They say that kids who live in a “language-rich environment” do better in school (whatev!) than kids who live in a language-poor environment. It think it’s safe to say my kids live in a language-rich environment, if the language is English. There are books in every room (this is an understatement–there is a whole library in every room) of the house, both parents have larger than average vocabularies and use them when speaking to the kids. We post signs to remind the kids of household mores, put notes in the lunch boxes, read the bulletin at church, the menus at restaurants, the advertising on buses, and stop and discuss new words and their meanings when we encounter them. We dictate their writing and/or let them do it themselves (whether fantastical, invented, or Webster’s perfect).
But I always wanted my kids to also grow up in a music-rich environment. I think of music as a language and had hoped my kids could learn it as a mother tongue. The trouble is, I can sing, but I can’t play any instruments. So I played recorded music for them a lot in babyhood, danced and counted time, sang the scales and all kinds of songs. I got a realistic toy piano and put the note letters on the keys with scrapbook stickers.
But none of that was really going to teach my kids music in a natural way and I knew it. At some point, I gave up and just banked on doing Suzuki when they were old enough.
Then Josiah came into our lives.
When we met Josiah, he didn’t know he was a musician, so music had nothing to do with our decision to welcome him into the family. But over the first year we knew him, he taught himself to play the guitar, and it was revealed that he is profoundly gifted in the music department. When I say “he taught himself to play guitar” I mean, he picked up a guitar, looked at YouTube, and within six months, was playing as well or better than people who’d been doing it for years. He has the kind of gift that makes people think a task is easy for everyone because it comes to them like breathing. Since learning guitar, Josiah has dabbled in ukelele, mandolin, banjo and is now branching out to saxophone and wants to get some keyboards and on and on and on.
His new Life Plan is to learn to build and repair guitars from this guy, make a living that way, and make music with his friends for fun.
Suddenly the kids live a super music-rich environment.
I would estimate that Josiah plays around the house–often directly for the children–about 3 hours per day on average. A lot of this is learning time–teaching himself new things–while the kids just “hang out” with him or nearby, overhearing the whole process.
Now he’s been taking Nat one-on-one with the little kid-sized guitar we bought her and helping her learn actual chords for a few minutes every single day. She did not enjoy this much at first. She liked to strum and had good form according to Josiah, but hated doing the chords because it hurt her fingers. But after about six weeks of 5-10 minutes an evening, she’s finally rounded a corner and they are learning to play “You are my Sunshine” together.
A big part of rounding this corner, I must reluctantly admit, was the acquisition of a Wii. Cole, Josiah and Nat scored it while Selina and I were out of town and I came home to a kid who now says “I beat the level!” whenever she accomplishes something. I don’t think she actually knows what this means, but she talks like this and it freaks me out. All the same, I have the Wii to thank for the new guitar enthusiasm.
You see, I declared, upon arriving home to the new regime, that Nat could play Wii for exactly the same number of minutes per day she worked on guitar with Josiah. Now she tries really hard to extend her practice time. Last night it was 12 minutes. (I know these are tiny times, but for Nat, both guitar-wise and Wii-wise, they work just right.)
It only took a week of Wii-inspired extra guitar work to get Nat to stop complaining about sore fingers and excited about playing guitar for its own sake. Josiah estimates that in a month HE will be enjoying it too. For now, he says it’s like pulling teeth.
I guess we’ll still probably do Suzuki, but it can wait a bit. And meanwhile, the kids are getting exactly what I had hoped for them when they were babies. All through the dumb luck of finding Josiah.
I have also learned that a Wii can be a powerful motivator. I have all kinds of plans to use it strategically in the future.
How about you? Do you have a Wii or the like? How do you regulate/strategically make use of it?