This is the second part of a two-part account from a children’s music instructor and mother concerning the comparison of virtual to in-person children’s music classes. It continues our discussions with children’s music professionals on important industry topics.
Rebecca Simonfalvi Cauthron is a certified Musikgarten teacher providing instruction at East Dallas Children’s Music. She has been teaching the Musikgarten curriculum for twenty-two years, becoming trained and certified in every level of instruction in the program. As a result, Rebecca has been honored with the coveted Musikgarten Achievement Award. She has a Bachelor’s in Flute Performance from the University of Texas and a Masters in the Art of Teaching with a focus in Early Childhood Music and Flute from Texas Woman’s University. She is adjunct flute professor at Mountain View College and has taught flute for 25 years. She is also the mother of a two-year-old son.
Below is a summary of my experience with my son for a virtual music class.
I had just instructed the same class a few days prior to this class. I knew the lesson plans and was able to gather my make-shift materials ahead of time, which included sticks, recordings for sounds of the workshop, and a box for “Jack in theBox;” so many of these little details the parent would not think of and it would be a lot of work for the teacher to make sure that the parent was prepared for success: It would be essential for the parent to make sure all materials were accessible before class began. The listening samples would need to be cued up on a device that would not interfere with the streaming of the class. Providing the lesson plans would be helpful to the parent so they would be sure to know the songs well enough to sing along, because the distant voices of the class would not be heard clearly enough simply as a result of poor audio streaming. I also cleared a corner of my house in order to provide an area that was large enough to move around, but would contain little-to-no distractions.
To stream the class, the teacher and I decided to place the phone up high and out of view so as to not distract the children in the classroom with a screen. We used Facetime. I muted my end, because of the slight delay. Class began. He rarely observed the class on the screen; we used it as a guide for interaction between us. My son was included in the Hello Song, rocking and bouncing went well, and he echoed the patterns given to another child who ran up to sing into the “microphone.” While the other children took their turns and a transition occurred to get ready for the next song, he began to move about the room.
I felt a great urge to keep him in my lap in front of the screen, but I allowed him to do his work!
He did a few laps around the room and when it was time to do the workshop, he became extremely engaged. Then it was time for focused listening for the workshop. We could faintly hear the sounds, but more so what was missing was not being with his friends against his spot on the wall with his little hand on the knee of the teacher. He gains great comfort from this.
There is a distinct and irreplaceable human element to what we do.
“Jack in the Box” went well, as he had been playing that game with a box we had at the house all week long. A new song was introduced and he was less inclined to participate. He distracted himself with something and moved around, but I knew he was still listening. Many times throughout the class, he left the area. A home has so many distractions which would not be found in the classroom. He also hit the screen with a stick and pretended to type on the keyboard, which could have turned off the whole class and they would have never known, because I would not want to call back and distract the class further. Regardless, he participated with every song. For the final circle song, his Dad came in and we did it together, which was sweet. Just a few days ago, many months after this one music class, he pretended to have music class with me in the area of the house that I had created for that one virtual class.
One of the most important values missed out on in virtual classes are the guiding moments of affirmation and education we spontaneously give to parents based on the behavior of their child in class. At home, there were a few times that I was able to redirect my son, but I fear that many parents would resort to punishment, bribery, etc. that they wouldn’t necessarily have to resort to in a live class which might set-up behaviors, tensions, or cues that would be brought back to class that were unnecessarily developed due to the home environment.
I felt a great disconnect that I had to compensate for; it was strange.
He was engaged, but he wasn’t. We were doing it together, but not with the class. He heard the teacher, but it wasn’t really her correct timbre. We weren’t in the circle to see the other children’s faces. He observes so much of what is going on when he is in the class. During transition times, we did the song again, as I felt he lacked direction because he couldn’t go get the sticks from the basket while manipulating the crowd of children; go to the listening corner; or hear some of the conversations that were going on between the teacher and some of the other toddlers.
Sometimes it was just commotion and noise, even though what was happening was beautiful organized wonder.
We missed out on the love, the hugs, the smiles. The music and activities were fun and engaging and I am so glad we did this, but I would not recommend it to families. I had to act as co-teacher to get this to work, although we are all co-teachers when we, as moms, take our children home and engage with them in musical activities. That is what we strive to make of our parents!
My final thought: Eye-contact with the individual child on their level is one of the most important human elements that cannot be replicated through an on-line class experience along with exploring the boundaries of the music room environment, the feeling of space being taken up by other children and parents, and the warm gentle hug initiated by the toddler on the teacher’s legs to offer their gratitude and love. If there is a forced quarantine, value your class enough to delay your classes, offer a voucher for the summer, send your parents a weekly video guide with your ideas for singing and playing with their child at home, how to make your own instruments, other non-musical activities they could do with their child to help ease the cabin-fever, and so much more. You will be the most wonderful gem in your families’ lives by making the effort to engage with them to continue your instruction in the most positive manner.
Editor’s Note: As often is the case, adoption of technology for technology’s sake seems to present more difficulties than advantages in our society. While virtual attendance to events is often a good idea in certain situations, physical social interaction with both instructor and peers cannot be overemphasized when teaching children’s music. As our lives become more and more influenced and molded by technology, our hopes are that virtual music lessons continue to be more the exception than the rule.