Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Art and music on Saturday

So, as mentioned in yesterday's post, we took Ryan to both a trial art class and a violin observation class on Saturday.

I've detailed what happened at the art class in yesterday's post. Let me leave that part of it aside and tell you what we think about the "art" part of  the art class.

Studio Haroobee is pretty well-known among parents of art-inclined children. Some of their students are prize-winners, most notably Gelyn Ong - the little girl who, at seven years old, held her first solo exhibition of 29 works, with all proceeds (close to S$100,000) going to the Make a Wish Foundation. Check her (and her works) out on the internet - I guarantee you will be amazed. Of course, the staff are quick to tell you that not every student will turn out like her, which is fair.

Unfortunately for us, and as you may have read yesterday, we got a crap instructor for Ryan's trial class. Looking back, although I was sorry that Ryan had to endure that torturous hour with her, something good did come out of it. It made us realise that the most important thing is to find an instructor/mentor who is able to work well with Ryan, to put him at ease and draw out his creativity.  We do recognise the importance of technical ability but the instructor/mentor has to be able to impart that technical knowledge without making the session stressful and pressurising, otherwise Ryan will see it as a chore and get turned off. Technical expertise should not be gained at the expense of killing Ryan's love for art. That's the last thing we want to happen.

We realised that, it really does not matter where Ryan learns art. At an expensive studio in the heart of town, at a neighbourhood arts centre, at your community centre, at home, it makes no difference at his age and level. All Ryan needs is a mentor that clicks with him and who will encourage his love for art. We already know someone who's perfect for that job. Yup, you guessed it - Richard.

So, Richard came up with some ideas for Ryan's artistic journey. That's another good thing that came out of the trial class - we managed to get some inspiration for our home sessions. I'm looking forward to seeing what the two of them get up to!

Ok, so let's talk about the violin observation class. This was at Mac's Music School. It was a group violin class for children between 3 to 4 years old, using the Suzuki method. We were invited to observe the class for free, as in, Ryan would not have to play the violin at all and we could simply sit in the class and watch. As it was Suzuki method, the children were all accompanied by their parents and each parent brought a violin for herself/himself too.

From the get-go, it was a world of difference from the art class. The instructor was excellent with children, smiling and happy. He quickly established a rapport with Ryan and when he asked Ryan his name, Ryan cheerfully told him. I knew that Ryan would have a great time.

Ryan is not completely new to the violin in the sense that he has frequently seen the instrument being played. Ryan's nanny's daughter plays the violin. There are also a few violin schools near her place and Ryan's nanny mentioned that, sometimes on their walk-abouts, they stop by and watch the TV screens at these schools showing violin performances. Ryan's cousins also play the violin, although he only meets up with them once in every few months.

I took these two shots on my phone when the children played their violins together, with the instructor accompanying them on the piano. Most of the time however, he was talking to them one-on-one, getting them to play their violins individually while he checked their posture and technique.

Ryan played quite a bit with the boy next to him (the one in the red top), whenever the boy was not having his one-on-one. There was one part where the instructor sat down on the carpet and went through some note-reading with the children - Ryan went right up to him and slotted himself in with the other children. He was so comfortable and at ease. The instructor gave him a chance to answer his questions - what is this note? and what is this note? - and Ryan enthusiastically shouted his answers out! The parents were all pretty friendly and encouraging, so there was a really great vibe.

For the last few minutes, the parents played their violins while the children roamed around and played with each other. One lady had twins and she brought her maid in with her - her maid also played a violin!

So, what do we think? Well, if we want to expose Ryan to violin, then this is as good a place as any. Richard said, and I agree, that there was no point shopping around because the instructor was excellent with Ryan and that was good enough.

I was thinking of starting next year or even the year after but Richard said, let's just sign up and see how it goes, we can decide later. The next intake is in July but there is a waiting list, so we might not even get in until much later, especially as we definitely want to get into this particular instructor's class. He seems to be the most popular one there (he's the founder of the school and his class costs more than the rest).

Ok, so that's the full report. Two different classes with completely opposite experiences. In the art class, Ryan got to use all the materials and equipment, fully participated and brought home a masterpiece, but had a miserable time. In the violin class, Ryan did nothing and brought home nothing, but had such an enjoyable time. The factor that made the difference? Without a doubt, it was the instructor.

The crappy art instructor insisted on treating Ryan like a much older child, even though she knew he is only three. She talked to him in an adult manner and she expected him to respond in an adult manner, not only in terms of words, but in terms of speed and maturity of thought. She was impatient when Ryan wanted to hold the brush a certain way and she didn't know how to guide him to paint/not to paint in the relevant areas. She didn't know how a three year old thinks, absorbs and processes information. She was discouraging, demotivating and sour, even when Ryan fulfilled all her demands (apart from her demand that he talk to her).

