This article was first published in the Homeschool Journey newsletter, November 2003
As I struggle to write this newsletter, I am half listening to my husband and sons having their recorder lesson. My sons would rather not play recorder and Paul’s stores of patience often seem as though they’re about to empty out! But we had made a decision: the boys are going to learn to play recorder and Dad will give them lessons twice a week.
We feel that playing a musical instrument is an important part of a rich and well-rounded education. How lovely it is to play music together as a family and won’t it be a gift to the boys for them, as adults, to have a gift they can share with other people?
There are other important aspects to this. Playing an instrument such as a recorder helps the boys with coordination of sight, touch, breathing and rhythm. It strengthens their breathing and internal rhythms. And it requires that they listen to each other, playing together either as one voice or in harmonious parts.
Playing recorder also requires them to develop their capacities of perseverance, patience and dedication. At ages 10 and 12, heading rapidly toward adolescence, they need to learn to overcome their inertia and sluggishness, to stand straight without leaning on furniture, and to keep trying, trying and trying again to get the right note, the right phrase, the right beat. And not to give up.
“Don’t feel like it...Too much work...Too much hassle.” Don’t we all hear that little voice which whispers in our ear, beguiling us to give up, to forget about it, not to bother? Children have this too and a challenge to us as parents is to find that delicate balance between, on the one hand, helping them discover the strength of soul which enables them to persevere and, on the other hand, not being oppressive or making life one long dreary round of tasks.
So we choose our battles. We make careful decisions about commitments and responsibilities - a pet, joining the local soccer team, playing piano - and then we make parameters around that decision which must be adhered to. The dog must be fed and walked; the child must attend every soccer practice; the piano must be played every day for 15 minutes. Whatever seems reasonable, seems do-able and, most importantly, which stretches the child that little extra bit, so that he has to work a little, dig a little, to find the determination to live up to his responsibilities.
Guilt and shame have no part to play in this. It’s not about “but I spent $300 on that violin” or “your coach will be sad if you don’t go”. Rather it’s “you wanted to do this, we talked about what it would mean, now you must fulfill your responsibility.” If someone - or something - is depending upon the child (team-mates, an animal...) then we can impress upon him the fact that others are depending upon him (and this can be done without undue emotional pressure), that it’s not just a question of his own inclinations or whims.
Obviously, one has to be sensitive here and to both allow the child to have a sense of fulfilled duty and to not make it a life sentence! (Of course, our expectations need to be age appropriate: what we would expect of a 7 year-old is not the same as we would expect from a 10 or 15 year-old.) Maybe one season of soccer or two years of piano is enough. Maybe twice a week Mom or a sibling care for the dog. The point is not to kill love of music or to instill a fear that once a sport or activity is chosen that’s it! This would be counterproductive and could even produce a child fearful of new experiences.
Like so many aspects of parenting and educating, helping a child develop his inner capacities of determination and perseverance is subtle. It’s an ongoing process, one that needs little active encouragement when, for instance, one watches a baby learning to walk, but which does need cultivating as the child comes down more to earth, incarnates more fully, and has to exert more effort, more will to push against the matter which weighs him or her down, both physically and spiritually.
Our job as parents is to listen and observe carefully, to see what opportunities present themselves which will help our children learn to persevere and to help mold those opportunities, so that they can become positive learning experiences, not hindrances.