Why Is Parent Education Essential?

Being a Suzuki parent is a special and unique opportunity for parents; but for a parent to succeed to the fullest degree, it is best for the parent that they are properly trained before the child begins else she/he may find unnecessary difficulty in the daily practice. Since I first began talking about parent education some 20 years ago there has been increased interest by both parents and teachers in how to train parents, when to train parents and what exactly they need to know.

The biggest mistake we have made in Suzuki training is to not take seriously the need for educating and preparing the parent before the child begins his lessons. If parent training comes after the child has begun his lessons (even a few lessons), mistakes have already been made that are difficult to fix. that have already compromised the childí s learning. Most of the mistakes parents make and attitudes that children develop happen in the first few months, and in a very short time small problems become big problems. If teachers will just train the parent for several weeks/months prior to the childís first lesson, nearly all of the problems we see in our studios between parent and child will never occur.

Why do we need to prepare the parent without the child?

  1. By far the most compelling reason for more parent education is that there are still too many Suzuki parents who feel that the only way to get children to practice is to force them to practice through intimidation, manipulation or bribery. Dr. Suzuki says that forcing children to practice when they donít want to will teach them to not like music. The question then is how to get a child to practice without the use of some kind of force. Teachers must teach parents how to develop the desire to learn in their children before involving them in an activity such as learning to play an instrument.

    I have concluded that the relationship that parents establish with their child provides the foundation upon which the desire to learn rests. Parents must be taught early to give up bad habits when working with their child at developing a skill if they want the child to truly love learning. Unhappy practice sessions where tears, belligerence, and rebellion occur destroy interest in learning and sew the seeds of discontent and dislike in the child.

  2. Another reason we need to educate our Suzuki parents before beginning lessons is that many parents have a hard time getting their children to cooperate in other areas whether it is to do their homework, feed the dog, or clean their rooms. Knowing this, we should not expect that parents could get their children to practice without considerable training.

  3. A third reason for educating parents is that the Suzuki Method is a Japanese Method and grounded in a Japanese view of parenting and teaching. American parents, just as I did, need a good deal of guidance in applying the ideas of the Suzuki Method to working with their children. For some parents, Suzuki philosophy does not seem so foreign; but for most of the parents I meet, Suzuki philosophy is sometimes difficult to understand and appreciate and even harder to apply.

    This difficulty has led in some quarters of our movement to the desire to Americanize the Suzuki approach. Rather than modify the philosophy and the method, I would like to see teachers spend more time with parent education. With proper parent training the mystery and magic of the Suzuki Method will be revealed to all parents, and they can enjoy the full array of benefits that come from experiencing the Method according to Suzuki.

  4. A fourth reason why I feel compelled to educate my Suzuki parents to a high level of understanding is because of the kinds of statements that Suzuki makes concerning parenting. He writes, "The fate of the child is in the hands of the parent," "The responsibility for education lies in the home."

    "Creating a desire in your child is the parentsí duty," "Parents with smiling faces have children with smiling faces." "Every child improves depending on his parents," "Man is the son of his environment." Suzuki clearly believes that parents have great influence on their childís learning. We must help our parents fully understand the obligation, privilege, and possibilities these statements imply, and it takes extra training to do this.

    I never start out training a parent thinking they donít want to do what I ask. But I also never start out assuming they know about Japanese teaching and parenting. I begin with the assumption that parents care a great deal about their children, that they think the Suzuki experience will be a good experience, that they know little about Suzuki training and that they expect me to teach them how to do an effective job. Further I believe it is my responsibility to get them to the point where they are eager and excited to begin teaching their child because they know how to work with their child, and they know even before problems arise how to handle them.

  5. A fifth reason for long term parent education has to do with the fact that the Suzuki Method is not just another music method but a way to develop the whole child into a fine human being. Since most parents come to us primarily to teach their children to learn to play an instrument, the idea that the Suzuki Music Method is more than just music lessons may be either a surprise to them or hold little interest for them.

    Several times I have had the following response to my explanation that the Suzuki Method is about developing the whole child. "Great! How soon will my child be able to play a song?" The development of the whole child through the study of the instrument takes some extra time and effort for parents to fully understand and appreciate. But by looking at the Suzuki Method as a whole child development experience, parents are much more able and willing to put in the time and money necessary to develop ability to a high level.

    Also, when parents see that their Suzuki program is more than just music lessons, they are kinder to themselves and to their children even as they are more serious about their commitment to their work. I have found that when I can successfully explain to a parent about all of the benefits their child will receive beyond competency at the instrument, they nearly always stay through the books and beyond.

