Music-making engages so many of us in a positive way in part because it requires us to be present and concentrated in each moment. To really listen and respond, our minds must be free of distraction, immersed in the act of playing our instruments. Summer leisure time–those restless non-school hours that usually elicit whines of “I’m bored!” from elementary-aged children–is actually the best opportunity for learning how to cultivate this kind of complete engagement. Here’s why, according to a recent article on Parenting Today by Nancy Darling.
Over-structured settings such as school, daycare, and extra-curricular activities can deprive kids of the chance to find out what they really like to do. A little bit of “leisure education” can teach kids how to rescue themselves from summertime boredom on their own by finding and engaging in activities they know they like. When kids learn to rescue themselves from boredom, they simultaneously learn how to engage with activities moment-to-moment. (Being distracted is boring, is it not?)
Kids today have fewer opportunities for this kind of exploration, Darling writes. “When I was a kid, we were bored all the time. There were no extracurricular activities for kids until junior high except for Scouts once a week or maybe 4H and Sunday School. We…learned to figure something out.” Summertime learning relies less on pressure and direction from adults, and more on individual problem-solving and enjoyment. Darling links this kind of engagement to her concept of “flow”:
Flow is that wonderful psychological state where you are completely engaged in what you’re doing, not self-conscious, and positive. You are in the moment. Flow usually occurs when you are doing something that is challenging (and therefore not bored), but that is not so hard that you’re stressed or scared.
For most, the experience of “flow” is a crucial component of learning and making music. When we listen to fellow ensemble musicians, perform and respond to an audience, or concentrate deeply on learning a passage of music or a technique, we learn better if we are able to engage moment-to-moment, and solve problems in real time.
This summer, whether you’re a music student yourself or a parent of one, try slowing down. You’ll be surprised at how un-boring leisure can be!
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