Monday, June 11, 2012

The violin tray

I would like to share with you the story of my son's violin tray.

My son (who just turned 6) has been playing violin for almost 2 years. Violin and the motivation to practice regularly had become a very major struggle for us. My son didn't like practice, BUT when asked if he wanted to quit violin, he would say no. He was determined that we has going to play Hedwig's theme (from Harry Potter, in case you don't know) someday and he couldn't quit. He also completely identified himself as a violinist. I would tell him that if he wanted to play Hedwig's theme, he would need to practice and also if we were going to keep paying for all these (quite expensive) lessons, that he would need to practice. One day, he even conceded to practicing his 5 minutes of twinkle variations with tears rolling down his cheeks, but still claimed he did not want to quit violin. This was too much for this mommy to bear and I resolved there and then that I MUST find a way to make practice fun and enjoyable for him. (Not that I hadn't been trying, but I really needed to step up my game.) Tears and violin were not an OK combo in my book- there would be no 'battle cry of the tiger mom' in my house.

I am not sure where the idea for my violin tray came to me from and it did not come without a little trepidation. You see, I don't normally go down the path of rewards, bribes, etc... (I don't say that in order to make a statement about what I think is right or wrong in parenting in any way. I don't like "mommy wars", diversive parenting etc... its just not what resonates with me or what seems effective in the long run with my child. If you want more reading on rewards/punishment etc..., Alfie Kohn is a much more eloquent writer than I am and he writes extensively about such topics... I only bring it up to give you some backstory on my own initial reservations about my tray idea)

So here is the initial concept for my violin tray. It starts with 12 over-turned teacups on a tray. Underneath 8 or 9 of the teacups would be notes with instructions for songs, variations, unit-practice, scales or even a set of songs that he needed to practice. Under 3 or 4 would be "wild cards." Sometimes a wild card would contain a treat, like a gumdrop or cookie, sometimes a dollar, sometimes a quarter, sometimes it would have an instruction to hop on one foot while singing old macdonald, sometimes it would say "play me your worst tone" (he found this quite funny, especially as I covered my ears and shrieked), or run around the couch 3 times,.... I would hide toys from his room under the wild card teacups, I would ask my husband to sneak into his room at night and build me some little lego vehicles to hide under the teacups... sometimes I would even buy a lego minifigure from the lego store for under the teacup ( I called those my high stakes trays.) The tray would vary every time, both the wild cards and the 8-9 practice cups would always be re-arranged and different. I set up a new tray every day. Practice would start with picking up the first teacup and finishing what was instructed before proceeding to lift the next teacup. We would proceed sequentially through all twelve teacups, some being wild cards, most being instructions to play something.

This tray thing was so exciting for my son. I knew he would like it, but I had no idea how much he would like it and how much it would motivate him to practice. This game was so much fun, that he was even amenable to starting over and "getting it right" before proceeding to the next teacup. That would never fly with him before. He would have never started over before. Now, he was waking me up at 6 in the morning asking if he could do a violin tray. I would offer to take my kids out for ice-cream after school and he would ask if we could go home and practice violin first. He would ask to do up to 5 trays a day sometimes. (Considering that sometimes I would put "play 6 six songs along with the CD" under one teacup) this tray was inspiring so much more repetition than I was ever able to achieve pre-tray (remember before the tray, I could hardly get him to practice at all).

This all sounds amazing right, but of course the neurotic in me couldn't stop worrying. Even though, he was now practicing a lot and wanting to practice and having fun and making a lot of progress on his violin, I worried that I set up a total dependence on this tray? Would the novelty wear off quickly and then what would I do? What if the novelty does not wear off and he is dependent on this tray? Would I have to continually increase the stakes? Would I always need a tray? Would he actually love playing violin or just love the excitement of the tray? I know the pitfalls of using rewards and though I had disguised my system as a game (having the tray change every day was to hopefully somewhat reduce the expectation that if you do y then you get x. Yet, I know this was kind of like creative bookkeeping and I am not really fooling myself), I knew it was a sort of reward system. At least the tears were gone and there was joy in our practice sessions and maybe he would actually get to play Hedwig's theme someday, right??? hmmmmm....

Well, he is not yet on Hedwig's theme, BUT after almost 7 months of playing with the tray (yes, the novelty lasted that long!!!) he has progressed so much because of the tray and he actually has gotten to the point that he enjoys playing his violin, is reading music, playing many songs and will now sometimes say to me "do I have time to play Camptown Races (or some other song) before we go to school?" and then will proceed to not only play Camptown Races, but flip through his "songs for little players" book and play a bunch of songs, just because he enjoys playing them! No tray involved. He doesn't call it practice, he's just playing his violin, because he can. I am not sure we would have gotten to this point without the tray (or something else, but I didn't think of something else.) He still asks me to set up a tray too, but he will also happily play his violin without one. Phew.

So, I just thought that I would share my story of the violin tray in case someone needs to get over a little hurdle with practice in order to get to the point of loving playing their instrument. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tigernut sweets

Today my son's kindergarten class held an Egyptian banquet and I got to make an Egyptian candy called Tigernut sweets. These sweet treats are simply dates, walnuts and cinnamon pureed together, then rolled in honey and almond flour. They are quite easy to make and depending on what you believe is healthy (is a lot of fructose really better than a lot of sucrose? I don't know. I am too busy making hawk costumes and tigernut sweets to get that phd in nutritional biochemistry but I do wonder and did at one point in my life contemplate going to grad school to study something like that. Though I have contemplated many a phd program in my lifetime. In fact I wouldn't mind getting a phd in lots of things, if phds could be gotten in 6 months... Oh wait, that's not the point of phds, 6 months would hardly an expert make and I have come to realize that I will never be one of those.) Anyway, digression aside, tigernut sweets are a fun, sweet treat. The recipe is one of the oldest recipes known and was found written on a piece of clay!

Instructions: Puree 200g fresh dates, 1 tbsp cinnamon powder, 2 tbsp chopped walnuts with a little water til you have something paste-like. Pour some honey onto one plate and almond flour onto another plate. Form a little ball of date/walnut/cinnamon and roll it first in honey and then in almond flour. That's it. Its like a little truffle!