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Kathleen Schoen

Learning Online with Children

The last year and a half has been a very interesting time. We moved our teaching activities to an online format as a safety precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have learned a lot.

We were wondering if it would be successful to try online classes with the youngest children, and it was more successful than we thought it would be.


Because in our Suzuki Early Childhood Education classes, the emphasis is on the interaction between the parent and child. As teachers, we are on a screen guiding the order of the activities and leading the songs and games. At home, the parent and child are still focusing on each other and learning together.

So the expectation is not that your child will remain glued to the screen in fascination. The expectation is that you will play together with your child, and we will help you with fun songs to sing along with and games to learn. It was our experience that after several weeks, the children would start to notice that there were other children on the screen and begin to engage with them through observation and imitation, but their primary focus at the beginning was on the parent. That is not so different from what happens during an in person class either.

Also, the biggest difference in Suzuki music classes when compared to other music activities, is the emphasis on review. We keep coming back to old songs, but because they are familiar, the children are very happy to recognize things they already know. This anticipation, knowing what is coming next, is what keeps their attention. We do introduce new skills in the context of the old songs, so there is lots of development happening as the children gain experience, but it is always in a very comfortable context. 

The best way to set up for a successful online music class with your child:

  • Set yourself and your child up in a quiet area free from distractions. Plan to be with your child and play with your child for the entire class. If your child wanders off, gently bring them back to your special class spot for the next activity.
  • Connect your device to good speakers, so you can hear us while you sing along
  • Observe your child – when do they want to participate, when would they rather sit back and just listen? Remember that observing and listening are a big part of learning and understanding, and some children need to watch and listen for many repetitions before they feel ready to try something new. Hold space for them to do that, and don’t rush them.
  • The email with the weekly class link will also have a list of small objects and toys that you can use with the activities (balls, scarves, small stuffed animals, etc.) These are not mandatory – the games can be played without them, but if you do have a few of the items around the house, collect them ahead of time and have them within reach.
  • Classes use the Zoom platform. Make sure you have the latest version before you sign in, so you don’t have to deal with prompts to upgrade before you can join the class.
  • Recommended Zoom audio setting: “original sound” – here’s a quick video tutorial on how to set that up: https://youtu.be/j52BLBQnH-w

Practice ladder challenge

Practice ladder challenge

During the four weeks leading up to the school winter break, we challenge our students to keep track of the number of days they practice, AND the number of days that they listen to their reference recording. For every day that they do both, practicing AND listening, they earn a rung on our studio practice ladder.

In 2017, for every 50 rungs on the ladder, we made a donation through the Plan Canada Gifts of Hope  program. Up to 200 rungs on the ladder, we donated baby chicks;  up to 400 rungs, we donated beehives; up to 600, sheep; up to 800, goats, and if they got past 800, we would go for the whole barnyard. 🙂 The students built a practice ladder of just over 400 rungs, earning 4 baby chicks and four beehives.  

In 2018,  it was planting trees around schools. The challenge was that we would donate 1 tree for every 50 rungs. Our students tracked their listening and practice for about 3 weeks.  In those few weeks they listened and practiced for a combined total of 406 days and we donated 8 trees.
Thanks you also to the Dong family who added to our studio donation by giving an additional donation through Plan Canada of Medicine for Moms and Babies.

In 2019, we went back to animals, as that seemed to appeal more to our younger students. The challenge was 100 rungs for baby chicks, 250 for a sheep, 400 for a goat, 550 for chicks + goat, 700 for chicks + sheep, 850 for two goats, and 1000 for the whole barnyard. Our students created a ladder of 604 rungs (200 more than  last year!), earning a gift of a goat and chicks through Plan Canada. The Suzuki Early Childhood class also participated in the challenge this year, since they also have a reference recording to listen to and songs to practice with their parents.

Looking forward to what happens with our challenge in 2020!

Hospice fundraiser recording

Kathleen in the studio with the bass flute.

Thomas has a parent in his studio, Jodi Allaway, who is a songwriter. She is making a recording which will eventually be sold as a fundraiser for a palliative care hospice. She asked us to provide a few backing tracks on the project, so we did – on violin, flute, viola, bass flute, and recorder. Shout out to Velveteen Audio for being a great place to work!

First Suzuki Convention of the Americas

We both had the privilege of attending the First Suzuki Convention of the Americas in Cancun, Mexico, from May 1 to 5, 2019. Unlike the biannual Suzuki Conference in Minneapolis, which only accepts students who audition at the highest level, this conference was open to ALL, even the babies and beginners! There were advanced students, too, who had auditioned for placement in the orchestras, but seeing the full range of age and ability come together from 27 different countries really put an emphasis on the basic Suzuki philosophy: Every Child Can!

Kathleen had been asked to teach a recorder group class of students in Suzuki Recorder Books 1 – 3.  Here are some pictures of the class in action, student diploma presentations, and the final performance on the last day of the conference.

Thomas was invited to join Suzuki Early Childhood Education Teacher Trainer Wan Tsai Chen to work with the baby class:

The SECE classes and teachers in performance at the SuzukiADA sing Twinkle in English, Portuguese and Spanish.

Kathleen also had a student audition for the orchestra. She was selected to participate from applicants from 27 different countries. She is from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Her stand partner was from Patagonia, Argentina. Student exchanges don’t get any better than this!

Flute section of the orchestra

North Pole meets South Pole (almost!)

There was a wide range of sessions for teachers.  They were all given by other teachers from across the Americas. The focus of the sessions was on Suzuki philosophy, and most sessions were not instrument specific.

Session threads included the following:

  • building successful studios and programs, Suzuki’s idea of  developing character first and ability second, and shaping lessons that create practice assignments that really work to develop both of the above.
  • supporting parents, and the importance of making sure that parents coming in to a Suzuki program had enough understanding of how Suzuki method works in order to make the commitment to do it before they start lessons.
  • creating lessons and supplementary activities that develop the whole child. The right brain, logical thinking, assessing right from wrong, following clear instructions; and the left brain, creative, exploratory, and experimental.
  • developing effective practice and learning strategies in lessons and practice assignments. New research in neurology and psychology was discussed and ideas for creating lessons and practice assignments based on this research were discussed.

All teachers who attended also had the option of taking a 10 hour course in Dalcrose or Caroline Fraser’s class in teaching reading.  I chose the reading course, which had many excellent ideas and exercises for developing reading using the early Suzuki repertoire that the students already know. Kathleen chose the Dalcroze course.  We both enjoyed the courses and plan to incorporate many of the ideas into our teaching.

In addition to the orchestras for the more advanced students, book 1-3 students were invited to attend the conference to participate in group classes and masterclasses.  They also participated in a choral program in which they sang in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

The book 1 violin class, with teacher Koen Rens from Belgium, was another wonderful example of the student experience at the conference.

Through common repertoire and their Suzuki background, Koen brought these children from many different countries, speaking different languages, to a shared experience creating beauty together through music. Along the way there was much laughter and fun.