As Suzuki teachers, we all recognize the importance of providing our students’ parents with education in the Suzuki method, preferably before the child starts lessons. Just as parents should be certain that their child’s teacher has received adequate training, teachers need to make sure that the parents have the knowledge they need to be effective home teachers. Unfortunately, many of us teach in situations where we feel insisting parents attend sessions before lessons is impractical.
The Chicago Young Instrumentalist (C.Y.I.) Program at Sherwood Conservatory of Music in Chicago, Illinois, started its first Parent Education classes in September, 2001. All potential Suzuki parents attend a series of classes before the child’s lessons start. As the first year of classes comes to a close, we look back and see how much these classes have improved the program as a whole. We would like to share what we have learned from this experience, particularly with those teachers who have wanted to start a parent education program but have put it off for whatever reason.
Do… Talk about the “why” before the “what.”
We all know that Suzuki requires a large commitment and, in return, offers a great reward. Be sure that you talk to parents about the reward first. If you tell them what they need to do before selling them on the benefits you will lose the interest of many parents. In our classes we have found that it is surprisingly easy to ask parents to make the necessary commitments once they have read one of Dr. Suzuki’s books and discussed the advantages of the Suzuki method.
Do… Start small.
Suzuki teachers can be full of enthusiasm and energy when orienting new parents. It is tempting to want to cover every concept to which you have been exposed in whatever time period your program allows. This can overwhelm the parents and do little to help the lessons when they start. The one-point learning concept that we use with students is also the best way to approach parent education. It is better to cover a few points very thoroughly; hopefully the parents will then be inspired to continue the process after the lessons have started.
Do… Give parents the credit they deserve.
It goes without saying that the parents in our programs know their children better than we ever will. They also bring experience from their various backgrounds, and our programs become richer if we share such experiences rather than approach it only from our own angle as teachers. The parents that have gone through our program have included teachers, pediatricians, genetic scientists, psychologists and many other professions that have had their own unique points of view on the Suzuki method. Discussing these views as a group helps both the teachers and parents develop their ideas and become better nurturers for the children.
Do… Share resources with other teachers.
If you teach in a school with other teachers, make sure to involve everyone in the process of developing your parent class. If you teach in your own private studio, find other Suzuki teachers in your area and see if they want to join forces with you. Teaching the class with other teachers can also help develop the community sense that is so much a part of Suzuki.
Do… Value your own experience.
Whether you have been teaching Suzuki for decades or have just finished your first 1A course, you have significant training and experience to offer. Many teachers, especially those of us who are younger than most of our parents, feel intimidated by the idea of putting ourselves in a position of authority, but that is the best way that we can offer our knowledge to the parents and their children.
Don’t… Be afraid that requiring parent classes will mean losing students.
The most common reason for not having a parent class before the first lesson is that parents will choose another program where their children can begin lessons right away. Our experience has actually been quite the opposite. Expressing your strong belief in the method, and your unwillingness to compromise what you feel is important will often times result in a prospective parent valuing your program more.
Don’t… Feel you have to use only your own ideas.
Sharing ideas is a fundamental part of the Suzuki method. Always be sure to give credit where it is due and mention the names of teachers and/or teacher trainers that have given you ideas. This will also help the parents know that they are not only getting your experience, but that of the whole Suzuki community.
Don’t… Put it off any longer.
Making a major change in your studio policy is always an uneasy prospect, but once you have made the commitment, you will find that you and the parents in your program can work together much more effectively towards Dr. Suzuki’s dream.
Here is some of the feedback we received as we evaluated the effectiveness of having a parent class:
“Many of the things I learned [in the class] about being a Suzuki parent I have been able to apply to my parenting skills in general.”
“I really enjoyed reading Dr. Suzuki’s book, [Ability Development from Age Zero] I’ve recommended it to family and friends.”
“After completing the class I am really excited about [my son] taking Suzuki lessons. I feel the Suzuki method is an excellent way to learn an instrument.”