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Ask a preschooler and see what happens.

Imagine this scenario.

You walk into a preschool classroom of three year olds and pose a series of questions to the children:

“Who here knows how to dance?”

Every hand shoots up.

“Who here knows how to sing?”

Again, every hand is in the air.

“Who here knows how to draw?”

The process is repeated over and over with virtually any subject.

Then, you walk into a classroom of 8 year olds and ask the same questions.

“Who here knows how to draw?”

One or two hands go up.  

“Who here knows how to sing?”

Maybe two and a third tentatively rises.

And it goes on with less and less hands going up to each question.

What happened?

About a dozen years ago, I was spending a lot of time in a preschool classroom. My son was three and he was experiencing a high degree of separation anxiety. The school’s policy was to not leave the child in distress and thus, I was in the class everyday.  In fact, it’s as if I enrolled in preschool all over again. I didn’t interact with the class, I just sat in the corner where my son could see me, and I observed.

The preschool teachers were kind, compassionate and patient.  They were in control of the room without resorting to yelling or scolding.  There was structure, order and everything just flowed.

I observed firsthand the incredible confidence of three year olds.  They thought they could do anything. The kids would try anything.

Shut Down By 8

In my music school, we have students in a range of ages, though most start at around four or five.  

What I’ve noticed is by the time a child reaches third or fourth grade, self-doubt has begun to creep in.  Even students who previously were fearless and brimming with confidence began shying away from certain activities.  

“I’m not good at singing.”

“What?!” I would exclaim.

“Who told you that?  You just sang beautifully at the last recital.”  

“No, I’m just not good.”

Sometimes I would dig deeper and find that an older sibling, a cousin, a neighbor or someone who had told them they should stop the activity.

It’s incredibly heartbreaking.

Some of it is a growing consciousness – an awareness in the child’s personal development.  And of course, we can’t all be good at everything.

But much of it comes from external factors.

I know this firsthand

When I was in second grade, I was cast as the Artful Dodger in our class production of the musical Oliver.  I would belt out that song clearly with full conviction. I was fearless.

The day of the show came.  My parents were in the audience.  I was on stage and my song came on.  I sang it to the back of the school gym to and received a thunderous applause.  But as my final notes were ringing out, I spied someone in the crowd. He was a boy who had bullied me, who was snickering and whispering to his friend.  My voice caught. I shrank inside. Something shifted. I forgot my stage directions. I mumbled through the rest of the show.

That day, I stopped singing.*

“I’m not enough, so why even try?”

This mindset is poison.  

One of the reasons I’m so passionate about teaching preschoolers music is the power to prove “you are enough.”  By teaching life skills of perseverance, practice and focus, you can truly surmount any obstacle.

If we, as a society, can teach in a way that breeds confidence and self-worth, hopefully, this poisonous mindset will dissipate.  It will give enough protection to guide these children to adulthood.

It’s the difference between mindsets.  Scarcity versus abundance. Givers versus takers.  Rescuers versus victims. Contributors versus the welfare state.

I think one of the reasons we as a society worship celebrities is that on some deeper level we recognize they have broken through this limiting belief.  

Who gave these people permission to believe that they are enough?

It comes down to just one person – yourself.

Of course it’s easier if you have a support network of family, friends, church, sangha, mastermind, coach, whatever.  

But in the end, it’s yourself.  I’ll talk more about igniting cognition rapidly in a future post.

*By the way, I do sing now, quite a bit.  I’m an active member of my parish choir.  But it took me years of unwinding that internal misplaced belief.

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