Non-Student Siblings at Group Lessons

Katherine said: Apr 7, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
75 posts

I am a new teacher and working towards certification.

I’ve been providing group lessons 2X a month at no extra charge to my 7-9 students for the past year. As my number of students has grown some parents started bringing along extra children to the group lesson. It is a bit of a problem b/c the children of course want to play and run around and they distract the students. So in January I informed all of the parents that I had a new policy that siblings not taking lessons were not to come to group lesson. Well, after a few months, some parents are starting to bring siblings again—last lesson one did, today 2 did. For the most part it went OK but at one point I had to stop the lesson to ask them to stop running (in front of my students while they are playing) and also getting into things in the classroom space we have been given at a school.

Do other teachers who offer group lessons have this problem and how have you resolved it with the parents?

Thank you!

Christiane said: Apr 8, 2013
Christiane Pors-Sadoff
Suzuki Association Member
New York, NY
47 posts

Hi! I find that people automatically are more responsible and pay better attention to something that is not free. I think this may be part of the problem. It seems that the parents would have money left over to hire a sitter for the siblings if they are not paying extra for the class, but they are clearly not doing this. You giving free classes is a mistake in my opinion.( i charge an extra 25 per student per class, for example)

Next year, why don’t you ease them into a package deal where they pay a slightly higher fee for the lessons which include the group class, and let them know you need to charge something for the classes. Suzuki teachers are already underpaid and super over prepared for their jobs.

Other practical things you might try in the meantime is organizing a parent babysitter rotation list to take care of the siblings during the group class IN ANOTHER AREA! That way the babysitting parent of the week only misses the class instruction maybe once a month or every 6 weeks depending on the size of the group. Maybe the babysitting parent can take the siblings out to a playground, or on a nature walk…they can make it enjoyable for the sibling group. I think the siblings hear the Suzuki pieces at home, so they’re not missing anything.

Kids running around while you teach is unacceptable, and teaches bad behavior for the siblings. We think that the parents should know these things, but often parents can just be overwhelmed and ineffective at parenting especially when they are attempting something on such a high level as Suzuki lessons. This takes a lot of discipline and organization in their lives already, so this might be the “straw that broke the camel’s back” in their system of organization. And we need to help them.

Christiane Pors
Mikomi Violin Studio
Kaufman Music Center
NYU Steinhardt

Merietta Oviatt said: Apr 8, 2013
Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

I agree with Christiane. If you do registration by semester add a fee for the group class. I used to add $25 to the total for them, but that was for monthly group classes. For weekly you should definitely charge more—perhaps start with an extra $5 per group class per week (what a great deal!)?

I also agree with trying to help facilitate a babysitting rotation. However, where I teach now there is a policy that every child MUST have one parent with them and no siblings are allowed (unless it’s a baby and has to be with mommy for obvious reasons, and even then they are reminded that a babysitter should accompany them to group class in order to keep the baby out of the room). It may be uncomfortable, but you need to pull the parents aside and individually remind them of the policy and tell them to not bring the sibling. You may have to do it a few times with a few different parents, but if you tell them directly instead of to the whole group they will understand that you mean them and not some other family. There are times that students feel that they are very close to you and that you don’t mean them, but the others. And though you may be close to all of your students it is important that they know you mean ALL of the families, and make sure this rule is really enforced—don’t make exceptions or it wouldn’t be fair to the others.

Just remember, we have ALL been through these issues! Please ask away, that’s what we are all here for—to help each other. And also, it gets easier. After dealing with this now you’ll be an expert in no time! You’re doing great work!

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
[javascript protected email address]

Paula Bird said: Apr 8, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

I’m coming into this discussion late. I have a play area outside of my studio teaching area, and I maintain a lot of quiet toys. I have never had to restrict parents from bringing siblings to lessons or group classes. I do ask that students who are not part of the class or the lesson stay in that lobby area with the toys until the class or lesson is over. In many cases I am actually able to involve the sibling in some of the activities in the group class. The sibling simply doesn’t stay there for the entire class, maybe for a minute here and there for a particularly interesting activity. This is all part of my way of introducing the sibling to the lesson or group class environment, even though the sibling is not yet a full-fledged member of the studio.

Since I require that all nonstudents remain in the lobby area, which is marked by a change in the rug color, I don’t have any troubles with siblings or other children running around the teaching area.

