To think like a child

I was having lunch with a fellow music teacher and we got on the subject of what makes somebody good with kids. To be a good teacher, it really helps to be good with kids. Being a good violinist is basically unimportant, because if the student doesn’t see you as a real person, or if they don’t think you are being genuine, or don’t understand them, they won’t pay attention to you or what you are trying to teach them.

I think I’m good with kids because I remember how it felt to BE a child. It’s easy to relate to people when you understand where they are coming from, and weren’t we all children once? I hadn’t really given it a lot of thought, but it occurred to me during our talk that many adults have forgotten how it felt to be a child, a preteen, or a teenager. I guess one of my special skills is remembering my emotions from earlier in life (could be related to my violin playing, as I rely on my emotions to inspire my playing…) and that helps me relate.

“I am mentally preparing myself for the five-year-old mind. I want to come down to their physical limitations and up to their sense of wonder and awe.”—Shinichi Suzuki

Sometimes I feel like I have a much harder time relating to the adults. Maybe it’s because I still feel like a child so often! There’s that famous quote from the bible:

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 1 Corinthians 13:11

Why should we put away childish things? In my living room I have the complete Harry Potter series, a Lord of the Ring Pez Dispenser collection, stuffed animals, a couple of tiny sombreros, and a cowbell, for starters. I also have boring adult things like wedding contracts, various legal forms, my checkbook and bill paying materials…but I’d say the childlike items are far more fun. When new kids come in and look around, I like for them to see that I am not so serious about things. Once you relate to the student, then you can convince them to listen to you, to trust you, and to play those 4 notes over and over and over.

I do have a problem though: I want my students to practice scales, but I recall that, as a child, I refused to practice scales. I pretended I did, I blatantly lied to my teachers about whether or not I had practiced them, but I didn’t practice them. But I DID practice them in college, and now I practice scales quite a bit, and I KNOW they are important and good for us, and should be practiced. But I have a hard time convincing my students of this. Perhaps because I remember how much I hated doing it when I was younger. So there’s a flaw here in my thinking…but I try to learn from my students too, in the hopes that I can give them my strengths and not my weaknesses.



2 thoughts on “To think like a child”

  1. Love that Suzuki quote.

    Not that I always accomplish this, but I think somehow the combination of being able to think like a child but also being an adult is where the magic happens. I once (at least momentarily) convinced a child to practice something by comparing it to his favorite video game: in order to get to the next level/screen, you have to do certain things. And who wants to be stuck on the same level forever?

    1. Great point! I definitely consider myself more of an adult than the students, because I know where we are going too–they see the moment, I see the moment and the big picture.

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