  6. A sixth reason for educating parents extensively prior to the child beginning lessons might be stated as "for the good of the Method." Much of the bad press that the Suzuki Method gets in this country comes from Suzuki parents who failed. After they quit their Suzuki program, they often wind up at a traditional studio. Between the studentís lack of ability to play and the parents grumbling about how awful Suzuki Method is, it is easy to see why some, in fact too many, traditional teachers think Suzuki Method is a weak and ineffective method. Shouldnít we as teachers accept some or most of the blame for these situations? In most cases when the parent and child fail, isnít it because we didnít really get the parent trained well enough to be successful with her/his child?

How long do parents need to be trained?

When I first started teaching Suzuki about 1971, I soon realized that parents didnít know what to do in order to supervise and teach their children during practice. It was unclear to me at that time what kind of training they needed. But after about five years of teaching I began to feel a certain impatience with the reoccurring problems that I saw parents and children have. Everyone seems to have the same problems at about the same time in their learning. Furthermore, I could see that when I gave the parent more information, she and the child got along better and he played better.

So it seemed to me that success for the child was tied to my getting his parent better prepared. I tried different ways to get the parent prepared and ended up in the early years doing about six weeks of parent training prior to the childís first lesson. It did not take long for me to see that six weeks simply wasnít long enough not when you consider all of the philosophical concepts that make up the Suzuki approach as well as the fact parents must learn how to apply the philosophy to the teaching of the child.

In addition, I felt it was necessary for the parent to learn Beginning Steps, Twinkles and how to read music. I gradually added weeks to my parent course until in 1987 I had worked my way up to a six-month course.

By seeing a group of three parents every week for a 24-week course, I could teach the parents everything they needed to know to start their child in Suzuki study. The six-month course consists of:
  • two months of philosophy where they read two of Suzukiís books, discuss them and answer questions concerning the material they read

  • two months of application of the philosophy (Beginning Steps and Twinkles)

  • one month (the fifth month) spent on teaching the parent to read music and understand elementary theory and

  • one month (sixth and final month) to discuss any sticking points or issues that are especially difficult for parents to deal with that might keep them from being happy and successful Suzuki parents.
The six month course turned out to be such a valuable experience for my parents that I wanted to share it with other teachers. I developed workbooks for new parents as well as more experienced parents to allow teachers to more easily train parents. Each parent and teacher has a workbook and the teacher simply facilitates the course from the material in the workbook. Many teachers now have the confidence to require their parents to take parent education classes for several weeks or months.

Some do the Volume I six month course for new parents, others prefer the Volume III (2 Ĺ month course) for new parents while many use the Volume II course that offers eight two-week review sessions for parents who have had children studying for a while. What I did learn from my own experience of teaching parents is that when I gave parent education classes with no workbook (before I developed mine) I was only about 40% as effective. It makes all of the difference in the world to hand the parent a workbook which she purchases that says Suzuki Parent Education Workbook on the front of it.

It makes the course and the training more legitimate. Having a workbook goes beyond just improving the parentsí perception. It structures the material and insures that all of the pertinent points are covered in an organized way. By owning their own workbook I find parents settle into the course and take it all very seriously just as I do.

What can we expect if we train the parents for an extended period before the child begins?

  • We can expect that teaching and learning will be more rewarding for everyone involved and that includes both the parent and the teacher.

  • We can expect Suzuki parents to understand every facet of the method and the philosophy and be able to work pleasantly and productively with their child.

  • We can expect that Suzuki parents will understand that it is their responsibility to work with their child in a positive way every day.

  • We can expect that Suzuki parents will find pleasure and satisfaction in their work.

  • We can expect that the child Ďs behavior will also be positive and that his learning will progress at a pace that is satisfying to him, his parents and his teacher.

  • We can expect that the child will develop many abilities even as he hones his violin or piano skills.

  • We can expect to see all of our students excel and stay involved in their study through the duration of all of the books of their instrument.

  • We can expect parents to be truly thankful and grateful for the opportunity to study the Suzuki approach.

  • We can expect to see the Suzuki Method become known as a very excellent music method where the parent is trained and becomes the home coach and because of this all children who study the method excel.

