Managing Siblings

As the new school year starts up and parents are working out their schedules around lessons. I have a few families who have no other option but to bring their younger child(ren) to the lesson with them. Of course I have strongly discouraged this, but for some, it truly is the only thing they can do given their circumstances. That said, what advice do people have concerning the extra child? Do you offer child-care and charge extra? If so, how much and how does that suit the parents? I sure do appreciate your feedback! Thanks.

Betty Douglas said: Aug 23, 2011
 16 posts

Heather- I think this is becoming more common in today’s busy households. Two of my families brought siblings last year with mixed results. I tried to set the rules, asking parents to bring multiple quiet activities for their child and I had some drawing boards in case the child was still restless.Still, I had some less than ideal situations, including turning around to see the 4yr old sibling gleefully holding my flute- ack! I also recommended they try to arrange playdates around lesson time, which was possible occasionally. Child care would be brilliant if practical. It is hard to have the same quality lessons with the student if the sibling is young, and we should make it clear to the parent that the lesson might end early if the sibling becomes disruptive. Good luck!

Betty Douglas, flute teacher

Rebecca said: Aug 23, 2011
Rebecca SchiblerViolin, Viola
24 posts

My take on this is that they have to practice with those noisy younger siblings around- so as long as they aren’t hugely disruptive, I don’t worry about it. If I can continue to work with the student, and communicate with the parent, I have never had an issue with younger siblings being in the room during lessons. As much as I’d like to have a perfectly quiet and focused atmosphere for lessons and practice, I think that’s an ideal and not the standard. I have asked parents to step out with crying toddlers or fighting siblings, but honestly, not as often as you’d think. The lesson environment encourages good behavior from siblings as well as the student in front of you. Plus the fact that they practice with distractions around them the rest of the week, so having that in the lesson helps them learn how to deal with it!

“Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart.” -Dr. Suzuki

Inger Ross-Kristensen said: Aug 23, 2011
Inger Ross-Kristensen
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Needham, MA
8 posts

I have a small table with two small chairs. It has coloring books on it and lots of blank paper to draw on (this does not cost very much), crayons and pencils. It is next to my grand piano which is in the far end of the room from the upright piano, where I teach. Under the grand piano are lots of quiet toys: K’nex to create wonderful structures with (this is a favorite of all ages), puzzles, playing cards, blocks and yes a big box with soft cuddly stuffed animals. I promise extra stickers to the littlest ones, if they will leave Mummy alone during the half hour.
One mother brings her 7 year old daughter and the 4 and 2 year old brothers are busy with a small video where they see cartoons with earplugs. This belongs to the family.
So I really do not feel I have a problem.

Virginia Thompson said: Aug 23, 2011
Virginia ThompsonViolin, Guitar, Piano, Cello, Viola
Saint Petersburg, FL
17 posts

May I suggest you take Jean Ludke’s amazing “Parent Trainning” course. I did and it changed my whole studio. If you ever have a chance to watch Bruce Anderson at one of the institutes that would be great. I have a special room with a table for children to sit at and color, and it’s in another room. Students and siblings need to learn to be quiet while lessons are in progress.

Virginia Thompson
www.thompsonsmusic.com
727.576.0166

Jennifer Visick said: Aug 23, 2011
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

Depends on the student—age, personality, and family dynamics.

Actually, I would welcome (and even, sometimes—encourage) younger siblings to attend the lesson if they are able to sit through a lesson. Depending on the age—paper, pencils, sticker books, homework, wiki-sticks, pipe cleaners, plush toys, napping on the couch,—or give them a pre-instrument and have the younger sibling “play along” during part of the lesson.

This is, after all, the Suzuki approach—didn’t Suzuki say that the younger sibling who has been attending lessons and group classes (that is, unofficially observing them) and recitals and listening to the older one(s) practice at home every day—that is the student who is truly being educated in the “mother-tongue” method of learning music?

I have one student whose younger sibling likes answering all of my questions—and getting the answers right—when the older sibling is reticent or doesn’t remember the answer… I’ve got another student who has multiple younger and older siblings who attended the lessons last semester—of course that worked out mostly because the older siblings could help ‘babysit’ the younger ones during the lesson. Like Becky said, they’re going to have to practice this way at home…

I had another student last year who had a younger sibling attending her own lesson but who still had to sit through the older sibling’s lesson later in the day. Once a routine and expectations are established, we only occasionally had to corral the younger sibling from wandering off or making too much noise…

On the other hand, I have a student whose younger sibling would be an extreme distraction if they were at the lesson. The younger one may be starting back-to-back lessons with the older one this year and both parents may end up being at the lesson in order to make that situation work.

