Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Erin's Violin Blog 24

The big push in the past few months has been to find a balance between more autonomy and responsibility for Erin in her practising, and the ongoing need for guidance and facilitation in problem-solving. She's now wrapping up the Vivaldi g minor concerto, 3rd movement and trying to keep the weighty Book 4 and 5 repertoire firmly within her grasp. Two complete Vivaldi Concerti and the Bach Double are a lot to retain when they've all been learned in the past 6 months. She's practising about a third of the time completely independently, and taking daily responsibility for her review work. After some growing pains, the independent practising is proving increasingly diligent and efficient. Eight seems pretty young for this, I agree, but she's always craved autonomy and independence, this kid, easily falling into patterns of conflict and resistence, and since we were wanting her to take more responsibility for musical details, this practising independence fits with the "total program".

We've opted not to do an institute this summer; Noah wasn't quite ready. Instead Erin will again do the local music summer school on piano, with an orchestra option on violin. She'll also have the chance to work on three or four violin-piano duet numbers with a pianist friend of hers who will be visiting for a week. The two girls live 9 hours apart but became fast friends last summer. They're quite well-matched on their respective instruments. It should be a productive and enjoyable partnership.

Sunday, March 10, 2002

Erin's Violin Blog 23

All I can say is it's lucky we're homeschooling. Music is taking up a lot of time, especially as Erin's piano abilities have begun to catch up to her violin abilities. We now spend over 2 hours a day practising the two instruments, and that doesn't include the time and energy devoted to lessons (and piano is now requiring an all-day out-of-town excursion), theory classes, group classes and orchestra rehearsals.

After a couple of weeks of really conflict-ridden practising, we seem to be back in the swing of things. Although Erin goes through regular spurts when she is extremely difficult to work with during practising, she's always adamant that she doesn't want to quit studying either instrument. So we keep trying to find ways to work together productively, even when it the task seems insurmountable. Recently we've been dealing with the loss of structure of weekly lessons, as Erin's grandma-violin-teacher is abroad for several weeks. We've started a regular practising challenge. She's trying for 64 days in a row. My own students were all asked to choose a goal, either 16, 36, 64 or 100 days in a row, and Erin has joined in with a 64-day challenge. She's already 40 days into a piano-100-day-self-challenge, so adding violin isn't such a big deal.

So here we are again, out the other side of the recent dark tunnel and we both feel happy about how things are going. We've done the "spade work" on the Bach Double 2nd violin part and are gradually putting the 1st and 2nd violin parts together. Almost half the piece is fitting together securely now. Our practising routine now includes some three-octave scales and arpeggios, a shifting exercise or two, some brief vibrato-development exercises, work on the Bach Double as a duet, polishing work on at least one other Book 4 piece, work on the two "new" pieces at the start of Book 5, playing through a review piece from each of the earlier books and a couple of fiddle tunes (Tam Lynn's Reel is a current favourite), and a few minutes spent on orchestra music. No wonder it seems to take a while!

We're toying with the idea of a summer Suzuki institute, but not certain. Because Erin's everyday life revolves around music, musical friends and musical events, rather than school, institutes aren't quite as much the unique immersion experience that they are for some children. I'm anticipating that Noah, her younger brother, won't be emotionally ready to be enrolled as a student this summer, and I'm not exactly relishing the thought of single-parenting my way through an intense institute week, with the needs of two younger siblings being to some extent set aside. We may opt again for last summer's solution: piano enrollment at our local (traditional) music summer school, with orchestral participation on violin as an extra hour. That way Noah and Sophie can spend a certain amount of time at home with their dad, playing and having their needs met more adequately.

One of the things that delights me about Erin's unique situation as a young, fairly advanced violinist in a small rural program is her lack of any condecension or competitiveness concerning other students. Perhaps it's partly her nature, partly the fact that she's not in an age-stratified environment at school, and partly the collection of musical friends she's blessed with, but she is not becoming a musical snob as she becomes more and more capable. She loves participating in group classes with the Book 1 kids, loves playing in community orchestra and giggling over missed entries with the grownups, loves "taking notes" for her little brother during his Twinkle practising.

