Piano Teaching Q&A: Teaching Mama

I have had many great questions asked by readers in the recent months and have been so horrible at responding to some of them!! So, I thought I’d start with one that somewhat explains why it sometimes takes me awhile to answer these questions…it’s because I’m a busy mama! 🙂 I know that a lot of you understand this, having children yourselves, and so I hope to hear your feedback on this important question as well!

Here’s the question:

Teaching When You Have Your Own Small Children:

You might have answered this before, but I haven’t found it on your site, but I have a question about teaching once you start having your own children. How do you keep them entertained/safe/QUIET while you’re teaching other students? Has that been difficult for you? Or would you recommend taking a break from teaching when your children are very young? I don’t have any kids quite yet, but I just got married and know they’ll come along sooner or later and I want to be able to figure out what I’m going to do with my students when that time comes. Thanks again for all your fun ideas and hard work!

Thanks for the great question! I have talked about this topic a little before, but not for awhile. And now with child #3 on the way I feel better-equipped than ever to answer it 🙂

this little man made me a mama!

I have been blessed to be able to successfully teach for the past 5 1/2 years since becoming a mother. At some times I have taught more than others, sometimes it has been harder than others, but I have learned a few things along the way about how to make it work.

First of all, I think you need to determine your priorities. For me, my kids are most definitely my priority. I have always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. To me the most important thing is to be there for my kids. I particularly have determined that will not be a mom who is always teaching in the afternoon when my kids get home from school. To me it is important to be there when the kids come and go, to talk, to help with homework, to read, to play, etc.

me and my buddy boy

Now, having said that, I think that teaching piano is wonderful! It is such a rewarding way to use my training and talents. I love seeing my students progress. I love being able to work at home to help put my husband through school 🙂 and to earn a little extra income. I LOVE having a job that I love that is flexible; I am my own boss, I choose my own hours, my own vacation days, etc. It is a pretty ideal job. And with the training and experience that I have, I can make just as much working at home for just a few hours a week as I could make outside of my home at a “regular” job for many, many more hours. It is such a blessing. And, I definitely see myself as a piano teacher for life. Even if I take a break while my children are young, it doesn’t mean I won’t continue my teaching in other ways (preschool music classes, maybe some group lessons involving my kids when they are older, maybe an adult student or two while all my kids are at school, and definitely teaching a lot more once my kids are grown).

So here are some ideas and suggestions that I have learned over the years to help balance teaching and mothering.

It’s all about scheduling! When you are a mother of young children, you must take into account your child’s schedule, as well as your spouse’s. Before I had children I had a moderately large studio, about 20 students. When I had my first baby we moved shortly before, so I had to drop all of my students.

me & my daughter

NAP TIME: When my son (my oldest) was a baby, I started teaching just one or two people, and was able to schedule lessons during his nap time. It worked most of the time. 🙂 He was a pretty regular sleeper. It was so nice to have a little time each week to use my talents and interact with other adults again after having my baby.

QUIET PLAY TIME IN THE ROOM: As my son grew and became a toddler, I started to pick up a few more students and to work on getting my NCTM. My husband worked odd hours and would sleep a lot during the day. I was still able to teach while son napped, but there were more and more times that he would be wide awake when lesson time rolled around. Luckily, I only taught one or two students at a time. He was pretty good at playing quietly in the room, or would quietly watch a little show on my iPod while I taught (not ideal, but it worked). Since it was just once or maybe twice a week that this would happen, it worked fine. However it was definitely not ideal and not as professional as I would like to be. But, my son came first, and my students/their parents were very understanding.

getting a little picture-happy now…

CHILDCARE BY SPOUSE OR FAMILY MEMBER: When my son was two, we moved to a new state for my husband to attend optometry school. As my son grew older it got trickier to teach. It is a constant balancing act between keeping your child occupied/safe/quiet and having a quiet/productive/professional lesson. With my husband in school, he was definitely busy but since he wasn’t working full-time he was able to be home a little bit more. Since money was tight and my teaching really helped pay the bills, my husband and I figured out a schedule and made my teaching more of a priority. I tried to schedule lessons at times when my husband could be home. This worked very well. I would teach all or most of my students in one afternoon while my husband and son had play time together. This, to me, was the most ideal solution. My son was not neglected at ALL, he was playing with his Daddy, I had a chance to use my skills, interact with people, and to help make some money for our family, and lessons were quiet and professional. If you live near family members (which we do not), you could also work out some kind of a deal with a family member to help watch your kids for a few hours one afternoon.

