There has been a lot of talk in the news lately about parental involvement in children's education. Some states are even considering grading the parents in an effort to raise parental involvement. This got me thinking a lot about how parents are, or aren't, involved in a child's private music lessons. Yesteday I posted a question to my Facebook friends and Twitter followers asking their thoughts on the subject. Comments ranged from parents not having any input at all to the parents should be in each lesson (for a certain age group) and a few things in between.
Each student in my studio has their own circumstances and needs. With my teenaged students, there are times when I never actually meet the parents (I only know their names by looking at the check). Other parents I meet at the very first lesson and never see again, some come in at the end of the lesson to hear what is expected for next week, and some sit in on every lesson. So what is the right approach for parents?
The first thing to do is to ask the instructor what they want from the parents in terms of where the parents should be during the child's lesson. Some instructors have very strict rules about not allowing parents in the lessons, while other instructors insist on having the parent sit in on the lessons. My own studio policy is to let the parent and child choose whether or not the parent should stay for the lesson. Then, if I find that I need the parent to stay in (or out) of the lesson I will ask. Because each child is different, I find it best to leave it up to the parents. Some kids do better with their parents in the lesson and some do better when the parent is away. One important note, whether it's in my studio or another teacher's studio, is that the parent should try to let the child speak for themselves and to not give excuses for the child's practice or ability. It is also important that the parent not cause a disturbance to the child or instructor, but should feel free to ask questions in effort to help the child in their home practice.
Communication is key between the parent, child, and instructor. Parents need to be aware of what is happening in the lesson and what is expected of their child in between lessons. This is true regardless of the age of the child. As a parent, I feel that if a parent is paying for the lessons, then the parent should be made aware of what's taking place during the lesson. I've heard over and over about teachers (and students) wasting time in the lesson talking about things that do not relate to the lesson. Or that the teacher spends more time practicing their own instrument than teaching the child to play his. As a teacher, it's super important that the parent understand the expectations of practice and to step in when the child is not practicing or not making progress. I have experienced several parents who sit in on every lesson and never bother to ask the child of they are practicing. I have even told the parent and the child that they need to practice more than 2 minutes a day and STILL nothing happens. So, even if you don't sit in on your child's lessons, you should absolutely check in with the instructor (even just once a month) to see how your child is doing and what you can do to help.
The last thing I want to mention in regards to what role the parent should play in their child's lessons is that taking a little time and effort to educate yourselves on what your child is learning will only enhance your child's education and experience. As musicians, my husband and I are dreading the day our son comes home and wants to play....gasp....a sport. We know nothing about how to play sports (although I am awesome at watching them on tv). But, when the time comes, we will learn how so that we can help our little one become the best he can be. The same should go for parents of musicians. No, maybe you don't read music and couldn't tell the difference between Cee-Lo and Coltrane, but find a way to learn something. The simplest way is by just asking your child's instructor for help. The internet also has tons of resourses available to help you reinforce what your child is learning in their lessons.
The most important thing is that the parents be involved in what the children are learning. And if you're concerned, as a parent, that you are not being involved enough, please speak with your child's instructor. We all have the same goal for your child: to have a fun and meaningful music education.