parent was "home teacher", but she feels that puts a bit too much on the parents, and they aren't as equipped to teach as the teacher.  She feels a better term is "practice partner".  This will mean different things with different children. She uses her own children as examples.  With one, being right there with the child's practice was too intense, she had to diffuse things by turning her back, being across the room, paging through a book...  With the other, if she had done that, he would have felt abandoned!

You need to learn what works best with your child to become the best helper for them.  See them for who they are.  This might start with learning to see ourselves for who we are.  What are our gifts, our motivations, our temperaments?  She sees talents and gifts as two different things.  A talent is something you are good at.  A gift is something which if taken away would cause suffering - your love, passion, what you must do.  So a talent is not who our children are.

How are your children motivated?  Externally or internally?  She thought she might motivate her daughter by saying things like, "Let's surprise your teacher with how well you will play this week."  But that did not matter so much to her daughter, she just loved the music, and that was what motivated her.

We need balance in our attitude, in our way of giving support and providing a foundation.  Some may do all the instrument care, packing, unpacking, rosining the bow, carrying the instrument, etc.  Then hand it to the child with a message of, "do this for me."  Some may be too detached, do nothing, and say, "I don't know why he doesn't practice!"  We should be detached enough that their instrument is their own - let them carry it and care for it - but BE there supporting them.

Supporting at practice time

When practicing, use questions.  Ask, don't tell.  For an older child you might ask "What do you need from me today?  A creative partner?  To sit quietly and listen?  What will give you the most help?"  With a younger child it might be, "How many times do you think you will need to play that before you get it right every time, 10 or 15?"  "Why don't you play until you hear it get scratchy?  Then we'll see if we both hear it at the same time."  These kinds of questions give the child more ownership and active role in their own practice.

Carrie suggests having a practice tray (or basket, etc.) - something movable if you might practice in different locations (which is nice to do sometimes!).  On the tray you can have several things to help give the child choices.  Dice (how many times), paint swatches (what colour would you like to play that Lightly Row?), things of different textures - fabrics, sandpaper, etc. (would you like to play that like sandpaper or velvet?), a jar with folded slips of paper naming review pieces, a jar with folded slips of paper with creative ways to play (while making a face, standing on one foot, etc.), and a third jar to put the review pieces in once they have been played to make sure that eventually all are reviewed before returning to the choosing jar.  Some people have used Apples to Apples cards for kids to draw for how to play (e.g. "fuzzy").  Have a metronome on the tray.  A student can then record a speed they are able to play something, and work to surpass it.
(My version of the tray - Just added the Apples to Apples cards - great idea!)

"Perhaps we only have one job as parents - to see our children for who they are, and show them we are game, we are interested in who they are, we want to be with them, we want to help them figure out who they are and how they learn.  Give them the journey of their instrument, not make it about us, but be there as a practice partner."  As Carrie's children are grown, she has the experience to say,  "the rewards are huge."  She can see how her kids have used the learning methods they started with in music lessons applied to other things, they have a close relationship, and the music is there.  "Every step is worth it."  And she commends you for embarking on the journey yourselves.

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