Alissa said: Aug 23, 2011
Alissa Rieb
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
61 posts

I would say the majority of my studio has siblings attending lesson. It really helps the studio grow :-) Also, with single parent families and random work schedules, this is pretty common in my community of teachers.

I’d echo the successful actions listen by the above teachers: Set expectations with the sibling then parent directly. If they’re little guys, make it a game. If they’re older, just keep it short and sweet. I also have a selection of quiet activities and and area out of eyesight of the student. I have a particularly rambunctious family of four who have on two occasions over the last 5 years been asked to leave and missed their lesson for interrupting sister’s lesson. It serves as a reminder for quite a long time. (Mom made the boys pay for the missed lesson!)

Anyway, I have really benefited from siblings being in lesson and I hope it goes well for you!

Paula Bird said: Aug 23, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

I solve the sibling issue by involving them a little bit in the lesson if it’s appropriate: we all take a bow together, and the sibling uses a dowel road as a bow on a box violin, for example. I have a corner of the studio with “quiet” toys, and most siblings spend time there. The frazzled moms sometime videotape the lesson so they can watch it later and take notes.

I also wrote about using the studio area and structure as a way to teach “parenting” skills for the parent and social skills for the child, and I recommend a helpful book:

http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com/2011/06/teacher-parenting.html

I hope this helps.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Thank you, Everyone, for your thoughtful and helpful feedback to my question yesterday. I appreciate the “permission” given to be “teacher” to the siblings (and parents) while they are present in my studio by instructing listening behavior, focus, etc. It would be fun to sit in and observe each of you as you teach: I am certain there are wonderful lessons happening in each of your studios!

Patricia said: Sep 26, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Martinsville, NJ
58 posts

I haven’t been here in a while. School started, lot’s of students, families and friends coming in. Nobody actually mentioned this—so I will. I remember Dr. Starr saying that the best Suzuki Environment would be one where children are exposed from prenatal on to good music, good teaching instruction WITHOUT ANY EXPECTATIONS placed on them. They are allowed to soak everything in without restrictions.
So, I have a real open door policy with everyone…. anyone can come and watch anything I do at school as long as they can be at school quietly. For noisy siblings—I have an area that they can go play with toys or color that if they are a little bit noisy it isn’t interrupting. I don’t try and teach any of them—unless they come up to me and ask themselves, and if they do it with a look in their eyes that says “I a mesmerized by the sound of the violin”—I greet that look with amazement and awe.
And if they just come up wanting some attention too, I will find something to praise them for—because not everyone has to play the violin.

Ian Salmon said: Sep 26, 2011
Ian Salmon
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Addison, TX
21 posts

Like Paula, I try to involve the sibling in the lesson a bit. Have them take a bow with the parent/student, or have them “spy” on big brother/sister. While I have attempted the “work-station” idea by setting up a small table with coloring books and other crafts, I have found that it usually results in the “look what I made mom!” scenario..

I think it is important to make it completely clear in your studio policies that a distraction from siblings will be treated just as any misbehavior from the student actually being taught. The Million Dollar lesson can be applied here. I have ended lessons because of fussy siblings and it is rare that the problem persists afterwards.

Ian Salmon
Violin and Viola Instructor
Suzuki Music Institute of Dallas
www.SuzukiMusicDallas.org

Patricia said: Sep 26, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Martinsville, NJ
58 posts

Sorry everyone…. you are treating lessons for children like they are the end of the world scenario? (which has become the norm recently in the Suzuki mvt?) If I were a parent paying you for a lesson which you cut short because of noise—I would fire you! Noise? On any day—near my school you can hear street noise, construction noise, and the other music studios noises—so do you end lessons when the pianist next door is playing a Liszt Piece and everyone in the bldg can hear it? You don’t want to anger your studio families and have people quitting? You know what—from a Parents perspective—you are replaceable…. there are other violin teachers who will gladly work with their family and not complain about it?

I have never had a problem with siblings…. if any of you have -perhaps instead of taking music performance classes—you should take some classroom management classes and some educational psychology classes?

Dr. Suzuki used music to help people become the best people they could be…. In the Process of this, Some Great Violinists were born—BUT— that was not the principle mission of Dr. Suzuki’s life? Because of him, people found a better way to communicate with their children, children had music to help them grow mentally and academically, and they had something they could share in a positive way with others all over the world.
Let’s Relax a bit? whew? there are some teachers out there who need a reality check?

