SECE class

SECE class

Image by Donna Ngai

I sincerely hope as you read this, you are safe and healthy and finding ways to cope with all the changes in our world over the last couple of months.

These are surreal times, indeed, and nobody is unaffected by the current situation. To those of you with family members who continue to work on our behalf on the front lines in healthcare and in essential services, thank you, thank you! To all the parents juggling work, homeschooling their children, and maintaining a household, please know that you are not alone and remember that “Life doesn’t need to be perfect to be wonderful.” Perhaps this quote from Annette Funicello is the underlying message of my article.

As Suzuki teachers, we dedicate our lives to helping children and parents, but suddenly find ourselves in this far from perfect circumstance. How do we continue to support families when all the rules have changed? What technology works best for online lessons? How do we fix that bow hand without touch? How do we encourage a parent who is becoming too frustrated with their child to continue practicing without the weekly lesson? Here comes the good news!

Despite the fact that none of these questions have one perfect answer, there have been many wonderful solutions coming from so many of you in the Suzuki community. We are known for being a sharing community and this situation has proven once again, the strength of our collective and collaborative efforts as a result of our willingness to share.

In my school, we were just starting our two-week March break when all the closures started rolling in. This gave me the opportunity and time to sit back and really think about my next steps. I also began to read the many posts on Suzuki Facebook groups and felt proud to be a part of such a diligent and hardworking community of problem solvers. I found it relatively easy making the choice to move my violin students to an online platform. What to do with the SECE classes was a much more complicated decision for me. In my work as an SECE Teacher Trainer and in my parent education, I am an advocate for avoiding screen time for children in their early years. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages screen or media use for children younger than 18 to 24 months. The Healthy Kids, Healthy Future initiative recommends that “screen time should be limited to no more than 30 minutes a week while in child care, and no screen time for children under age two.”[i] Certainly there are many other sources sharing this advice which provides an immediate dilemma with regards to online SECE classes. Add to that, the social/emotional components of the class that are missing online: close observation of children by teachers, children learning from one another, and of course the close contact and touch when a child has a turn with a teacher.

In spite of my immediate concerns, I knew I needed to experiment with online SECE classes, as I had many families who were looking for something comforting and familiar during this unsettling time. I quickly realized that my priority was to support the SECE parents so that they could provide a calm environment while continuing to have meaningful interactions with their children. I was also hearing from many SECE teachers and wanted to have informed thoughts as I responded.

Initially I sent out an email with my thoughts about considering the classes as an audio guide for participation at home with the familiar songs and rhymes. I suggested that parents have their child facing them during most of the activities to allow for many face-to-face interactions and to decrease screen time. I also sent a short list of “equipment” they would need for Week 1 and 2 of the curriculum:

Week 1 and 2:

•  A soft ball for rolling
• A tub drum for This Old Man or One, Two, Tie My Shoe

Week 1:

•  A small stuffed dog for Bow Wow Wow
• Scarves for dancing

Week 2:

•  A small mouse and chair
•  Shakers for dancing

I do not encourage the families to use real, toy, or makeshift woodblocks, xylophones, or lollipop drums during the class as I think of these activities as teacher-child partnerships. I don’t worry about the children using their own dog or mouse at home, as I believe they will be able to adjust once they are sharing again in class. I also sent the families a duck card by email, after observing some frustration by a toddler who wanted so badly to count the ducks (her favorite thing at the moment). I have the good fortune of having two team teachers in the family (my husband, Tom, and daughter, Claire), so Claire has been unmuting one family at a time for solos, like Bow Wow Wow or Pease Porridge Hot. For Cuckoo, during ball rolling, we use the children’s names as a layer. For example, “Ella, Where Are You?”

My experience, after four online SECE classes, is mixed. I did have a couple families who decided not to participate in the online classes as they are trying to live screen-free. Despite connecting the computer (Zoom) to the television to make the “gallery view” images as big as possible, my ability to watch the children carefully and make observations throughout the class is not adequate, especially because the participants must be muted for everyone to hear the teachers properly. I also see some of the children looking disengaged and parents working hard to pull them back to the activities. The youngest babies, who are unaware of the screen, seem to be faring the best as they are fully engaged with their parent. I feel as if the toddlers are experiencing some frustration at their inability to connect with us in the way they’re used to.

Having said all of that, it’s time to remember, “Life doesn’t need to be perfect to be wonderful.” Some parents have expressed their gratitude at the classes continuing online, saying, “Thank you so much for all your work making these online classes possible, you have no idea how much we look forward to this class every week!” Other parents have reported that in their own home environment, they have seen an explosion of words from their child while singing the songs and saying the rhymes. This doesn’t surprise me, as children have so much to observe in the live classes that they go through periods of time where they aren’t showing us all the words they can sing or say during class.

As a way of supporting the parents who were experiencing some difficulties “corralling” their children during the online classes and to encourage daily activities from the curriculum for all the families, I wrote the following to parents as part of my weekly email:

“Certainly the online classes are very different than our ‘live’ classes and your children will invariably react differently to the activities in their home environment. Continue to participate yourself by singing the songs, saying the rhymes, and doing the actions and try not to worry if they wander more than usual. Enjoy the opportunity to interact with your children while enjoying these familiar songs and rhymes.

In preparation for Saturday’s class, let’s try doing one activity from class and repeat it several times throughout the day. Here’s a plan for the next three days:

Today (Wednesday): Little Tommy Tucker (Try changing where you tap the beat each time you do the rhyme!)

Thursday: Six Little Ducks (Try singing and doing the actions in every room of the house!)

Friday: Falling Thirds on your knees singing ‘Scrambled eggs, scrambled eggs, make big muscles in my legs’ (perhaps make some scrambled eggs on Friday!); ‘Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day, little children want to play.’

*Then try to make up some new words together that you can share in class!”

I am extremely proud of what I’ve seen within the Suzuki community and specifically, the SECE community during this global health crisis. Many of you are experiencing success with online classes while many have found other innovative ways to support the SECE families. These ideas include short online chats with individual parents, blogs with suggestions for at-home activities, online parent talks, short online story times, and regular emails or texts with ideas or words of encouragement. Keep up the good work!

I sincerely hope that we won’t have to wait too long to meet our SECE families again in person. I also look forward to resuming SECE teacher training and Suzuki conferences which give us, as teachers, the opportunity to work and grow together. Until that time, please take care and occasionally remind yourself that, “Life doesn’t need to be perfect to be wonderful!”