As many of you know, my son Ian (now 11) is a consummate musician. He’s been a dedicated rock star ever since the ripe old age of two. Although his main involvement in music is through his drum kit, he also sings, plays marimba, a bit of piano, and composes his own pieces. Keeping a kid like this appropriately mentored is challenging. Jamie and I are both musically able, but his needs frequently go beyond our capabilities. So we have to search outward.
When we began homeschooling 2 years ago, I informally established five goals to nurture both of my kids’ interests. Here’s how it plays out.
1. Pay attention to what my kids are interested in.
Ian made it clear from the get-go that he was all about music and performing. A lot of people would dissuade their children from pursuing the rock and roll life for fears of drugs and sex and general recklessness. I will admit that these are concerns my husband and I have spent a lot of time talking about. But ultimately, we decided that if rock and roll is what Ian loved, then we would help him pursue it and give him the tools to do it responsibly, keeping his head on straight and his ego in check.
2. Find quality teachers and mentors to help them pursue their interests.
Notice I’m using plural words here. Ian works with several wonderful folks, each adding a unique angle to his education. Brad Stockert has given Ian his ongoing weekly drum lessons since Ian was 5. But once each year, Ian also works with the globe-trotting middle-eastern music loving percussionist River Guerguerian. Helping him learn to play with a wide variety of people, his band director David Augustadt directs Ian in 8th grade band, middle school marching band, and middle school jazz band.
And as Ian’s interests in composing developed, we approached University of Mary music professor Dr. Anthony Williams for private music theory tutelage. Finally, to establish a grounding voice as Ian grows up experiencing the various highs and lows of relative fame, we sought out our long-time friend David LaMotte to serve as a counselor and mentor – somebody that Ian could talk to about what it feels like being a musician.
3. Provide the material resources our kids need to develop their interests.
I won’t lie: raising a drummer ain’t cheap. But after the original instrument investments, we’ve let Ian do a lot of his own contributing. Over the years, Ian has played many paying gigs with his band Blind Mice (which also features his dad). All gig money goes back into his music, and he’s been able to add audio and recording equipment, cymbals, cool sticks, and a bell kit. It’s pretty empowering for Ian to be able to help support himself.
Marimbas are super expensive, so last year, I asked his band director if the school marimba could live at our house while school was on summer break. He agreed, and Ian has had free access to a beautiful instrument for 4 months (we return it next week). And his music theory teacher had an extra legal copy of the composing software Finale. When he heard Ian singing out his composition ideas, he readily let us put the copy on our home computer.
Ian also enjoys the generous sponsorship of his grandparents, the Davidson Institute, and the Alice Baer Memorial Foundation. I am always looking for organizations that want to help aspiring talents so that we can continue to open new doors for him.
4. Provide ample structured and non-structured time for our kids to pursue their interests.
When we started home education, I decided to open up Ian’s schedule to incorporate more music into each day. He has assigned work to do for his weekly drum and music theory lessons, but the majority of his music time is spent simply creating, jamming, and generally messing around. I should add too that his teachers share our commitment to let Ian help direct his tutelage; they are both good at directing lessons and assignments that follow Ian’s lead.
When Ian was younger and would ask what he should do with his time, I would ask him to think of his percussion hero. Then I would ask him what things his hero could do that Ian couldn’t. Ian would name a few things, and then he would know what to do. This open space has allowed Ian to develop his amazing talent in his own way, and get more deeply invested in the process.
5. Take our kids’ interests and talents seriously.
My husband and I both want our children to grow up confident and creative. I’m not one to frame every little love note as a masterpiece (though I do have a box, I will admit), but I feel that quality work deserves professional treatment. If you’re a reader of my blog, then you know that I’m not big on grades – I prefer real-life applications. Ian started playing gigs when he was just 4 years old, eating up every minute that he was on stage. It’s our job as parents to continue to find appropriate opportunities for him to perform; this shifts and changes from year to year.
We also live in a culture enriched by social media that allows us to share ideas and talents with the world at the click of a button. For several years we’ve shared Ian’s music videos on youtube, and this fall we’ve developed a website that serves as his living resume.
So that’s my rock star. But I could input the same 5-part formula with my author-daughter and her pursuits. Kids want to be taken seriously. They want to be respected and listened to. It’s our job as parents to validate their interests and ideas so that they will never stop dreaming.
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