Every discussion about a parenting book should probably start with a disclaimer:
This book works for me. It works for my kids. I do not know you. I do not know your kids. Consider it and use it or throw it in the garbage. Amen.
I first read Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross, over a year ago. It spoke to a lot of values and personality traits I already had, and has been really helpful to me. I think there are things in here that everyone should at least think about for their family. Nevertheless, if it’s not for you, don’t feel bad! End of disclaimer.
Rereading the book this month for the Plucky Violin Teacher Book Club, I found so many parts of this book that apply so well to practicing music with your child or teaching. Here are some of my favorite ideas.
Reduce the verbal clutter. Payne advocates reducing the number of words it takes you to ask your child to do something. This can be crucial in practicing or teaching. Your words can get in the way of the flow of progress. Moving from “Your wrist is touching the violin. That will hurt your hand. Let’s do it again,” to a gentle touch on the wrist and a slow exhale, makes a big difference.
Simplify the schedule. It may seem odd that a violin teacher is supportive of reducing the number of extra curriculars. After all, if everyone drastically reduced their after school activities, that could really affect my income! Still, I am never offended when a student quits because their family life has become too hurried and they need more time together. Children time to be bored at home to awaken their creativity. There can be a middle ground, where music is part of their daily routine but not taking over their life, and that is what I hope for my children and violin students.
Payne wrote, “What we want for our children, truly, is engagement. We want their love of the cello to grow, to evolve and endure throughout their lives, whether or not they perform…whether or not they are ever exceptional cellists.” Children who are pushed too hard, too early, quit sports, music, and other extracurriculars before becoming teenagers, when that level of social engagement and discipline is especially valuable.
Create a rhythm. Children of all ages feel more calm when there’s a rhythm to their weeks and days. Monday is family night. Tuesday is taco night. Wednesday is violin lesson, etc. Or, I always know that Mom and I will practice together after breakfast or my afterschool snack.
Payne writes, “For kids who are studying an instrument, after breakfast can be a good time to practice. If they don’t enjoy practicing, the chore is then finished first thing. Meanwhile, though, especially for kids who tend to be grumpy in the morning, playing music will usually balance their mood. It brings them right into the brain’s center of creativity, or limbic system. The islands of consistency and security that rhythm builds throughout the day are like breaths. Such intervals allow a child’s brain to maintain balance, and to flow through its willing, thinking, and feeling centers.”
My younger students especially seem to need a rhythm in their lesson; bow exercises, tone exercises, scales, review, new piece, improvisation or note reading.
Calm the environment. This is probably the most famous part of the book. Payne advocates reducing the number of books and toys by 75%, stating that children will play more deeply when there are less options. This has proven true in my house. There’s less dumping of toys, more actual play, and more calm, when I drastically reduced the number of toys. When our environment is more cluttered, my children act out more. Everything gets harder, including practicing.
Payne discusses how parents often feel like they need to entertain their children. If it’s not exciting, their children won’t stay engaged. The reverse is actually true. The less “fixed” a toy, the more children can use their imagination. (The superhero figurine who lights up and shouts catch phrases gets less play than the soft doll.) In the same vein, parents often get bored of music before their children do. Reviewing may not be exciting for parents, but a child can play “May Song” a hundred times and still enjoy it. The music doesn’t need to constantly be changing for a child to stay engaged.
Opportunity for Connection. One of my favorite anecdotes in the book is of a father and daughter who were having difficulty connecting every day. Payne suggested the Dad, Clark, assume responsibility for piano practice. Clark had hated practicing piano as a kid, and his daughter, Carla, hated it now. “There it was.” Payne writes, “A perfect opportunity for them to find their way in, and out, of the piano-playing knot together. And they did. They allowed repetition, quiet insistence, and some necessary silliness to carry them through the beginning until practicing became a pattern and playing piano became something Carla could do and be proud of. Until they had something, together.”
I want to frame that quote in my studio to remind my studio parents and myself what music lessons are all about. At their best, practicing is an opportunity to connect with your child. What could be better than that?
Have you read Simplicity Parenting? Which ideas have worked for you? Which parts did not work?