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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Quick Practice Tip: the Summer Challenge

Summer is almost here. It certainly feels like it has arrived in full force here in Central Texas. With summer's arrival, there are two problems that arise from a teacher's perspective:

  • students stop taking lessons
  • parents let practice and lesson routines disintegrate
Let me discuss both of these issues in the hopes of convincing parents to re-think their summer plans.


During the school year, students and parents generally work quite well to achieve many goals. Usually the school year ends with a spring recital, which allows the students to showcase their achievements and allows the parents an opportunity to celebrate their children's (and their) hard work and practice.

When parents stop taking lessons in the summer, several disturbing things occur. First, the opportunity is there for students to pick up new habits, and these habits are not usually the good kind. Once a student picks up a bad habit, it may take years to unlearn. I recall one student coming to me as a teacher when he was two-thirds of the way through book 1. He used "blocked" fingers (when the fingers land simultaneously as a clump). This student is now in book 5, and I am still struggling to get him to lose all vestiges of this bad habit. Another little three year old came to a lesson one day with her bow arm elbow held high in the air. During the lesson I discovered that the child had practically no rosin on her bow, and she was raising her elbow up so that she could "press" down on the string to make a sound. Ten years later, we were still working to eliminate that habit.

Both of these examples are extreme, to be sure, but these are all good students. I offer these illustrations to impress upon my readers the difficulties of unlearning a habit. Consider all the folks in the world who are searching for ways to eliminate bad habits: smoking, overeating, slovenliness. Anyone who has ever tried to eliminate or replace a bad habit will understand the difficulties that I'm talking about.

When a family discontinues lessons throughout the long summer period (about three months), the opportunity is ripe for a bad habit to sneak in. I train my parents well, but for some reason, even my best parents tend to take a "break" during the summer months. The parents and I will have more work laid out for us in the fall when lessons resume if there have been no lessons or very few lessons throughout the summer months. In my opinion, it is best to continue the momentum of the school year by maintaining some sort of lesson schedule, even if it is only a few lessons scattered throughout the summer.

I am usually around about six weeks throughout the summer months. I encourage my students to find four possible lesson times spread out through the summer, which accommodate the family vacation schedule and other summer activities. I also offer different times for lessons rather than just the concentrated schedule of hours after school.


I have noticed that students lack the same level of focus and concentration that they have during the school year. This behavior resembles the same behavior I encounter after holiday breaks. I believe that it is due to the families' letting the practice routine and schedule slide. The students' daily routines are "loosey goosey" and have no structure. Children need structure. Gosh, even adults need structure. Yes, we all need a break, but I raise the question of whether we all need a three month break? A few days here and there are great ways to boost our mental and physical state, but a child will thrive better on a routine, even if it is a special summertime routine.

My mother was a primary school educator and understood the value of routine and structure for children. Our summer routine went something like this:

morning practice: We did our practice routine first thing in the morning so that it was finished for the day and not something we would have to struggle to fit in later in the day when we were tired from our summer activities. My friends all knew to wait until a certain time in the morning before coming over to play, because my mother let it be known that this morning time was our practice time. Practice time was sacred in our house. We continued our routine all the way through elementary school until we graduated from high school. My mother was quite wise in this respect. It never occurred to my sister and I to do things any other way.

chores or errands: We did our cleaning or other tasks that benefited the home or family or took  trips into town to do errands. We usually ended our trips at the public library to pick up more books to read.

lunch: We usually read through lunch, or for a special treat, we were permitted to watch a game show on TV (usually "Hollywood Squares" or "Jeopardy."

afternoon activities: We would go to the local swim club, where we spent a good part of the afternoon reading and swimming.

evening activities: We did family activities, such as badminton, croquet, or some other family activity. Sometimes we would go back to the swim club again or go to a movie or visit grandparents. Sometimes we would just stay at home and watch TV or continue reading. This was a family time though. We always ate dinner together, and we always had music around the house. Either we had the Hi-Fi playing recordings, or my dad was practicing his jazz piano numbers (he was an excellent jazz pianist in addition to his day job at the Dept. of Education as a science specialist).


  1. where did everyone go during summer?

  2. Here are the reasons I was given: family vacations, summer camps, visiting out of state relatives, and missionary trips. Bummer!