HIRE A BABYSITTER DURING LESSON TIMES: I have only done this occasionally, but I have friends who have been able to either swap babysitting with another friend with young children, or to hire a teenager in the neighborhood to play with their children while they teach. This could be an excellent solution as well!

After I had my daughter, teaching got even more tricky. I admit that I did teach many lessons with her sleeping in her swing in the room, or sitting on my lap (mostly quietly!). I found some other solutions that worked well:

look at that face…
how can you teach with those eyes looking at you?? 🙂

TEACHING IN THE EVENINGS: My kiddos have always gone to bed around 7:00. They are very good sleepers (most of the time) and are used to hearing the piano while sleeping. I focused on getting more students who were able to come to lessons in the evenings. I got more adult students (who are really rewarding to work with!!) and just LOVED this schedule. I was usually able to teach from around 7:30 to 9:00 pm, while my husband studied hard for school. This schedule worked so great for our family. Of course there are times when kids get sick, or won’t go to sleep, and you need to be flexible. But for the most part this worked so well.

Along with creative scheduling, you also need to be able to BE FLEXIBLE. I usually schedule in an extra lesson or two in the semester in case of sickness or other cancellation. My kids tend to get sick a lot, so this has really been important. Your students/their parents need to be flexible as well, and you need to be able to reach them in the event of a sudden sickness, to let them know to not come to lessons that day.

CHANGE THE FOCUS OF YOUR STUDIO: Another way I have facilitated my teaching as a mother is by shifting the focus of my studio. As my son has grown and shown interest in music himself, my interests have also shifted because I have wanted to find ways to teach him music as well! It was in large part because of my son that I started teaching preschool piano classes, which has turned into a wonderful curriculum of “Early Explorers” and “Mighty Musicians” music classes. My son attends the classes, and all the hard work is worth it to me because my son loves it so much. And now my daughter, who is 19 months old, can at least attend the classes and is starting to participate as well. I don’t have to feel like I am choosing teaching over mothering. As my children grow, it will be interesting to see how my focus shifts further. Maybe some group lessons involving my children and some neighborhood kids as well? Who knows!

my two favorite students!!

TAKE A BREAK!: With my oldest now attending Pre-K each day, my toddler daughter exploring and living life to the fullest, and my third child about to be born in six weeks, I have definitely slowed down in my teaching, and plan to take a break. I still have one private student, and I am teaching my preschool classes. So I have slowed down to focus on my children and my pregnancy, and it is the best decision right now for me and my little family. We will be living here for about another year after baby boy is born, and then will be again moving out of state. So for this next little season at least, I will be taking a break and focusing on what matters most to me and my kiddos.

Some scheduling ideas for the future:

TEACH HOME-SCHOOLERS WHILE MY KIDS ARE AT SCHOOL: Once all my kiddos are in school, I think this sounds like a fantastic idea. I will be there when my kids come and go and won’t have to choose between my kids and my students, but still be able to teach (in a quiet house!).

TEACH GROUP LESSONS: Putting those home-schooler students in group lessons would be an even better (and super time- and money-efficient) way of teaching to maximize my time spent teaching. I think the only way I would teach group lessons after school is if one of my kids was involved in the group. Could be lots of fun!

I love my fun music classes!

PRESCHOOL MUSIC CLASSES!: I just love teaching these classes, and want all of my kids to get a chance to participate. I’d love to have some morning preschool classes which my young children at home could attend while my older ones are at school.

So, in conclusion – it is possible to teach while you have young children! But first you must determine your priorities, and schedule accordingly. You and your students need to be flexible. Also, you need to learn to say “no” to too many students or too many studio-related commitments that take away from your family. I also have had to learn to accept only students in my studio who I feel good about teaching and who work hard and progress. If they don’t, it is simply a waste of my precious time as a mama. Yes, it is difficult. And yes, sometimes the answer is simply to take a break. But that is the great thing about this job – you are the boss! My advice is to talk it over with your spouse, do what feels right for your family, and if it is ever too much, don’t be afraid to make a change.

