Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A tale of two weeks

Last week's Suzuki institute was a heady experience for all. The structure of daily classes and activities was school-like, but there was so much respect for the children and their needs that it wasn't particularly stressful for my introverts. They thrived, loving the challenges they met and the friendships they made. They came out of the week absolutely psyched over the violin and viola. Erin practiced like a maniac all week and three separate times the day afterwards. Noah and Sophie are begging for more lessons and for next year's institute to roll around again really fast.

In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd say that the kids' reaction to the week was an indication that they might really thrive in a more structured, school-like setting full-time.

But then on Sunday we had to switch gears and get prepared for the piano summer school. It's not going very well. Partly I think the kids had just had their fill of long structured days away from home and needed some down time. Partly it's that they're feeling so stoked about their stringed instruments that it's hard to set those aside and get centred on piano. But partly I think it's the format of the two different summer programs.

This week's program is mostly large-group-based. There are almost no intimate small-group experiences (with the exception of piano duet coaching -- which the kids really enjoy - but it's just 10 minutes a couple of times a week). In groups of more than 6 or 8, my introverted kids have a hard time forming comfortable relationships quickly. They cope with the master classes of 8 to 14 fellow students, teacher and onlookers, but they don't feel the comfortable sense of intimacy, of bonds forged, that they get easily in Suzuki-style masterclasses of 4 students and teacher. Also, because this week is a "drop 'em at the door and pick 'em up later" style program, the kids are kept in class for basically the whole time, with breaks limited to 15-minute teacher-supervised recesses. There's little time to forge friendships. During the Suzuki week there were hour-long breaks interspersed during the day for practising and socializing or just curling up in the corner with a book.

The other real difference with this week is how product-oriented it is. With three kids involved in various different levels and components of this week's program, our family is involved in almost every student concert, and everything during the week is focused on those end-of-week concerts. We'll be sitting through parts of two concerts on Thursday evening, totalling almost 3 hours, and three separate concerts, including a 3 to 4 hour sweltering marathon final concert, on Friday. This is without taking in any of the discretionary concerts. By the end of the week (this is our fourth year) my kids are inevitably swearing that they hate concerts and don't ever want to be involved in another one. Not really the desired sentiment at the end of a music summer school. And then, to top it off, because all the energy is focused on concert preparation, once the concerts are over there's little for the kids to take home with them to spur their learning forth after this week.

Back to my thoughts on structured group instruction and whether the kids would thrive in school. Interestingly, the things that are bothering my children about this week's experiences are things that they and I would find difficult about school -- the sheer length of time spent there, especially time sitting and waiting for things to happen, the focus on product rather than on ongoing learning and its motivation, the preoccupation with specific learning rather than with the big-picture growth and development of the child, the separation from parents rather than inclusion of them, the large-group nature of the teaching -- and the competitiveness and territoriality that seems to arise in the absence of any cohesive philosophical vision of education.

I know that some schools are able to answer to some of these issues -- while others are just the nature of institutional schooling. It makes me wonder what a school based on the Suzuki institute model would look like. Pie in the sky, I know.

At any rate, this year's music summer school experience has proven to me that while my kids love occasional doses of a certain style of group-based structured learning, and can cope with other styles if need be, unschooling is definitely the place for them to thrive.

Noah came home this afternoon, discovered that the computer mouse wasn't working properly, tried the standard dust-bunny-banishing procedure which failed, shut the computer down, found a non-magnetized screwdriver, took the thing apart and discovered, deep within the wheel mechanism, a hidden wad of lint which he dug at and blew at until it was gone. He spent some time curiously examining the remaining circuitry and mechanics, then reassembled it, confident that it would work properly. And it did. He's beginning to see himself as mechanically adept, to have confidence in his ability to figure out how to fix things. A little snippet of unschooling on the shoulder of a very school-like day. Nice to see.

1 comment:

  1. I had to come and say hello. I found your blog because someone came into my blog with "introverted homeschool" and your link was just above mine. And then it's a moominfamily! Well, heck! I had to come see a moominfamily! (My login name at various places is moominmama.) Then we also unschool and I've got a kid named Noah. Too cool. :)

    Nice to meet you!


This blog is moving to archive-only status. Please consider posting comments instead at the active version of the blog at

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.