Why ages 3-5 are so important!

Because those ages present a window of opportunity!

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3 Year-old learning Skills of Executive Function

3 Year-old learning Skills of Executive Function

“There is a dramatic window for growth in executive function and other cognitive skills between the ages of 3 to 5.” ( Scientific Learning )

Find Out about This Special Window!


Ever since all Grammas cuddled  little ones, singing songs and telling stories, the importance of early childhood education has been recognized. What was common sense since the beginning of raising children is now touted from places like Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child.

There are 2 sets of skills that children must develop not only for their own good but also for society’s benefit.  Children aren’t born with these skills, but they are born with the potential to develop them.

1. Executive Function

2. Self-Regulation

These skills are important for learning and for helping children to develop positive behavior and making healthy choices throughout life.

When executive function is present, the ability to succeed in school and in life is strengthened.

Even very young children have to learn how to manage a lot of information and how to avoid distractions.

Executive Function Skills are: focus, remember, plan, and do several tasks at the same time.

Self-regulation skills are those that help us set priorities and resist impulsive actions.

Children aren’t born with these skills, but children have the potential to develop them.

Development in the Brain: Ages 3-5


During the early years, ages 3-5, children have the opportunity to develop key skills for their future.

The interactions between child and parent are the active ingredient in building a healthy brain structure. The brain is most able to adapt and change in the earliest years of life.

The more advanced thinking skills cannot be built until the lower ones are in place.

Simple skills developed in the brain are the foundation for more advanced skills.   That is why, giving the child a strong foundation in the early years is vital for executive function development.

A PEAK PERIOD  for developing proficiency in executive function skills is around the ages of 3-5.

Why Scaffold Skills for Young Children?


A scaffold provides a temporary structure used to support.  Parents provide the  environments that give children “scaffolding” that helps them practice necessary skills before they must perform them alone.

We know now that development of the executive function and self-regulation skills is not guaranteed. Furthermore, children with problems do not necessarily outgrow the problems. Children who struggle to plan and organize their work in early elementary may become adolescents who fall behind in homework, have difficulty completing projects and struggle to gain academic skills.

Helping children by “scaffolding” will give them the safety net as they develop these important skills.  What does “scaffolding” look like? Here are some ideas from Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child.

1. Play imaginary roles – children invent rules to follow when they play; cooking, eating, setting the play table with play food, etc.

2. Tell stories – children make up stories with complicated plots. They hold and manipulate the characters and actions in their working memory as they tell their story.

3. Climbing, balance beam, see saws – new challenges make the child focus attention, monitor and adjust their actions, and persist to reach their goal.

4. Singing and song games – use working memory and focused attention.

5. Matching and sorting games – change the rules so they learn cognitive flexibility.

Suzuki Violin

Finally, not from Harvard, but from Shinichi Suzuki–beginning to play the violin between the ages of 3-5 is AWESOME for: focus, memory, planning, setting priorities, manipulating several tasks, following rules, resisting impulses, and persisting to a goal.

“There is a dramatic window for growth in executive function and other cognitive skills between the ages of 3 to 5.” ( Scientific Learning )

How does that triangle work?

The Suzuki Triangle

Suzuki coined the term Triangle which represents the relationship between child, teacher, and parent that makes it possible for a child to play the violin well.


In January of 2013, just before I began to teach violin lessons in Cusco, Peru, for 6 months, I taught and attended workshops at the XXVIII International Festival in Lima, Peru. I studied Books One and Two with the Suzuki Teacher Trainer from Minnesota, Nancy Lokken. The first thing Ms. Lokken did was to draw a triangle on the board like this:

simple triangle

The Suzuki Triangle


ages 3-6

Ages 3-6

The heavy black line of the initial stages of the Triangle, when the Child is very young, represents more communication, understanding, feedback, and dialogue between the parent and the teacher.

Even at home, when the teacher isn’t present, the parent is working with information and skills taught by the teacher. Yes, there is communication between the child and the parent, but there is not much independent thinking on the part of the child.



photo 1

Ages 7-10

Notice that there is a more even distribution of communication as the child ages between parent, teacher, and child. Even though these ages are approximate, it’s been my experience that children begin to take initiative and make decisions about their playing very early. However, the parent is still completely involved, still maintaining the dialogue with the teacher. The parent writes notes in class, asks questions at the end of a lesson, confides in practicing problems, shares in successes, and, of course, leads the home practice.




age 11 and up

Ages 11 and up

As the Child becomes more and more independent, the relationships begin to shift. The child and teacher eventually become the exclusive participants in lessons.

Some parents have a tough time at this stage, and I can understand. Unfortunately, if this shift doesn’t happen, the “young adult” doesn’t feel he or she is part of the process.  This age is tricky and so important.