The violin instructor was completely different. He was animated and lively, smiling all the time. He showed interest in the children and made them feel important -  he asked about the little dinosaurs on the boy's clothes, the little ribbon in the girl's hair. He made jokes that made them giggle. He understood the reasons for their mistakes (which were usually not due to the children themselves). He understood why the children held their bow the wrong way or why they kept playing two strings together when they should have been playing one - he understood that it was common and natural (and not because they were being naughty or difficult). He knew how to correct the children without making them feel like they had failed. He addressed them respectfully, by their names. He treated each one of them as if they were smart enough to understand his instructions, yet he made his instructions child-friendly and easy to remember. He was encouraging, motivating and happy, even when the children didn't play their notes well.

The stark difference clearly demonstrated a principle that I have always believed in, which is that, more often than not, if the child is not responsive to instructions or if the child does not seem to be progressing, the fault lies with the parents. Most of the time, the parent does not conduct the lesson in a way that encourages and motivates the child, the parent does not introduce the material in a way that interests the child, and the parent does not create an experience which the child enjoys. I'm sure you've heard parents say that their children are so interested in learning when they are in pre-school, but when they get home, the parents can't get them to do anything. Well, that's a strong sign that the parents are missing something. The parents are supposed to have the strongest and most loving bond with their three year olds, so to be in a situation where they can't draw out the best in their toddlers when other people can (for example, the teachers in pre-school) definitely indicates that the parents are using the wrong approach. Note that it isn't an excuse to say that the pre-school teachers have been trained in the right methodologies whereas parents aren't, because there are, in fact, many parents who are able to work well with their toddlers.

Before we blame the child ("he's like that"; "she won't listen") or jump to conclusions ("he doesn't like art/music/math"; "she's not interested"), we must take a hard and honest look at ourselves, see how we handled the situation and check if we are the problem. Our behaviour, our words and tone of speech, our facial expressions and body language, our actions - small things can make a difference. Sometimes we don't even realise what we're doing/not doing and it takes someone else to point it out to us. Feedback can be very useful and effective if we are willing to keep improving and, conversely, it loses its value if we are close-minded, defensive and not honest with ourselves.

I wanted to record all this because this is an important lesson to bear in mind, as a parent. Even if I don't bother with academic stuff at home, I am still responsible for imparting to my children life skills, social skills, etiquette, manners and the like. Parents do need to be able to reach out to their children because they still bear the primary responsibility for giving their children a well-rounded childhood such that they not only survive academically but that they also flourish emotionally and socially, with ample exposure to social situations, other cultures, arts, music, sports, etc. (and don't forget the part about parent-child bonding!). 

It's not an easy road and the route may be different for each parent but one thing is always true: our children take their cues from us. If they're "naughty", if they "don't listen", if they're "not interested", then let's take an honest look at the cues that we're giving them and I'll bet, more often than not, that we'll find the cause right there. 


Karmeleon said...

Yes, the instructor is so important.

I just encountered one not-so-good one today. *sigh*. Was just saying that if she'd been the one giving our little boy his Trial Lesson last year, I would never have signed up and started our boy on Piano at all. He wasn't even 3 years old yet then.

But his piano teacher on maternity leave and the relief teacher ... aargh. Showed her irritation very early on in the lesson, and made my boy do repetitions to fine-tune parts, which I thought weren't too crucial for a child his age. My son not "Lang Lang" - did once or 2x repetitions already v good lor. Anymore, he still have patience, meh?

At least his violin tr and usual piano tr will laugh along with his antics and go along with the mood and try to turn it to their advantage. This one - was quite stern and I could see she was trying so hard not to raise her voice. And when I tried to make light of the situation, she didn't even find it amusing at all and it was as if I was invisible. Aiyoh - this woman got no humour at all when teaching a 3yo???? Horrid. And I think my boy just could feel the negative vibes and didn't react well to this new relief teacher. I think I'm going to forego her lessons to avoid destroying my son's expectation of lessons.

Karmeleon said...

By the way, I've heard that Mac is a very engaging tr, so you won't go wrong going for the class he teaches. I personally prefer somewhere nearby, hence we didn't put Mac's high on our priority list while searching for violin teacher, that's all.

Pinkie Pirate said...

Thanks for the tip, Karmeleon! Hope your regular instructor comes back soon!

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