Fiona and I are having a really enjoyable week practicing. We seldom have problems practicing, but over and over again this week she has volunteered "I like this way of practicing. It's really fun."
Here's what's working for her right now. First, the tools of the trade. A ten-sided die and a miniature teacup, made by the older girls' pottery instructor, and given as a gift to Fiona. The die fits perfectly into the teacup. Fiona 'pours the tea' and it falls out and rolls across the floor. When it comes to rest, we see what number is showing. She then turns to the whiteboard. There I'll have written ten practicing tasks. She can now read well enough to show off her reading for me, and reads aloud. Then she comes back, picks up her violin, and works through the task. She chooses whether to do it 2, 4 or 5 times. I choose the point of focus, the posture or technique point that I want her to attend to. One of our frequent technique points these days is "table-top fingers," left-hand fingers that stand up tall and curl over the fingerboard nicely so that the middle phalanx forms a little horizontal "table-top." If they are really good, those fingers, the mini teacup might just come for a visit on her table.
She completes the task, and then heads to the whiteboard to erase that entry. Erasing is great fun for Fiona. She always comments on whether this erasure is tricky or easy or fast or far apart or messy or what-all.
Then she places the die back in the teacup and pours again. As she completes more tasks, there are more and more numbers missing from the whiteboard. If she rolls a number that's already been completed and erased, she can (a) make a crazy face (b) lie down for a rest (c) hug me or (d) just roll again. In practice, she will take one or two quick lie-down or hug breaks, and enjoy pulling a few quick faces, but by the time we have only one or two tasks still left, she is eagerly trying to roll the numbers in question so that she "wins!" and gets to do the last task or two. It's so fun to see her eagerly trying to "win" the privilege of playing the D-sharp exercise from Minuet 2 six times.
Her practicing takes a long time this way, with all the rolling and deciding and re-rolling and hugging and reading aloud and face-making and erasing. What normally gets done in 20 minutes takes up to 40 or 45 minutes. But she loves it -- both the work she's doing and the time it takes.
I've always said that the real advantage of starting children young on an instrument is that it builds the parent-child relationship ... but not until my fourth child has that relationship-building process been such an unrelentingly joyful thing for me and my child. Edmund Sprunger reminds us in his wonderful book for Suzuki parents, "Helping Parents Practice," that "lettuce has dirt." In other words, that in producing this positive growth, in creating this positive experience through music education with a young child, there's some messy stuff that's part of it. I'd always found that to be true in the past. Ain't no dirt on Fiona's lettuce, though!