Saturday, March 09, 2002

Parental deschooling

This is a post I discovered in my e-mail "sent" file on September 1, 2007. It was written over five years previously. I've copied it in below and adjusted the blog entry date to match the original writing:

Katherine wrote
"My concerns are mainly centred around the potential for personality conflict between my children and me. I am trained as an engineer and am naturally quite competitive and goal-oriented. I am concerned that I would push my kids too hard. Part of what I don't like about the school they are in now is the acceptance of mediocrity."

I replied:

My kids have never gone to school in the first place, so I had a gradual "apprenticeship" to homeschooling... we just slipped quietly in the door the year my daughter didn't start Kindergarten, while we didn't change anything in our family routine. But I trained as a physician, and I tend to be very goal-oriented and strong-willed, so the things you are worried about would be exactly those I'd worry about in your situation: expectations too high, power struggles, and so on.

What I've discovered through my gradual apprenticeship in home-based learning is that it's at least as much an education for the parent as it is for the child, and I mean that in a very, very good way. My understanding of education is so much richer and more thoughtful (still learning, though!) than it ever would have been otherwise. I have changed... I have gradually embraced a totally new set of beliefs about the process of learning.

It's been mostly a liberating, empowering experience, though I'll confess I've resisted some of it and still do. I discovered that the set of assumptions that govern school are meaningless outside that context. Things like "high levels of structure and organization are required to assure you're doing a proper serious job", and "things need to be learned in a specific order and mastered before moving on", and "children won't learn anything hard unless they're forced to" and "the child is the recipient of learning dispensed by a teacher". The entire foundation of my understanding of the nature of education has been gradually knocked out from underneath me. In place I've built up something new, something that's more trusting of human nature and respectful of the individual experiences of unique human beings, something that's making me a happier, stronger, less neurotic person.

So if you're willing to call into question all your assumptions about education (and, by extension, parenting), I think you'll find that home-based learning will grow on you in a very good way. Your children will show you where you need to grow and change and learn.

At the outset I read lots of good books about homeschooling and natural learning. This might appeal to the engineer in you. Here are a few you might ferret out...

Better Than School by Nancy Wallace. Life and trials within an unschooling family of preciously artsy, yet in many senses, perfectly normal kids. Very honest writing without pretence. Out of print but probably the best book, overall, about homeschooling and natural learning, that I've ever read. Track it down through inter-library loan if you can.

How Children Learn by John Holt ... observations concerning that natural learning of children, and the way in which we well-meaning adults often derail and destroy kids' natural aptitudes and motivation for learning

Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense by David Guterson. Excellent persuasive writing about *why* you should homeschool.

Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto ... more on "why", with a more philosophical spin about the flawed nature of public education

No Contest: the Case Against Competition by Alfie Kohn... since you mentioned your competitive nature, you might find this one really interesting. It's not about homeschooling in any direct way, but it's all one big ball of wax. Very persuasive. Kohn's book about rewards and incentives ("Punished by Rewards") is also an excellent antidote to any carrot-and-stick tendencies one might have.

My eldest child is very strong-willed and so am I. My general approach is that if she develops resistence, there's something wrong with the whole equation, not something wrong with her. So if she's not wanting to do something that I honestly believe is exceedingly important, I need to adapt her environment to inspire her, not force her. Any more controlling strategy is doomed. Absolutely doomed. She is training me to give her the autonomy she craves, and when I trust her enough to give it, she amazes me. Trust is the crux of it. I am getting better at trusting that, in the absence of coercive parenting, she really will want to grow to be an intelligent, responsible, productive and capable human being. She rewards my trust.

I have a feeling that if my elder daughter were in school, we would never have had to learn how to really get along. This is the gift (and the curse!) of homeschooling: you will develop deep, rich and complex relationships with your children, relationships which will be able to weather all sorts of potential conflict and stress. There's simply no choice. You will learn. They will show you when you're moving the wrong direction. They will show you what they need.