It’s the start of the school year, which is when parents invariably ask me where we take music lessons. And if they should let their kid start. And what’s it like. My answer is usually, “Yes, definitely your kid should play an instrument. If you are willing to drive yourself nuts with the practicing.”

Before I tell you how great playing an instrument is, let me tell you that I have broken two violin bows by throwing them across the room. And when my son told his violin teacher, she said, “Oh, it’s not that uncommon. Moms with kids who play instruments do that sometimes.”

I have had to drink half a bottle of wine to face cello practice. I have eaten a whole cake while I was dying of boredom listening to the same song 500 times. Read more

This is a picture of the very famous Joshua Bell.

Here’s a story he tells:

His mom dropped him off every week at some university where he was supposed to practice violin. But the room he was supposed to practice in was right by the video game room, and he found himself going there a lot instead.

One day he was there and a kid came up to him and said, “Are you Josh Bell?” And Josh assumed the kid knew Josh was a violin prodigy, and they would talk about violin.

But the kid said, “You have the top score on all the video games here. So I wanted to see who you were.”

Josh says this is the moment he realized that he wasn’t practicing enough and he had better find more focus. Read more

I think my son is a writer. Not the one who is the cellist. Writing is too solitary for him and the audience is too far removed. He’s a performer. But the other son, he is a writer with a knack for non-fiction. He writes a journal every night, and he’s as obsessive as I was about mine. Read more

When I moved to the farm with my children, it never occurred to me that I would be raising farm kids. But it happened quickly that my kids did things I would never have dreamed of doing in my own childhood. They spend the day with no shirts. They chop wood with axes. They pee in the yard.

There was a moment, with each of these things, where I put my foot down. “Put on a shirt to sit at the table,” I said. But then sometime in the middle of this summer, I got tired of saying it. It seemed stupid. It seemed like a city rule, because in the city you wear a shirt most of the day anyway. Read more

There are no blue ribbons for parenting, so it’s hard to know what to aim for. I have talked about grit, perseverance, and expertise. But as I read more about what people need as adults, I see that we completely underestimate usefulness.

I am starting to focus more on that for my own kids, and here’s why: Read more

In the curriculum world, I notice there is an obsession with good writing. The problem with the curriculum is that it tells you WHAT to write, which is exactly the problem with school, telling you what to learn. The best way to learn is to do what interests you.

By the same token, the best way to write is to write what you feel like writing about. Part of learning to write is learning to identify what you want to write about. No one writes as well about a proscribed topic as they do about a topic that percolated to the top of their head. Read more