The benefits of music education at a young age are tremendous. Students do better academically, appreciate culture, practice dexterity, and cultivate confidence. For all of these reasons and more I wanted Aurora and Grayson to learn to play something. Not being musically talented myself or able to afford an expensive private tutor, it was remarkable to find a program offering free violin or cello lessons for five years!
I kid you not, right here in Omaha and Council Bluffs, the Omaha Conservatory of Music runs a String Sprouts program. Students begin at 3 or 4 years old, and are given an instrument to use and one hour a week lessons for five full years. Registration begins in the Spring each year, and the spots go quickly, so you will want to sign up for the registration email notification.
Classes run the length of the school year with breaks generally following the Omaha Public Schools calendar. Once a week you and your child will meet with a teacher, an aide, and 10-ish other students and parents. The thought of teaching a fairly complicated instrument to a three year old can be daunting (I know it was to me!), but the instructors do a really good job of breaking it down into age appropriate lessons that build upon one another.
A typical lesson will involve an introduction song with clapping so that the kids can learn each other's names and practice rhythm. Then they'll either practice whatever they're learning on the violin or learn music theory. Before you ever play the violin, there's a lot to learn about holding it and proper hand and feet positions. We spent the first few months learning positioning and a basic strumming technique. Music theory for young kids involves learning the names of the notes, practicing clapping out rhythms, and counting beats.
The last 10 minutes of every class is for the parent lesson. The teacher's aide will read a story to the kids while the parents go to another room to review the lesson and discuss their child's progress with the teacher. What I like this because if you miss something during class while you were helping your child, you can figure it out at the end. Handouts are passed around with practice ideas for the week, and any important events coming up are discussed.
Several times throughout the year, students will put on mini-concerts for their family members, giving the students a chance to show off what they've been learning. At the end of the year, all of the Sprouts will perform in a big concert with the Omaha Symphony! Having these sort of goals to work towards is really motivating for young kids. Aurora and Grayson have learned so much about delayed gratification as we practice and work hard to get better. The end of the year concert just spurs them on towards getting better!
As glowing as my review is for this amazing program, there are a few things you should be aware of. Learning an instrument with a young child is intense. It is recommended that you practice for ten minutes a day at this age, that's not always something your child or even you will want to do. Grayson is especially high energy, so getting him to sit still and focus for practice can be very challenging, to say nothing of working through the hour long class.
I have honestly considered quitting multiple times. There are so many kids who want these spots in the class, and when my own are refusing to participate or fighting me every practice session it can be overwhelming. However, I want us to at least see out the year. I'm not a fan of allowing kids to quit classes or sports mid-season, because they decide they don't like it, so we're going to keep persevering. It is a lot of work, but I know without a doubt that it will be worth it in the end. Let's hope they come to the same conclusion!