  • We can expect the rate of dropouts to be significantly lower and the number of children graduating from the books to rise.
Parent Education can transform the Suzuki Method in this country if we allow it to. Educated parents will have the tools they need to fix problems before they happen. The parents will know how to handle lack of attention, bad behavior, careless playing, and resistance to learning because we have explained Suzukiís ideas on these things and taught them how to put these ideas to use. I know teachers are anxious to help parents but perhaps have not seen how that could be done within the confines of the lesson. By training the parent before the child begins, suddenly there is a whole new opportunity for Suzuki families to find greater understanding and joy in their Suzuki experience.

As a Suzuki parent I made mistakes too that could have been avoided if I had parent training.

For the parent the Suzuki experience is an opportunity to learn an enormous amount about her child and about parenting in general. Teaching your child a skill every day and viewing your childís lessons are invaluable in knowing who your child is and what your child can and will do.

Thirty years ago as I sat watching my daughter and others in her class being taught Suzuki piano lessons, I was struck by the fact that this experience allowed me to know my daughter in ways I had not previously. Not only was the Suzuki experience a chance to build and understand my relationship with Tracy; but it was an opportunity to see how she responded to her teacher, how quickly or slowly she understood instruction, how she handled difficult assignments, how trusting and secure she felt, how friendly, outgoing and confident she was.

After a few months of lessons with my daughter, I noticed that she was always happy at the teacher's studio, worked very hard, and made good progress. However, when we were practicing at home, sometimes she was tense and couldnít do a good job; and this would cause her to cry.

After a little thought I realized that my manner and style were making her nervous, and she couldnít concentrate. Since she was a very conscientious child, it upset her that she could not do well. I made several mistakes in these early practices. When we practiced I talked too much, gave too many directions at once and became impatient when she couldnít do things as quickly as I thought she should. Like many parents I felt justified because after all I was busy and had other things to do besides practice the piano. However, as I tried to act more like her Suzuki teacher in our home practice, Tracy began to relax.

Our practices improved and so did our relationship. I saw rather vividly that to be impatient with oneís child over her piano practice or homework assignments is really a serious offense against the child. We are not justified under any circumstance to be impatient. If we cannot teach with a happy heart, we should just stop the activity and wait until we can be more reasonable. The opportunity to observe your child in a one-on-one learning situation with a teacher as we do in Suzuki is invaluable. It turns out that we parents learn just as much about ourselves as we learn about out child. If I had not had a Suzuki experience with my children, I would not have been as successful as a parent and teacher.

Children learn their most important lessons during the time their parent is being trained.

During the six months that I am training the parent, the child, of course, has not been to the studio, but he knows that he will join us at a certain time in the future. The parent taking the parent course discusses with her spouse what she is learning, and the excitement that she is generating about this wonderful method is conveyed to the child who simply picks up bits and pieces of these conversations. By the third month of parenting training when the parent is actually learning beginning steps and playing Twinkles, the parent is instructed to go to the piano and practice her assignments at home each day.

The child is not asked to come and watch the parent practice, but is quickly aware that what mom is doing he will be doing later on. This, of course, piques his curiosity and interest. He sees his mother bow and fix her piano bench and footstools; he sees how serious she is about her rest and ready position study as well. When she works on her Twinkles, she holds her hands in a certain way and uses "ready go" between the various groups of notes so that each time her hand is in a good position before she plays.

The child will not understand the significance of all of this, nor do I want him to. But he does already sense that this is an important thing to do, and that there is a precise way of doing it. All I want for the child at this time is to develop a desire to come to lessons and learn like his mommy is learning. I ask the parents to not instruct the child nor call him to watch as they practice. I want to be the first one to instruct the child.

If the child wanders in and watches the parentís practice it is fine, but he should not be allowed to disrupt the parentís work. If the child tries to play the piano or insist on instruction the parent should simply say either, " I need to practice now so I cannot talk to you" or "I need to concentrate when I practice so if you need me now I will practice later." It is good for the parent to reassure the child that he too will have the same opportunity to learn and that it is very enjoyable and something to look forward to. It is also o.k. for the child to sit at the piano by himself if he wants, but I do not want the parent to be involved in teaching and guiding the child yet until she finishes her parent education course.

Because I have the parents begin their listening routine (several hours a day) during the first six weeks of the parent training, the child has the advantage of hearing his music, the recordings of Suzuki Book One for 4 Ĺ months. The child will come to his first lesson full of confidence because he has memorized the entire book. What an advantage for him to come to his first lesson feeling that those songs he has internalized are his and that he knows them. He is already one with the music that he is going to learn to play.

So the six months of parent training are also months where the child is trained, and, in fact, I feel that this six month period is the most important training the child will receive because it is the time he develops his desire to learn and his ability to play by ear.

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