As a singer married to a musician, I know firsthand the value of sharing the joy of music. I’ve brought another of my really neat friends here today to share the concept. She taught my son in a Suzuki Early Childhood Education program from the time he was six weeks old, until he was three. Please welcome Shirley Star!
1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with the Suzuki program.
I grew up in a traditional violin program in Houston, Texas. During my senior year at Houston Baptist University, I student-taught violin and viola with a former private violin teacher of mine. She took me to a Suzuki workshop in Monroe, Louisiana, where Dr. Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998), of Matsumoto, Japan, founder of the approach known as “The Mother-Tongue Method,” was teaching students and parents. After meeting and working with him, I began to follow him to workshops, institutes, and conferences in the U.S. and other countries; eventually I studied with him in Japan, twice.
In August 2004, I relocated to Ottawa, KS, to work full-time with the Ottawa Suzuki Strings, Inc. (OSSI), an internationally-known program. I have served as an Ottawa University adjunct faculty member, and I currently play Principal 2nd Violin in the Ottawa University Orchestra. I frequently can be heard performing both as a fiddler and as a violinist in the Ottawa area. In addition to teaching private lessons, I also teach fiddling classes and direct the Suzuki Early Childhood Education programs for children from birth to age five, and I serve as Assistant to the Director for the Absolutely Ottawa! Summer Programs. I was the Assistant Suzuki Early Childhood Education (Suzuki ECE) Coordinator for the 2008 Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA) International Conference, the Suzuki ECE Coordinator for the 2010 SAA International Conference, and a presenter at the 2012 and 2014 SAA International Conferences, as well.
2. How does the program adapt to very young children, and how does the program change as children grow?
In 1985, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki asked Dorothy Jones, of London, Ontario, Canada to begin a Suzuki Association of the Americas Suzuki Early Childhood Education Program. As developed, the ECE program is for parent and child, ages birth to three, and is designed to be a three year program. After that, the child is ready for instrumental lessons and/or to go into the four-to-five year old program, which also includes origami and a weekly science experiment, as well as the music component at a more advanced level.
Since it is a Suzuki program, it is based on his principles, and the ones used specifically in the Suzuki ECE program are:
- Every child can learn
- Ability develops early
- Environment nurtures growth
- Children learn from one another
- Success breeds success
- Parent involvement is critical
- Encouragement is essential
The program is planned to be a family grouping of mixed ages, which creates a certain environment that encourages calmness and sensitivity. Because the child can start the class at birth or soon after, layers are added to activities as the child or children master earlier layers. The program is not a franchise, and it is not curriculum-driven, in that we do not do certain activities for a period of time and then drop them, completely learned or not, and progress to new and different activities. Mastery is the objective, and many layers are added as the children master earlier layers. Suzuki is “The Mother-Tongue Method,” and mastery is what we do in language learning, as well. We add to our vocabularies as young children, and we do not drop previously learned words. We still say “Mama,” “Dada,” etc.
Parent education and parent observation of their child and the other children in the class is also a focus of the Suzuki ECE Program, and positive observations of their child are noted by the parent on a card at the end of each class session. We use a CD recording, Lullabies, Action Songs and Rhymes, both in the class and at home, which reinforces the activities done in class. The children love the songs on the recording, and often can be calmed just by the first few notes of the recording.
3. What changes have you seen in children who are involved in music?
Children who are involved in music, especially Suzuki programs, have many other advantages that are not music-specific. They have social skills, self-confidence, self-expression, listening skills, coordination, memory skills, higher test scores, better grades, advanced vocabularies, concentration, and ability to focus; our Suzuki Early Childhood Education children can focus for an hour straight, and the babies struggle to stay awake to not miss anything.
Children who have been in the Suzuki Early Childhood Education Program have lots of extra neural connections made from a very young age, and they seem to learn in a different manner than some other children, and they seem to learn more quickly, as well.
4. What are some ways to introduce the joy of music in a child’s everyday life?
Certainly participation in a Suzuki Early Childhood Education Program, such as the one we have in Ottawa, is a great way to begin including music! If your child is past the ages of the Suzuki Early Childhood Education Programs (birth-five), then consider Suzuki music instruction. In Ottawa, we offer violin, viola, and cello. There also is Suzuki piano, flute, harp, recorder, guitar, double bass, voice, and even trumpet.
At home, play CDs. You can check out recordings from many libraries. In the car, listen to music. Go to concerts. Many are free, and many are designed for families with young children. Sing at home and in the car.
Music makes life sweeter!