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Ideas on Learning

Unexpected lessons during covid times

Like everything else this year, lessons look nothing like they did a year ago. I have been teaching outdoors since the weather started permitting it back in April. It is definitely getting colder now -- in the 30’s by the time my lessons finish up for the evening.

Strangely, it has been an unexpectedly rewarding experience teaching outside in the cold weather. I have a propane fire ring that we sit around. Though we sit further apart from each other than we would otherwise, my students really enjoy the fireside atmosphere that covid-protocol lessons have created.

Since Thanksgiving, I have asked students at the beginning of each lesson, “So, what shall we play today? Curriculum songs you are working on? Or holiday songs?” With every passing week, more and more students choose holiday songs.

As a result, my little neighborhood in Ashland, Oregon has had a holiday soundtrack playing since the end of November and passers-by smile as they see kids of all ages (not quite from 1 to 92) sitting on my front porch playing songs by the fire. I was a little worried that I might get some pushback from folks, but instead I have had many words of encouragement and appreciation. (I’m knocking on wood that my luck doesn’t run out.)

An important question -- What is the educational impact? I see 3 important educational benefits.

Motivation. One of the contributing factors to students developing motivation for any activity is how relevant the activity is. In other words, how does it fit into their life now. A good deal of education is about learning to do things that will help you when you are older. It is a real blessing when you can teach something that students get to enjoy right away. Something they know will be enjoyed by friends and family right now!

Ears. Because all my students learn their songs by ear, it does not feel unusual for them to work out holiday songs without notation. But a key difference is that, because songs like “Frosty the Snowman” or “Winter Wonderland” are already in their ears, they have all the confidence and determination they need to make it through the song even if they never played it. (Every year I contemplate that I should just make FiddleQuest a “Holiday-Songs-Only” curriculum. It would increase the success rate of kids learning simply due to the fact that these are songs that everyone knows already. Jingle Bells in July, anyone?)

Community. When students see how much joy it brings to people walking by and the conversations it has inspired, they see the power that they are developing. It’s a power to connect with others and draw people in. When we are tucked into the bubble of my studio, out of sight and earshot of passers-by, it is easy to forget that power.

I am confident I’ll continue these front-porch lessons in future years even without the need to protect ourselves from the coronavirus. The benefits are too good to pass up.


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