I think exposure to The Arts, should be done at an early age. When I use the term ‘The Arts’ I mean in all forms: art, music, dance, etc. In this article I lean towards music because it is my personal bias.
Our approach to education here, at Home Schooling -Trinidad and Tobago has one underlying tone – freedom to learn. So, all that a parent needs to do is to take a cue from the child and follow up on interests expressed by him or her. The child’s environment is normally naturally rich with such exposure. It is easy to feed his curiosity for many things. He may want to examine how the fan works; what his mom is doing on the computer; what his dad is doing in the kitchen; what his uncle is doing with his head under the car bonnet /hood… Once treated properly, he will learn naturally.
However, due to the decline of the Arts in our local community over the years we may have to artificially stimulate the child by creating a slightly unnatural artistic environment. In the old days, when electricity was not so ubiquitous, people actually used to play instruments. My uncle told me stories of how some of his friends were in a three-man band and he used to go ‘liming’ with them even though he did not play any instrument. This was more common then that it is today. Today, our either of ‘playing’ music is depressing the ‘play’ button on the MP3 player.
Many parents rightly recognize the need to give their child early exposure to music and send them to piano classes. I was no exception. While the intention is good, it is apt to fail more than succeed as the child gets older and the ‘novelty’ wears off because of the same problem with our approach to academic education i.e. compulsion.
With my own children, I knew what I had to do: get a piano – not an electronic keyboard, but an acoustic piano. The reason is that once children figure out how to make these electronic keyboards play for themselves they cease to experiment with the actual notes the keys make and go straight for the automation. Knowing this, I searched and searched, but failed to find a piano under TT$12,000. I just couldn’t afford it. I capitulated. I bought two keyboards, first a new one from the music shop for under TT$1000 and another, used, but nicer for TT$500. I placed one at home and one at my office where my kids would be able to access them. And true to form, the idea failed. They quickly learned how to play the automated songs and abandoned real musical experimentation. I wish there were some ‘child safety’ mechanism to turn the automation off.
So, now, almost one year later and TT$1,500 poorer, I am no closer to achieving the objective as they get older – would somebody give me a piano! Wait, what am I saying? I do not need a piano. Why did I want a piano? I wanted a piano because it is the easiest professional grade instrument for a child to play without great manual dexterity, with the exception of a pan. So then, if I can’t afford a piano, why don’t I just get a pan? Isn’t writing out your thoughts great? I just (yes at this moment) realized that I had focused on piano classes, because ‘I’ have a preference for them to learn piano over pan. I have let that preference blindside me to this solution here. The idea is for them to get exposed to a musical instrument, and I guess any instrument will do. My personal preference is the guitar and I have a couple now, but can’t play any well even though I’ve been trying off and on for more than thirty years – that’s a long story. Guess I have to save up some money to buy at least one pan by early 2011.
Anyway back to the teaching of music to young children. The key (pardon the pun) to getting them to learn an instrument is: freedom to experiment; being surrounded by someone who can play well; and also someone else who is trying to learn. The rest will just happen give time. If it doesn’t, then it will be no use forcing – we are not all the same. For me, it would mean learning their instrument along with them, even while I stay struggling with guitar. Boy, am I glad I wrote this article. And again, the more we network as parents, the greater would be the positive exposure and the better it would be for our children.