|Photo by Earls37a|
I once had a family in my studio (not my current families!) where the two students never came prepared. Finally, the mom admitted that the only opportunity the students had to practice was on the weekend. Between sports, scouting, and a heavy homework load, they truly did not have time. I had a very candid talk with the mom and explained to her that signing these kids up for piano on top of all of those pre-existing activities was a guarantee that they would not do well in piano, and instead of piano lessons being a positive enrichment activity, it would be another arena where they felt constantly behind (as they were in their schoolwork). She wanted them to be exposed to music. I suggested that she either cut some of the other activities so they'd have time to practice and make progress or take them out of piano and use the money to buy symphony tickets. They ultimately dropped, and I believe it was the right decision.
For many young students, just having time to do the minimum practicing is a challenge. But, the thing is that being a musician requires having more time than just what is required to learn to reproduce the piece on the page. Open-ended, unstructured practice time allows for experimenting with a new interpretation, trying out a new fingering, listening to other performances of that piece, maybe making up your own original ending. These are the things that make being a musician really fun, but this kind of creativity seldom surfaces when practice time is limited because you have to finish in time to get to your soccer practice and there will be homework to do when you get back. Under those circumstances, the practice time becomes reduced to merely getting the minimum done.
How Much Time Do You Really Have For Extracurricular Activities?
Here's an activity I did once for myself with life-changing results. I now recommend it to every new family in my studio.
Make out a 24-hour schedule for a week on a sheet of paper. Now, start filling it in, but don't start with the extracurricular activities. Start with the optimal amount required for all of the following things which should be priorities:
1. The optimal amount of sleep your child needs to be healthy.
2. Time for a bedtime routine that involves maybe some reading and some reconnection at the end of the day with mom or dad.
3. Time for family meals at home and the time required to prepare the family meals. Don't schedule extracurriculars first and then settle for fast food in the car.
4. Time for your spiritual observances such as church or daily devotions.
Now it's time to mark in the things we all have to do:
5. Schedule the hours for school and any work the parent does after school. Include transportation time.
6. Schedule in the amount of time needed for your child to focus on homework at home, not in the car. Don't put in the minimum here; allow enough to make straight As.
Now, be sure you make your family a priority. As much as your child may benefit from extracurriculars, he benefits more from time with you.
7. Schedule in family time.
8. Schedule a reasonable amount of leisure time for your child to allow for rejuvenation and stress-relief. Leave enough time for the "stuff" that happens - the dog needs to go to the vet, you need to schedule a haircut, a friend invites you over for a playdate, etc.
Now, once all of the above items are covered, it's time to start considering the extracurriculars. Not much time left, is there? All too often, we start the other way around and then lament the lack of time for those other "priorities." News flash: you're in control of your priorities! Exercise that control! The schedule you set for your family teaches your children what you value most, and it teaches them how to manage (or not manage) their own time when it becomes their own responsibility.
Now, as you start adding in soccer, gymnastics, scouting, karate, piano, and the like, remember that piano is not a once-weekly commitment. It should count as more than one activity since it requires a daily commitment. Can you really do it? Is it fair to your child? Do you need to drop something else to be able to enjoy piano study and allow it to be fun without being unduly stressful? As you add in the extracurriculars, you should also remember that any activity that prevents a child from being at home to practice, do homework in a quiet place, or just play is a commitment for that child, even if the activity is tagging along with a parent or a sibling to one of their activities.
Myth of the Over-Scheduled Child?
There have been several news articles lately that debunk the "myth of the over-scheduled child." I get the point that many children are not over-scheduled. An outcry against too many extracurricular activities might sabotage after-school enrichment that many children need when their parents provide little enrichment at home. But the sliver of culture that is over-scheduled happens to be the sliver that tends to sign up for piano lessons. None of my students do fewer than two extracurricular activities on top of homework and church activities, and most do more than two, or they end up attending their two even while driving with the family to their siblings' activities as well. On top of that, mom and dad are involved in many church and community activities which create commitments for their children, too. I hope that piano parents will be judicious and not use these "myth" articles as fuel to keep adding more to their children's plates.