Will Your Child's Musical Instrument go to Camp This Summer?
If you have been enforcing piano, violin or flute practicing all year, the thought of your child at camp for two to eight weeks while his/her instrument sits collecting dust in the living room is almost more than one can bear. The first thought that most parents have is, "Of course you must take your instrument with you and find time to practice." TIME OUT! There are many appropriate options for your child and his/her musical training during the summer. They range from playing 8 hours a day to leaving the instrument at home, with the case unopened. Both extremes and everything in between may leave your child playing better in September than he/she did in June.
If music is a true passion in your child's life, you should find a music camp that devotes a daily allotment of time to music commensurate with your child's interest in music. For some children, this would be a camp, such as Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, where private lessons and practice, band and orchestra, small ensembles and musical composition fill most of the camper's day. At a camp, such as French Woods in New York State, a child can play in the band or orchestra, take private lessons and practice, but this would be only one-third of the program. Another one-third would be spent in drama, for instance, and the final one-third in circus, still allowing time for waterfront and crafts. A third kind of camp may be a sports camp where there is some kind of musical opportunity, ranging from being the camp bugler to participation in a band of some kind. If your child chooses a camp where playing is an option, you would do well to encourage him/her to take his/her instrument. It may be a counselor or a fellow camper who will get your child to take the instrument out of the case and join the fun.
If your child chooses a camp where music is not part of the scheduled program, expecting him/her to practice may be a totally unreasonable idea on your part.
One must remember that it is the camp's responsibility to keep campers scheduled and busy 24 hours a day. If a child is passionate about playing, it is reasonable to hope that the camp staff and your child could find a time when he/she would have an hour to practice every day. If a child is anything less than passionate about playing (which is normal!), he/she would much prefer to be part of the group doing other things and not sit alone in a practice space.
Call the camp director and ask if there are any music opportunities at the camp. Discuss when your child might practice if he/she brought an instrument. Think about what your child might be missing during this practice time. Put yourself in your child's shoes. Would you want to miss baseball to go and practice in the camp director's living room? If the camp does not have an organized music program and if your child is not dying to carry his/her instrument to camp, you should consider babysitting the instrument while your child is away.
Camp is a time for kids to socialize. If your child is not attending an arts camp consider leaving the instrument at home.
Time off can be a good thing. Your child may actually discover that he/she missed playing!
Problems that he/she may have had could disappear over the summer; many children seem to learn how to swim over the winter, even though they have not been in the water. The subconscious takes over and makes interesting and unexpected links. Perhaps most important, children do need time off from their very pressured lives. Maybe he/she needs a break from practicing as well.
Getting back to practicing in the fall may not be easy. Technique will have slipped, tone will have slumped. But the recovery rate is rapid and a few steady weeks of practice usually shows that all is not lost. Sometimes, a child thinks, "I will not practice again. I almost lost it all!" More often, he/she is just more relaxed about the task at hand and discovers that he/she still can play.
If you and your child really want summer practice to be a part of the camp experience, be sure to choose one where music is part of the program. If that is not what the camp experience is really about for your child this summer, leave the instrument at home and give both of you a vacation.
Bonnie Ward Simon, BA, MA, M.Ed, M.Phil.,
President of Maestro Classics