Saving a 4 yr old from a bad start

Joan said: Sep 4, 2007
 24 posts

I have a wonderful homeschooled family that has been in my violin studio for 2 years. The older sister is 6 1/2 and is doing quite well. Unfortunately, we’re having some problems with her 4 yr old brother. About a year ago he was very interested in getting started, and I thought why not, let’s give him a few minutes of each lesson and see how it goes. Well, in the past year we’ve not been able to get further than “taka taka ta-ka” on the A and E, and it’s been difficult to keep him interested. What happened was that his mom went ahead of what I was teaching him, at home. Being a bit green about the situation at the time, I didn’t stop her. I’ve had difficulty since the beginning, establishing his focus at lessons enough to really work with him, so often he wouldn’t even show me what he worked on at home. Even now I often spend 5 or more minutes just trying to get him to not be silly and follow directions. I realize I probably should just pleasantly end the lesson when this happens, but lately I’ve probably been too permissive because I’m afraid to do anything to lose him completely. I’m sure much of his resistance comes from me being much pickier than his mom, and having him stay with the tasks he thinks he’s ready to move on from.

Now I realize the folly of having let things slide, and I also realize that I probably should’ve started him with more pre-violin tasks in the beginning, rather than jumping into the violin. Knowing what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have taken him as a student until he was a little more mature. He actually had many severe health problems as an infant and so I think developmentally he just may not be able to take direction well yet. But now that he’s been with me for a year, neither his mom nor I would feel good about him quitting now. His mom is a good Suzuki parent, but I feel I need to guide her more in her role at home.

I’m hoping that we can still steer him in a better direction. He’s wanted to quit in the past but we kept him going with incentives during lessons- earning a piece of a puzzle to play with for each task finished, etc. He also WANTS to play and enjoys group lessons with the big kids, and though he completely resisted practicing with mom for a few months, the past two weeks we’ve had good success with him earning small objects for every “taka taka” he plays well. We’ve also lessened his list of tasks so that he really only has one thing (the “takas”) to practice each day.

Any ideas or suggestions about this situation would be much appreciated.

Joan said: Aug 30, 2008
 24 posts

Well, unfortunately the 4-yr old boy quit awhile back- he had just lost too much interest to continue. Now I’m having trouble keeping the older girl on board. This is all due to my own insufficient guidance of the parent, I feel. I had allowed the older girl to “go ahead” and things were okay until Allegretto, upon which I put on the brakes. Suddenly she started to flounder. A whole year later, I find out that she’s lost interest and both she and the parent are upset that they’ve only learned 2 pieces in the past year. No one had said a word about this before- both child and parent are extremely polite. I should’ve had a private talk with the mom months ago, when I noticed something was wrong. (I did not realize that Mom had always allowed her to learn pieces on her own, and continued to give minimal guidance, which did not work now that the model had changed, and certainly did not work for her brother.)

So I chalk this one up to my own inexperience in teaching beginners, as well as my not providing enough parent support from the very beginning. These days I require 6-8 weeks of parent training for my beginning families (with words of wisdom like “DON’T GO AHEAD” and everything is going SO much more smoothly. I also plan to set aside a few regular “office hours” so that I can get better organized and keep in better contact with the parents. It’s so hard to find time outside of lessons to get to that stuff!

Joan said: Sep 2, 2008
 24 posts

You’re welcome! And sorry to hear about your student dropping. Yeah, you just never know with some folks! I wish they’d just give us a little more advance warning sometimes. :)

I wound up talking to the parent yesterday for quite some time, and I’m happy to say that we worked it out so that they’re willing to try again (with the older child who was losing motivation). It’s interesting to see how I’ve grown as a teacher since I started with them a few years back- my expectations are different now but it’s not always clear to the older students…communication is something I really need to work on!

Laurel said: Sep 4, 2008
Laurel MacCulloch
Suzuki Association Member
Langley, BC
120 posts

I had the same problems with my inexperience, too. I lost a student for many reasons, but one of them was that I held him back on certain pieces, with the same result as you (only 2 pieces in about a year).

Now I’m a Suzuki parent too, and I would have a hard time with that as well. I’d like to think I’d be brave enough to ask the teacher about it; kids need new things even if they’re not “moving ahead”, they can have some supplementary pieces just to keep the novelty going.

My son’s teacher moves him along at what looks like quite a fast pace, but it kind of works out to a new piece each month. I’ve been trying to mirror that with some of my students (depending on their skills and home situations, of course) and it works out pretty well.


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