How Much Is Too Much?

I have a full time job. It entails driving a car, event organization, preparing food, more driving, conflict resolution, property management, even more driving, budgeting, and much more. Then I have a part time job that’s a lot easier – it’s called work, the first one is parenting. And I’m not alone to feel this way. Especially in North America, where half your life is spent in the car and most children’s activities are extra-curricular (i.e. not provided in school) and where there is less of a family network than elsewhere, children bring a hefty extra layer of management. (I’m actually not complaining.  As I always tell my non-parent friends, the joys of having children still far outweigh the negatives.)

But I think we add to the problem a bit. Where we live, a quite standard North American suburb, most parents care about their children’s education and realize school doesn’t nearly cover all their needs. Hence we lessons and classes of every kind in our neighborhood: swimming, hockey, tennis, chess, art, cooking classes, martial arts, ballet, sailing, camps, scouts, air cadets – you name it, you can find it. It also makes each supportive parent a part-time chauffeur. But sometimes I ask myself, how much is too much? For one, after children come home for school and deal with homework (By the way, why are they bringing work home if they spent 7 hours in school?) how much energy do they have for other activities?

The other point is: how efficient is it to drive them to activities that we could be providing ourselves. For example, I am a music teacher which means I am an expert (as are most teachers) in teaching children music. This means I’ve taken on teaching my children music. It’s not easy getting the respect they would get from someone else but when I factor in the 40 minutes I save driving, the money saved, the time in getting dressed, getting out the door, parking, etc. there are very real savings in a DIY approach.

Of course not everyone is a teacher. But I believe everyone has a set of skills that they’re very able with and could pass on better than any teacher. Sports are very big here. Almost everyone has done some and many have competed at a relatively high level. These sports could be systematically passed on. The same goes for sciences. If you work say in a lab in any capacity, it’s easy to set up a simple home lab to motivate and pass on the basics to your children. It does take effort, but I prefer putting effort into something I know about rather than taxi driving. And the benefits are very real. Look at how many professional hockey players and artists had parents in the same or similar field. It’s almost as if this was a greater factor than school and extra-curricular programs. The drawback is that it requires dedication and being more organized. Not everyone has the time and energy. Personally I believe children are our greatest asset and when they are all grown up we will have fond memories of the time we spent learning together. It also goes both ways, it teaches us to be more patient and learn about ourselves as much as about them, and isn’t that what parenting is all about?’,’How Much Is Too Much’,

Practice Makes Perfect

That phrase has been around for a long time. When I was little it was a convenient way for adults, and in my case music teachers, to remind us to put in the work and be patient with results – neither of which are appealing activities at that age. But the idea that practice is the key, far outweighing raw talent, has become a generally accepted view on learning. The studies by Ericsson are all but legendary but from my perspective as a teacher I’m going to suggest something more to get those little fingers flying and make those lessons worthwhile. You see, if we take a sum of hours and decide that’s what we need for success that’s great.

But it also makes a difference when we spend those hours. For the longest time, when I practiced piano, I would put in the most hours in the days before my lesson. Say I had a lesson on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday wouldn’t see much of the piano, Thursday and Friday I’d get a little more serious, and Saturday and Sunday I’d be putting in the hours and cursing myself for being such a master procrastinator. And so today, older and wiser, I recommend a different strategy for my students. I tell them that it’s better to put in twenty minutes a day than 4 hours once a week, double the time, that is. The body and mind react much better to the shorter learning interval. You can’t retain much with days between learning sessions, and the longer time spent ‘catching up’ doesn’t make for effective practice. Maybe it’s possible to cram for a test, but not for a lesson or concert. On top of that, it’s much easier to motivate children to practice when it’s part of a routine and a very regular one at that. There is also the fact that for most playing an instrument will not be a profession and so not getting the most out of practicing means wasting precious free time and missing out on the many benefits of playing, therapeutic, mental, stress-relieving, and otherwise. Practice does make perfect, but practicing smart makes us perfect faster.

The new school year is here!

Once again it’s time to go through the merry-go-round of registering children for activities. If you’re considering music or dance lessons you’re at the right place. Dance and music provide intellectual stimulation, an emotionally engaging activity, and get kids to move and engage physically. Give us a call or send us an email to find out what the choices are for your children.