First Three Steps
Your usually fidgety daughter is spellbound, sitting perfectly still through a famous ballet company's performance. As the curtain falls, she turns to you dreamy-eyed and says, “I want to be a ballerina.” Well, before you go running out to buy a bunch of tutus...STOP!
Even savvy parents can be baffled when their child expresses a new interest in an unfamiliar field. So the real question is: Is this a passing fancy or a real, Eureka moment? Guess what? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is how a parent encourages a child’s interest in the performing arts without getting bamboozled, wildly overspending, or turning into “Mama” or “Papa Rose.”
A Time To Explore
By expressing a curiosity in the arts, your child is off on an adventure with many possible outcomes. Don’t worry about whether your child will become a professional artist. Artistic yearning doesn’t necessarily equate with a career path or even a college scholarship. For example, a ballet student may realize that dancing is not for her and instead opt for a career in medicine. But, perhaps, if your son portrays Atticus Finch in the school production of To Kill A Mockingbird, he just might be inspired to become a lawyer. The real point is that a parent’s focus should be on the exploration—or the journey—rather than thinking about the destination— or where this interest might lead. But where does a parent begin? Read on.
Explore All The Arts
Parents should keep a wide focus and expose their child to a wide variety of arts by attending plays, concerts, and exhibitions. Watch for signs of interest as your child responds to each experience. For example, Anne Wright of Atlanta, Georgia, allowed her son Thomas to balance piano lessons with his skateboard instruction. However, when she took him to see a touring Impressionism show, she was surprised by his reaction. “We walked into a room of Monet’s Water Lilies and Thomas said ‘Whoa!’ and sat down on the floor, overwhelmed by the colors.” Today, a decade later, he leaves to study painting at the Maryland Institute of Creative Art.
A Good Place to Start
Even with budget cuts, public school is the first/best resource for arts instruction that won’t break the household budget. Does your child’s school have an orchestra or band? An after-school art class? Local schools are conveniently situated and thrifty when it comes to lessons for beginners. Be prepared to pay a small fee for appropriate clothing and/or equipment. Remember that a school-supplied instrument may come with a few dings, but will be sturdy enough for the first year or two of lessons. However, if after-school services and arts programs have been axed, don’t despair. Quality arts instruction is still available for your child at a reasonable cost, but you’ll have to look deeper within your community for it.
Last Three Steps
Here are some important tips:
• Contact your local art college/community college/state college for advice from the head of the appropriate department. Often they will be happy to talk to you about local instructors. In fact, a college faculty member will often take on private students.
• Talk to practicing artists. They will have first-hand experiences that can act as real world tips about your child’s artistic interest.
• Linger after performances and concerts. Local symphonies, dance companies, and theaters often have lessons and kids’ programs available for a nominal fee.
Step Up and Ask
Look for programs that emphasize process over product. Any legitimate arts teacher will be happy to talk to the parent of a prospective student. Ask instructors about their philosophy of teaching and method for motivating kids when the going gets rough. You’ll be able to gauge if their teaching style will mesh well with your child’s learning style. Be wary of instructors who urge expensive equipment or insist on a “package” at the start, but recognize that start-up costs are often essential and unavoidable. For example, a beginning ballet student needs shoes, tights, and a leotard. A budding violinist needs a violin. A legitimate instructor will have a reasonable list of equipment and recommendations as to used and/or discount providers.
When an instructor feels like a good “fit,” talk practicalities like cost, lesson frequency, class size, and location. Finally, assess your own level of commitment. Make sure that you can reliably get your child to lessons as planned, on time, and ready to work. Your child may well evaluate the status of his new arts project by your commitment to the process. Participate at a level that supports your child and his development—but give your child room to explore individually. Make cookies for the piano recital, stitch costumes for the school play, make practice time a regular part of the day instead of a daily power struggle. Most importantly, attend all performances, recitals, and exhibitions. When a child glances at the audience, she wants to see mom or dad. And be sure to pack the camera and a hanky!