Taking a Break from Lessons

Summer is a double-edged sword for parents. On the one hand, children have plenty of free time and need activities to keep them safe and prevent the boredom that drives parents crazy. On the other hand, routine flies out the window during the summer. Who can remember to make it to a 5:20 piano lesson when the kids are outside playing from 9AM until dinner? How do you encourage a child to practice guitar when you don’t have a school homework assignment to push alongside of practice time? Music lessons are usually in the evening and on weekends due to school schedules during the academic year, and this tends to be convenient for working parents. However, music lessons require an element of routine that is difficult to maintain in the summer regardless of parental work schedules.

I had a student one year whose father forgot her piano lesson one sunny Saturday afternoon in June. When I called to see why they were not at their lesson, Dad grabbed the student and ran straight to the music school. They managed to squeeze in 30 minutes of a 40-minute lesson. I later discovered that they were out doing yard work when I called; this was evident in the sweaty clothes, messy hair, and dirt under the fingernails of my piano student. Time had escaped them – who wears a watch while working outside on a summer day?

Another family took a break from lessons because of summer vacation plans. Although rescheduling or making up lessons is always an option when you’re going out of town, making up a whole month can be incredibly difficult. This particular family is going to Columbia to visit relatives for the month, and they are considering staying for two. Obviously, the children will be unable to make up all those lessons.

A third family is sending their children to week-long overnight camps throughout the summer. They are available to attend lessons here and there, but nowhere near every week.

With all of these difficulties, it is easy to understand why some parents choose to withdraw their children from lessons during the summer months. However, we do not recommend withdrawing for several reasons:

1. Students who withdraw for any period of time tend to lose progress.

Let’s face it: Your child is unlikely to practice her instrument without a teacher checking up on her every week. Our teachers recommend that students practice every single day to maintain the muscle strength, memory, and dexterity needed to proficiently play an instrument. And when you do return for music lessons, you may find that the student struggles with the lesson book she was in before she took a break.

2. Student who withdraw “temporarily” often fail to return.

Habits are hard to make and easy to break. Once you stop coming to lessons, it becomes all too easy to remember how inconvenient it was to drive to the music school every week and how your child resisted your pleas to practice. You forget the brilliant smile on his face when he nailed his recital piece, or how shy he used to be before he started lessons, or how much his math skills mysteriously started to improve.

3. Summer music lessons are a safe activity for children otherwise stricken with boredom.

During the summer, children tend to have less direct supervision and are given freedom to play outside, sleep over with friends, or play video games in the basement. Kids can become anti-social or get into trouble due to boredom. Maintaining a weekly music lesson and practice schedule gives children something productive and rewarding to do during the summer.

4. Summer music lessons help children keep their mental prowess through the non-academic months.

Music lessons have been proven to promote brain development and learning in children. Kids who fail to feed their brains during the summer months can lose academic progress and take longer to review material from the previous school year when September comes around. It can also be harder to coerce students back into the routine of school when fall comes around, if no element of routine exists during the summer months.

If music lessons during the summer are simply not an option due to schedule conflicts and vacations, there are some other alternatives. Many parents turn to summer camps as safe activities for their children. Music summer day camps are great ideas, particularly for working parents who would have to pay for child care anyway. But ultimately, if you can swing the music lessons, you should make every effort to do it. Take advantage of your make-up lesson policy and make the lesson schedule work for you.

One thought on “Taking a Break from Lessons”

  1. Excellent and informative. Pedagogically very sound.

    Here in the French music school where I teach, there are three full months between the last lesson in June and the first in September. Conservatories do not resume classes until the school schedules (often flexible for a few weeks) are in place and we often have to rearrange students for a few weeks after our school year begins. I abhor the vacation time for all of the reasons you state here, but there’s nothing to be done. Since we are paid on an annual basis by the city hall which overlooks the conservatory, no one is interested in working extra hours in the summer. And because the conservatory is considered a government building, we can’t even get in to use the facilities should we want to do so. Of course, that’s mostly for insurance reasons, but still.

    I can’t teach in my apartment, it’s much too small, and most of my students are out of town for the two months of summe holiday. I usually arrange to begin my lessons for my most interested students (about a fourth of them) with the start of the school year, thus adding two weeks of extra lessons for some, but I do that on my own time because I have no concerts and know that the kids need the extra contact with me and their pianos.

    I have also instigated a Welcome Back class recital four weeks after classes begin so that they all (parents too) become aware that even if they are away for the summer holidays and can’t practice, everyone is home by the September’s resuming school year and therefore is capable of remembering to include the piano practice in their homework routine schedules. The pieces are selected in June, and the date is given out before the holidays. I still have problems with parents NOT marking it on the calendar!

    There’s no easy solution, unless, like yourself, you have a private school and need the income year round. Innovation becomes you, Michelle. And you do it for the right reasons.

    alfred booth

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