Children around this age (each child is unique) must begin to take responsibility for what they like and don’t like about their playing. If they are to continue progressing meaningfully on the instrument, they must take more and more initiative and have more and more of an opinion about what they hear coming out of their instrument.

This means that the parent must not only refrain from interacting with the teacher or child during lessons, but parents should also “let a lot of things go” at the home practice. Things that they used to be charged with attending to, like playing in tune or using the correct bowings, might need to be ignored. Interfering with the child’s blossoming responsibility to listen to himself will slow his development as a musician, and frustration will ensue. In his book Helping Parents Practice, Edmund Sprunger addresses this stage at length and gives parents excellent ways to handle home practice.

 This really does happen!

To share an anecdote from an Atlanta area Suzuki teacher, Martha Yasuda: A 9-yr. old student asked her after a so-so performance at the student recital – “How do I get to sound better on the violin?  I just don’t think I sounded that great like some of the others did.”

Mrs. Yasuda answered, “You probably won’t like my answer, but here it is–you need to follow better directions when I tell you to do things in lessons.”  She reports they proceeded to fix all the posture problems  they had been working on, and the child transformed completely right before her eyes.  The child even commented: “I’m pretty sure my wrist is way too high.”

As Mrs. Yasuda says, “My most euphoric moment of maybe the  past decade or more!”

The triangle has matured!

“If you put it off until some other time, you will never get it done, because ‘some other time’ has its own tasks…” Shinichi Suzuki

Could be a Suzuki teacher!

violinist in park

Park on Shamian Island, Guangzhou, China

A few years ago, I co-hosted a recital with another Suzuki teacher, a veteran teacher who had recently moved to Virginia.  My most memorable moment from that afternoon was that she insisted that all the children from both studios should line up behind her as she led them out onto the stage, playing as she strolled.  The youngest children looked just like these in this statue…walking closely behind, not yet playing the violin. And you know how those preschoolers follow in line, sometimes never even looking where they are going.  The older children at our recital followed along also, each playing along with the teacher and assuring that the little ones kept up. A ceremonial way to begin a recital, for sure.

Each Suzuki teacher brings his or her personality to the studio. However, there are certain features of a Suzuki violin teacher that parents should look for.

One home schooling mother said that it is important for the Suzuki teacher to understand the significance of Suzuki’s heart and to embrace Suzuki’s philosophy that every child CAN play the violin given the right environment and instruction.

It is also important for parents to read Suzuki’s books such as Nurtured by Love and Ability from Age Zero.  Know Suzuki well even before you sign up for lessons for your little one.

The Suzuki Method is so special for children and their families. Parents may be tempted by the myriad of activities available for children. But they should focus on one important activity for their very young child.

Violin lessons are uniquely suited for them in many ways.

Click here for photo credit

“Any child can develop.  It depends on how you do it.”  Shinichi Suzuki

Why Professional Development?

Setting Goals

In July and August 2015, I studied Violin Book 8 and “The Development of Left Hand Techniques from Twinkle through Eccles” at the American Suzuki Institute at Stevens Point, WI.


Alice joy group

Carol Dallinger group


In addition, I took the teacher training workshop for Music Mind Games Unit 1 (a curriculum for music theory and reading) with Michiko Yurko.


Michiko encourages teachers to let loose! We have no pride!


Lifelong Learning

Perhaps I believe in professional development for the same reason I am a teacher. I have a love of learning which I want to share with my students. Furthermore, the Suzuki community is one that doesn’t rest on its laurels. The American Suzuki Journal states that a “hallmark value of the Suzuki learning community is our commitment to lifelong learning.”* This is a key feature of the Suzuki Method that attracts me.

One of the most endearing messages for Suzuki teachers from Dr. Suzuki is that “we become teachers at one hundred years of age, and until that point we are all students.”* With that attitude, our studios can be vibrant, growing spaces.

Refresh and Renew

Since Suzuki teachers can be isolated in their studios, continuing education gives them an opportunity to connect with other teachers while at the same time enhance their own teaching skills. I have attended at least 11 sessions of Suzuki teacher training in cities around the country and in Peru. I am grateful for each and every learning experience, each one challenging me to grow in pedagogy. It is refreshing to experience the collegiality of other teachers, to ponder their points of view, and to feel a similar sense of accomplishment that our students have when they reach a goal.

Click here to see my Suzuki teaching credentials.

*American Suzuki Journal, Volume 42:2, p. 50.

“I try to take a class every year, and plan to until I don’t teach any more. I am in my thirty-second year of taking teacher training classes.” Ramona Stirling, Director-Intermountain Suzuki String Institute