Good luck!

What ways have you readers found to help balance teaching and family? I’d love to hear about your experiences and your ideas and suggestions.

Read my follow-up to this post here!

Jennifer Boster

14 Responses to “Piano Teaching Q&A: Teaching Mama

  • Interesting experience you have had over the years, Jenny. And great pics of your kiddos:-)

    From my own experience I began teaching prior to the birth of my youngest daughter. I had a small studio of only about 8 students and so lessons were just two afternoons a week prior to our family suppertime. After the birth of my second daughter, I took a break for a few years so I could keep my focus concentrated on family more effectively.

    When my youngest entered school I began growing my studio again from the ground up, slowly adding students each subsequent year. I would always aim to be done teaching by a reasonable suppertime hour. My husband is a teacher and so he would arrive home shortly after the kids and would then be able to help them out with whatever they needed help with.

    My priority right now with two school aged kids, is to keep making that suppertime hour a priority. I am beginning to see how absolutely crucial this mealtime is for connecting with our teenage daughter in particular. I only teach later one evening a week. And even that day I make sure to schedule in a 45 minute suppertime break between students.

    Currently I teach three nights a week 3:30-5:30 and then one night a week I teach until 7pm. I also have a couple daytime adult students and am currently pursuing advanced piano studies which keep me busy during my daytimes. Eventually I plan to market myself more towards daytime adult, preschooler or homeschooler students as well as hopefully a preschool music group class. I have fun dreaming about all that fun stuff:-)

    I feel happy with how my business has bloomed over the years. I feel like I have a degree of balance. I love being able to work from home. I love being my own boss. I love the feeling that what I put into this business is worth every minute and hour. It becomes part of who I am:-) I love how I can share the gift of music with others:-) It really is so very rewarding. I think it is crucial to have the support of your spouse. And my husband and I have been very determined to keep the evenings free for time with our kids and also with each other. So far it's working:-) We've had to readjust many times along the way, but it has been well worth it:-)

    And I can't say enough how very very much I am thankful to all the bloggers out there who provide such creative ideas and resources for people like me to freely use. THANK YOU:-)

    Christina 🙂

  • I have young children and have taught a small number of students over the years. I have hired neighborhood girls that come and play with my kids while I'm teaching. Sometimes I have let my kids just watch a movie while I teach, we don't have a lot of screen time in our house so they like that and think it's fun to sit on my bed and watch a movie. Sometimes my hubby's schedule has worked that he comes home early one day a week and plays with the kids while I teach. I have done lots of different things to make it work. I have three young kiddos too though, and it's good to decide beforehand how many students you think you can commit yourself to. I am ready for a break soon as well though, so I am grateful for your reminder that it's ok to change things up every once in awhile so they still work for you and your family.

  • I'm in the same boat. I had two families from church approach me about teaching their 6 kids, and I said, "I don't think I can make that work with my own kids at home." And they said they'd watch my kids. So every Monday, I go to one home, and we all bring our kids-11 kids in one house! They babysit for three hours while I teach. It's not ideal though, because if one kid gets sick, we all have to cancel.

    I'm also not going to teach next year, partly because the lessons get cancelled so much and partly because the kids don't practice, but mostly because if I have another baby, there's no way I'd bring a newborn over there with all those germy kids during RSV season. Plus other church families are starting to want the same deal.

    We somehow agreed that they'd only pay $8 a lesson, since they were watching my kids, and it was all they could afford, but I don't think it's fair to other teachers for me to charge that little. So I need to nip this in the bud.

    So what do you charge poor people? I think poor kids should have piano lessons too. Maybe teach them every other week so it costs half as much? Maybe with some kind of scholarship program where if they practice hard, they can earn free lessons on the off weeks?

  • Thank you for all of these great ideas! I have been loving teaching again, and I love that others are in the same situation as me. My husband usually watches my kids, but when he's out of town my mom does it or else they play in or out of the room. One mom is so gracious and plays with my kids during the lessons, but I certainly don't expect that.