As for the charge for group class, I charge my parents a tuition per month, and if anyone were to ask, I would tell them that the classes are factored into the basic tuition package. I used to separate out the group class amount, but then people started picking and choosing whether they would come to class or not. Now I just make it part of the total package, and if they choose not to come to group class, that’s too bad but I charge for it as part of the tuition package. No discounts for missing.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio (blog) (podcast)

Katherine said: Apr 8, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
75 posts

Thank you all so much for your helpful replies. I’ll clarify that I require the parents to pay $5 per group lesson the child and they attend, if they only have 3 lessons (or fewer) in a month. I charge at the end of the month for lessons actually taken. Increasingly I am understanding why teachers charge tuition per month or per semester rather than on a per lesson basis. Anyway, that is a whole new topic!

I do think I need to charge additionally for group lessons. We are also starting to perform around once a month (!) for various events and this is taking a lot of my time. so I think a flat group lesson/performance charge per month might be reasonable.

I do like the idea of the siblings being involved and actually I have involved two siblings in Music Mind Games work (at nominal charge) which has complicated my no siblings rule b/c I made exceptions for them.

I really like what Christiane said about the parents needing more support. I think I assume they understand processes that they don’t. I think they really don’t see their children’s behavior as disruptive. Some of them have little to no experience with classical music—and I am not sure all really even know basic concert etiquette. None of them are musicians—either amateur or professional.

Again thank you so much for your support. Honestly, I was feeling down yesterday and your supportive replies have given me more confidence and optimism!

Mengwei said: Apr 13, 2013
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
120 posts

I led my first group class today. When I announced it, I wrote that siblings are welcome, but I haven’t quite figured out what to do with them! Actually, I’m also still working out what to do with the students…

I’m envisioning being a bit more organized with the room layout and class format/flow—where I have the audience (parents/siblings) separated, but not too far away, from the students. I’d put a bit more planning into the activities and prepare one where the siblings come over, and they’d have to go back to the audience area afterwards.

Katherine said: Apr 14, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
75 posts

Hi Mengwei

Good luck with that approach. I tried that and found it too difficult to manage. The parents don’t control the siblings’ behavior completely and their behavior becomes distracting. But every group has different dynamics too.

Susan said: Apr 14, 2013
 Violin, Viola
22 posts

I not only have my private studio, but I also teach group classes for a non-profit. The max number of students is 15 and the smallest group is 9 and they are kindergarteners. I have told them that siblings are welcome, however, from time to time I have go over to the parents and the sibs and tell them, very nicely, that they are being loud and if they cannot control their voices they will have to leave. That also applies for walking around, that is just not acceptable and very distracting to the students. I explain that they wouldn’t want this happening when they are taking a class, so be respectful and then they can get respect when it is their turn.

Now I realize that this may sound harsh, but these families have been with me for quite awhile and they know that I only want what’s best for their kids. But I do have to be more stern under the circumstances I find myself and my students.

With private studio kids, I use humor. Humor goes such a long way to change things. When things aren’t going well and I am tensing up, the kids see and feel it. I use humor to release the tension and to get my point across.

For all new teachers the best advice I can give you is…..go to institutes! This is where you will see, hear and learn what some of the best teachers in the country
do in group classes….both to teach violin and to teach manners and respect.
So far I think I have taken Book 1 at least 6 times from some really great teachers! If I had my druthers, I would attend at least one per year! But unfortunately they have become very expensive so I just do my best.

Lori Bolt said: Apr 15, 2013
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

kgm ~ you say that you made “exceptions” for the siblings doing Music Mind Games, but I see that as an “option” you may be able to offer to siblings for a small fee. I’m not sure how the logistics work if you’re busy with the group, but you might consider giving all parents the choice to pay for siblings to receive informal instruction in this way or leave siblings at home.

Lori Bolt

Katherine said: Apr 15, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
75 posts

Lori, thanks for responding. Yes, basically that is what I did. My group lessons include 30 min of theory and 30 min of violin work. Two siblings participated in theory work for a nominal fee. But there was not much I involved them in once we moved to violin work. I find it difficult to manage both my violin group and then additionally 2 (or more if more are present who have not paid) who are not actively involved.

I do plan to attend teacher training this summer and look forward to more insight on how to manage group lessons!

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