Process, Not Performance

Hopefully you saw that wonderful feedback we received from one of you Heartie parents this week. If not, here it is:

This comment brings focus to one of our core tenets as early childhood music educators: to focus on musical process, not performance.

Here’s why:

Focusing on performance invites criticism and correction. The focus becomes on doing it “right” rather than simply enjoying the process. There is a place for that, certainly, at higher levels of ability and development when skill and technique are being developed. But in early childhood, there is no place for that type of instruction. If the goal is to do it “right” then children who haven’t yet developed certain motor skills and cognitive processing skills can feel overwhelmed and will shut down.

The moment a child doesn’t feel safe their brain switches to a lower gear of emotional survival and all learning stops. Their sense of safety can be threatened simply by a teacher or parent trying to “help them succeed” or to “prevent them from failing” and giving well-intentioned but ultimately destructive feedback.

Children need a much more nurturing environment in order to learn. They need to be free to explore, free to express, free to move and experience the process in their bodies, rather than scrutinizing if they are doing things “correctly.”

We’ve all been to the dance recitals when the adorable 3 year olds come out in their frilly tutus and the crowd oohs and ahs. It’s adorable! We love those tiny dancers! But watch their faces as they try to perform. There’s always one stand out: the child who has a knack for charming and performing who was just born with stage presence. Then there’s the precise perfectionist child who has more advanced development and can perform “correctly”: the right move on the right beat in the right order. But the other ten children on the stage? Look at their faces. They’re usually just trying to keep up and sometimes are vaguely confused. And then there’s always the sweet little child who isn’t ready for such a feat and is afraid to go on stage and has to be pulled by the hand by her teacher. That child needs more feelings of safety and reassurance.

But where is the joy? Where is the connection? What are the children learning? Is this recital about providing a positive experience for the dancers? Or is it a performative reward for the parents?

This is why in Kindermusik our focus is on the whole development of the child and the connection between the child and parent. The focus is not on performance. We want your children to feel total safety and joy when they enter our studio. We want them to feel so safe that they are 100% free to learn through exploration in a rich sensory environment. We don’t want them focused on doing things “right” or following instructions to a T. Nor do we want your focus to be on getting them to follow the teacher’s instructions perfectly. We give them time to transition and grace to do things differently. It’s okay to just watch instead of participate. It’s okay to not be ready to give up their instrument on demand. The goal is to for your heart to sing and their eyes to shine.

And then, one day, when they’ve got the developmental skills to learn more, we teach them more. We introduce notes and beats. We teach them to read rhythms and hold mallets and play as an ensemble. The Kindermusik curriculum steps up perfectly in sync with your child’s development. And by the time they graduate the program they will be developmentally ready for formal instrument instruction. Kindermusik kids have a proven record of having a huge advantage in future musical studies over children who don’t experience our nurturing program.

So save the performance. There will be time for that later. For now, just focus on the process. And if that sounds too dry, then focus on the connection, the joy, the heart, and those shining eyes.