Finding Time to Practice in the Frenzy of Family Life
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges when it comes to practicing a musical instrument is simply the mere practicality of it. When can a family find time for practicing an instrument with their children when there are so many things to fit into a day, and seemingly so little time? With work and school schedules, homework, soccer practices, ballet classes, not to mention the actual music lesson itself, it can be hard to navigate the needs of each family member and find time to practice the instrument your child is learning. But there are small pockets of time, especially for young musicians, that are optimal for practicing.
Let me preface this by saying that practicing violin with my four-year-old daughter usually happens while my three-year-old repeatedly tackles me from behind, and my eighteen- month- old tries to grab the violin from my daughter's hands as she plays. It's definitely not ideal. It's nothing short of a miracle that practicing happens at all, ever. Somehow, though, we've managed to find a fairly decent rhythm of practicing in our family, and it's due at least in part to the time of day we choose to do it.
Here are my top three times of day to practice for music lessons with my child:
1. Before School
Hands down, if you can make it happen, practicing before school is the most productive time of day for almost every child. In the early morning, kids are fresh (perhaps a bit too early, and too fresh) and ready to learn. Their parents, on the other hand... ahem. I digress. But in all honesty, they will be able to accomplish in 10 minutes of morning practice what would take 20 minutes later in the day.
This is in line with what we already know about productivity. Have you ever noticed that you can get 75% of your work done before lunch? Or that most schools will program their most crucial subjects, like reading and math, in the early morning slots? Humans work best in the morning.
Now, I know what you're thinking. To say that mornings are rushed at our house would be an understatement. It's often full out anarchy, trying to get all the teeth brushed and hair in place before dragging the kids out the door (I'll never understand why the kids are so eager to get me out of bed on the weekend, and slower than molasses on school days). However, if you can start your day 10 minutes earlier and squeeze in a short practice session, I promise, you won't regret it. It's one more thing crossed off the list before you've even left the house.
2. Right Before Bedtime
This is my second choice for practice time, and I'll tell you why it works so well: What kid wants to go to bed? In my house, once the pajamas are on and the teeth have been brushed, it's one request after another: one more drink of water, one more snack (and consequently one more trip to the bathroom). Once we've finally made it to the bedroom, it's one more story, one more kiss goodnight. I'm sure you're wondering how on earth a violin practice session could be squeaked in. Well, to my four- year- old, practicing at this time is a sure-fire way to get to stay up later. Want to play Twinkle one more time? You bet I do, Mom! We like to do it as the final thing that happens before we go upstairs for story time. It's *possible* that the four-year-old doesn't know we are starting the bedtime routine earlier on these days. Shhhh.
3. After Dinner
I hear a lot of parents say that they try to get their child to practice as dinner is being made. I can certainly understand the appeal of wanting to multi-task, but more often than not, I don't get great reviews that this time of day works well as a regular practice time. Not only can the parent not practice with the child (something you should be doing regularly if you are following the Suzuki method or have a child under the age of about 10 years old), but this requires the child to focus quite intently at a time when they are likely hungry and tired.
After dinner, homework is usually done, bellies are full, and children often have one last burst of energy which will take them to bedtime (let's be honest- sometimes that energy extends beyond bedtime!). Practicing is an ideal outlet for energy at this time of day if options 1 and 2 don't work for you family.
There might not be one consistent time of day that works to practice with your child. In this case, the best case scenario is to map out a weekly schedule so that you are fitting in some time for music practice every day, or at least as many days as possible. Be sure to check out our post, "Five Tips to Make Practicing More Fun" for ideas to keep practice sessions fresh.
Rebecca Lane is the director, founder, and owner of Upper Beaches Music School. She teaches at the school on Saturdays, but most days you can find her chasing after her three young children, one of whom is in the Suzuki violin program at UBMS.