Alissa said: Sep 26, 2011
Alissa Rieb
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
61 posts

Wow Patrizia that was a little harsh. I believe the lessons discussed above are when parents and or children have completely ignored studio policies and that sibling is so out of control that it is ruining the lesson. In 13+ years of teaching both in public schools, private schools and studio settings, I have probably had less than five of those. No one is getting anything out of that lesson and I am wasting their money by continuing to try and teach over such distraction. If you ever get that younger sibling into the studio, you have gone a long way in enforcing what’s expected. I’m sure these ended lessons benefitted everyone in most cases because the chaos ended and the children were reminded that the parent and teacher are organizing this show. We are teaching a beautiful heart and when that teaching is made impossible, you get a chance to teach a beautiful heart in a different way. With respect and a calm presence you have little discussion with all involved and everyone walks away. I have only had good things come of these instances. These behaviors are over an above the normal “noises”! The din next door is completely different than a younger sibling chucking blocks at their sister with a violin in her hand. That kiddo wants attention. The parent leaving the room to deal with it is punishing everyone. Why not save the lesson for another day and express to that little “angel” that they have lost the right to listen to that lovely lesson and are not going to be allowed to tear apart the studio. Classic classroom management is to stop an unsuccessful lesson and change course. That is relaxing.

Ian Salmon said: Sep 26, 2011
Ian Salmon
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Addison, TX
21 posts

Patrizia, I think you are going off base with your comments.

No one is ending a lesson because of the pianist next door, or the construction going on outside. There is a big difference between that and a young boy running around my studio. I have valuables, my instrument, a piano (sometimes two), other students’ instruments which I do not want in their line of fire (I had a lamp broken by a toddler who knocked over a table, yes, he knocked over a whole table running at full speed). If a parent is going to fire me because I interrupt a lesson to deal with a threat to my personal property, then I do not want them in my studio to begin with.

You bring up Dr. Suzuki, but he would have never had some of these problems. In Japan teachers are treated with a high degree of respect. If a teacher says, “do it 10,000 times”, it is done 10,000 times. It is a privilege to be in the music lesson, not a right. This is understood by parents, students AND siblings. I love siblings in my lessons. They usually end up making great musicians and love when I assign them jobs to help with the home practicing.

Please refrain from your comments such as, “instead of performance classes you should take educational psychology classes”. That has nothing to contribute to this discussion. To those of us that have invested lots of money in graduate degrees it is demeaning and inappropriate!

Ian Salmon
Violin and Viola Instructor
Suzuki Music Institute of Dallas
www.SuzukiMusicDallas.org

Patricia said: Sep 26, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Martinsville, NJ
58 posts

Ian, I am sorry that you feel demeaned. I am sure you understand that a graduate degree in performance doesn’t have any credentials in teaching? right? that was all I was saying.
I have never had a problem with siblings running around or being so disruptive I couldn’t teach? If I had—I would have realized that I needed better management of the studio and environment? And, if I go observe a teacher who is just starting to teach—that is the area they most likely need help in?
Yes, Ian I know there is a difference between Japan and here—BUT—then we need to make sure we create it in a happy way. I used to have studio policies posted on the doors—I don’t anymore because anyone who comes in knows them and hears them from the other students.
I don’t think my comments were harsh—they were truthful? We are in an economy that we can be replaced by any number of people…. Thanks to Dr. Suzuki—there are many, many violinists out there now who can put a shingle up and start teaching. We need to challenge eachother to be better, That is why we became Suzuki Teachers—we wanted to help student become better people—not neccessarily concert artists (even though the method has had a huge success rate).

Patricia said: Sep 26, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Martinsville, NJ
58 posts

Oh, on a lighter side. My studio isn’t perfect either…. ON Fridays, when we have groups—it is a mob outside with parents, siblings, friends all having fun and talking…. Sometimes we are louder then them and sometimes I need to yell out “Be Quiet” in which I hear a mother or father say “Sorry” and then they are quieter.
Everyone loves coming to group—it is so much fun. Better go—have lot’s of student today. Enjoy your day.

Patricia said: Sep 27, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Martinsville, NJ
58 posts

Sorry, I keep giving advice when it may not be wanted…. Several years ago, I had some noisy siblings….. Around me, all the HS students need community service hours to graduate…… SO, I got 3 of my HS students to come on 2 of the noisiest afternoons and watch siblings in another room…. . I wrote letters for their CS hours and they loved being at Music School and feeling like they were grown up. Now, My HS students get their CS hours by playing at Nursing Homes more.

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