Homeschooling with Haydn (et al.)

violinBy Kirie

When I sat and thought what made our family unique as homeschoolers, my mind immediately went to music. Both my kids have been taking music lessons for over half their lives at this point in time. Our musical journey started with an inherited 100-year-old piano and a 5-year-old with way too much energy and not enough focus, asking to start piano. I shrugged and found the kid a teacher with no expectations in mind.  My fingers were crossed that this child who couldn’t hold a pencil correctly might gain some small motor skills. Homeschooling wasn’t even in the cards for us for two more years. Here we are still trucking, 7+ years later, 5+ on the homeschooling. I had no idea how music would shape our world. Our homeschool is structured with music in mind and it gives a lovely rhythm to our days.

Whenever I talk about music at our house, I like to give some disclaimers:

  1. I have no preconceived notions that my kids are going to be musicians or performers.  Lessons learned from pursuing music can be applied to many things. I felt my own childhood was enriched by the pursuit of music, even though I did not pursue music after high school.
  2. I don’t think music lessons are for every child and every family. It helps to have an enthusiastic adult and a teacher that connects to your child as an individual (I know people who are teaching their own kids or have self-taught kids too, which is great).  Many of the lessons learned through pursuit of music can be learned through dedicated daily practice of any number of things.
  3. I am not a “Tiger Mom.” Not sure how else to put that! I think some people envision me cracking a whip over here. When we started, my goal was is to get the kid to the instrument six days a week as a discipline. That is still my basic goal.
  4. We use the Suzuki method. As my son and daughter age and advance, the use of Suzuki means less and less.  Any good teacher will welcome an involved parent. An involved parent is fundamental to success with Suzuki in young kids, so it makes a great way to start with kids age 6 to 8 and younger. I don’t think there is anything intrinsically magical about the Suzuki method, and Suzuki philosophy can actually be applied to almost anything.   I feel strongly that educational philosophies are great starting points. But connecting to individual kids is where success is found.

I’ve always wanted to sit down and puzzle out the gifts we receive from having music in our lives. So many parents seemed puzzled that we include this as a big part of our homeschool but I never get to have a real conversation about it.

  1. Kids get a chance to work with an expert mentor one-on-one at their own pace.
  2. Community. Kids that practice and play music are generally good kids with engaged families. Not always, but usually.
  3. Understanding the ins and outs of the way your child learns by sitting with them and learning with them every day. I’ve applied these lessons to all areas of our homeschooling.
  4. Appreciation and understanding of the rewards that come with hard work. Even if my kids are crabby all week about practice, they are joyful when they have a good lesson or perform well.
  5. Sense of history and cultural literacy. We learn about the composers we play. We attend concerts and shows with homeschool groups. We talk about where music ties to the past.  The first thing we notice when we walk into an elevator or watch a new movie is the music.
  6. Performance! It is a great life skill to be able to comfortably stand up in front of an audience.
  7. Fighting perfectionism. Learning something like an instrument is so incremental that there is always a way to do better and through that we learn there really is no perfect. We can just keep trying. It has helped my kids who started life so unwilling to want to try anything they couldn’t master immediately.
  8. Focus on the minutiae. We have some ADHD tendencies running around here – parents and kids alike. Stopping everything to focus on some very tiny things like the angle at which our finger hits a piano key, the difference in tone between two notes, or the way our pinkies sit on a violin bow have upped the ability to focus in other areas.
  9. Patience. Mostly for the Mom! I have gained patience in other areas through greater understanding of what makes my kids tick.

 I want to make good citizens. If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart.

—Shin’ichi Suzuki, founder of the Suzuki method

Thanks for listening to the somewhat crazed ranting of a musically-preoccupied homeschooling parent!

Kirie is a secular, eclectic homeschooling parent of 2 in St. Paul, Minnesota.  In a previous life, she was a software engineer doing web-based projects and has always been a math geek.  Her family is working on mastering the long homeschooling road trip and has traveled through 30 U.S. states by car in the past 5 years.    She enjoys biking, reading, knitting, cooking, and playing the violin.

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