With all this talk about small pants (thanks, by the way, for the loving and supportive comments everyone!) and blueberries, I almost forgot to tell you about our week at music camp. As you can see, there were baby chicks involved, which is pretty much all you need to have a good time as far as some of us are concerned, but we were lucky enough to have plenty of bonus fun as well. I wish a thousand times over that I managed to take more photos while we were away, but somehow I ended up with very few. I'm not quite sure what happened.
The week was basically comprised of a series of daily music (mostly violin) classes with some evening activities thrown in here and there, and then an entire day of concerts and play-alongs on Friday, which was the last day of camp. This included a play-down, a kind of Suzuki tradition where kids start playing pieces from the highest song books and work their way down. More and more kids join in as the pieces get easier. Mariam had an orchestra class, a fiddle class and then a couple of more traditional classes to work on her Suzuki technique and repertoire. We stayed in a little inn up the road from where classes were held and our fellow guests included a couple of other violinists and a cellist. All girls under the age of eleven, I believe. Mariam had a wonderful time, and I, despite the joys of trying to sleep in a hotel bed for a week when five months pregnant, was very glad that we went.
So the trip itself was full of enough good stuff to justify having gone, but my endgame in planning the whole thing was admittedly about a bit more than that. I find that keeping enthusiasm high for learning to play an instrument (especially a somewhat tricky one like the violin) isn't always easy, especially with my particular little charge. Her excitement for musical training ebbs and flows, like so many things in childhood, but we decided long ago that it was important for her to stick with it all the same. Things like group class, workshops and summer camp have become essential tools in keeping her motivated to practice, and the modeling that older kids provide at these places is no small thing either.
I've also been finding that, at least in Mariam's case, developing her discipline requires working a bit on my own. It doesn't seem to be enough to just plan for practice to happen sometime during the day when an opportunity arises organically. That was increasingly leading to practices happening late in the day (or not at all, quite honestly) and at our house "late in the day" could also be translated as "during the meltdown hours." So, post-camp, I am experimenting with early morning practices that are basically a prerequisite to any of the day's other activities. If swimming lessons are at nine, we've got to start violin by ten after eight and this is just how it goes.
At first I was hesitant to try to implement a more structured practice schedule, both because I thought Mariam would rebel and because I worried that I would flake out. But honestly, we've both risen to the occasion pretty nicely. She no longer tries to put me off or convince me to let it wait until after dinner (a sure recipe for epic tantrum disaster, let me tell you) and the days of positive and productive practice have me feeling like it is so, so worth it to get up early and get it done. We've done nineteen days straight of violin practice, without having missed a single day, and I feel like everything about our summer days is running more smoothly as a result. I know that there are many Suzuki families who haven't missed a day of practice in a year or even three, but we aren't quite there yet. For us, nineteen days is big stuff. Like when we get to thirty days we will probably have an ice cream party kind of big. I'm proud of all of us.
I suppose that there is also something to be said here about how maintaining some amount of structure, even during vacation when it is so very tempting to let it all go, is something that works well for my kid. I've always known this, but somehow manage to engage in serial amnesia on the subject until the two of us are both climbing the walls and an emergency plan is needed. I'm catching on though. I swear.
Of course, school will start in September and I will have to give some serious thought to how we continue with a morning practice schedule. To be honest, I'm very much considering the idea of saying that practice still needs to happen each morning and dedicating earlier bedtimes and wake-up calls to the cause. It feels just a little "strict mom-ish" for my tastes, but when I see how well things have been going lately, I suspect that it might be just the thing to do. Mariam seems to have passed out of annoyance at my rigidity about practice time and instead, I see her starting to feel excited about the progress that she is making and proud of the fact that she is working so hard. That feeling of joy at seeing her own hard work pay off is exactly what I'm going for in all this.
I am curious about how others approach issues around developing discipline, motivation and follow-through as their children grow, so if you'd like to chime in with your own experiences, I'd love it. For now, I'm off to make a blueberry crisp.
Yep, blueberry summer continues.