LivingArts: Back to School

Back-to-school means a new start for after-school activities, too, and there are a plethora of options. From school tutoring to sports teams and music lessons, parents are inundated with choices... and so are the children. Many will sign up for a new program this year and while some may happily participate all season, others will have a change of heart mid-term. Maybe they’ll feel too worn out by the end of the school day, or maybe they’ll be too involved with their toys and video games to wish to leave the house every Tuesday. Perhaps their team won’t win many games or they’ll be disappointed not to be on the starting lineup or playing their favourite position. Maybe it’s just more difficult than they realized to learn to play a musical instrument.  In any case, this is where the parent’s role in the activity becomes much more important than the instructor’s.

As music teachers, we do our best to inspire the young minds in our classes. We cheer them on, we teach them new skills, we show them what they can attain with practice and hard work, and we stress the importance of commitment and co-operation. But parents have the hardest job: they have to ensure their children physically follow through with that dedication – kids can’t drive themselves to rehearsal, after all!  When members are allowed to miss rehearsal and concerts, everyone is let down. The teacher’s lesson plan has to be altered to accommodate the absence, the children who are in attendance will have to repeat the lesson the following week so their peers can catch up, and the absent child is taught that they are not an integral part of the ensemble or team – that their presence doesn’t matter.  On concert days, the musicians who are present are confused when their partners are not there to perform with them and celebrate their achievements together. Group morale lapses and the whole learning environment becomes less fun and less successful when the musicians can’t rely on one another to be there – as team-mates and as friends. Children should learn that every member of the ensemble plays a vital role and that they are valued, whether they are the highest performing player or not. They should learn that once you make the choice to join an ensemble, that group depends on you, and you are responsible for following through on that commitment.

Your child may not wish to practice daily at home or head to every rehearsal enthusiastically, but that doesn’t mean they’re not benefiting from the program, enjoying themselves in class once they get there (they usually are!), and building self-esteem every time they conquer a new skill. At the end of the season is the time to sit down with your child and ask them about re-registering for the following year.  Remind them (and yourself!) that it won’t always be easy but if they enjoyed the activity and gained from it, then the reward is worth the challenges.