    I would love to know the same as Schmath. I would like to know if you have a scholarship program idea because I would love to offer a scholarship for families who truly can't afford lessons.

  • Thanks for your thoughts and ideas, Jenny. I've been blessed with a very full studio (35 students) for the last several years, and just recently found out I'm expecting! I've already been stressing out about how many to drop, how to find a replacement teacher, how to fit in a few students to the new routine. Lot's to think about, but flexibility is the key word! Your post came at a perfect time in my life. Thank you!

  • Thanks, Jenny! Thanks for putting your kids first and still excelling in your profession. My husband comes home from teaching High School three days a week to be with our children in the afternoon and that works out great for us too. I also teach three early mornings a week just one lesson a day from 6:30-7 and my kids usually wake up at 7. If my oldest wakes up earlier he just comes in and sleeps on the couch. 🙂 Just thought I'd make a plug for early morning lessons. I'm interested in starting some preschool classes now my oldest is that age and I love your resources and ideas! Thanks so much!

  • Heidi W
    5 years ago

    I just found a link to your blog from the Collaborative Piano blog on facebook, and am SO glad I clicked over and read this! I have been married for a couple years and have been starting to think about what I'm going to do with my studio once I have little ones. Thank you for writing this post! This was so helpful!

  • Mama Murrey
    5 years ago

    I love all the different ways to schedule lessons around your own children. Our first three children came through foster care, with about 24 hours warning, during the spring semester. My husband and I both teach from home, so we took turns teaching and looking after the children. But I'm still not sure how I muddled through the last three weeks of lessons with a baby and two toddlers.

    One of the toddlers was very happy and quiet while being held, so my husband was able to teach while holding him.

    On one wild and wooly day, several of my siblings needed last minute babysitting, so I had to teach several lessons while taking care of my three kids and babysitting for another SIX children (nieces and nephews)! I had a baby strapped to me, one in a swing nearby, two toddlers sleeping in the nursery, and four of the older children running around outside. I ran out of arms or places to put babies, so I pulled up the doll crib beside me and put the last baby in there! And somehow or other I was able to teach several reasonably coherent lessons.

    It's not a feat I hope to attempt again.

  • Betsy
    5 years ago

    My studio policy clearly states that my child will always have someone watching her so that 100% of my time is dedicated to my student during a lesson. If you're also providing care for your child, I believe you should charge accordingly and not the rate of a professional piano teacher.

    If your families are OK with such distractions, that's up to them. But my own standards are that I don't want to teach half-way. I have a homeschool family of two, eventually three, who will begin with me this summer due to this very issue. The current teacher is seldom in the same room as the piano because she's chasing a toddler around and answering the phone during lessons! What kind of quality instruction can occur under these circumstances?

    From my child's perspective, I didn't want her to feel she's sharing my attention or have me constantly telling her she has to wait for a student to finish. There is always someone dedicated to her whether it's Grandma, Dad, or on very rare occasions a sitter. I feel that's only fair to her, but that's just my parenting style I guess.

    For sure it requires patience and flexibility, but for my own sanity the above arrangements have worked well for me and my studio of 20+ students. I limit the days and times I work to be family friendly and continue to focus on gaining homeschool and adult students so that I can free up more after school time to be with our daughter.

  • Thank you SO MUCH for writing this article! My husband and I want to start a family and I am mulling over who in the world to be a mom and juggle the 50 students I currently have!! I will have some graduating, but feeling stressed about how in the world to downsize my studio to at least half of what it's at. Thankfully I have lots of family in the area eager to watch my baby when it comes. I also have some ideas for maternity leave like a competition in my studio where while I am gone for 2 months students can work towards earning points by learning scales and pieces on their own or for listening to classical performances. When I get back, I can see what they have accomplished and give points earned and see which team wins. 🙂 Also over my maternity leave I plan to schedule my piano tuner to do a seminar on how the piano works and how it's tuned. Students can pay him for his time and I don't have to even come, or just come and watch. 🙂 heehee

  • Hello there,
    I have been teaching piano for 16 years. My hubby and I waited 8 years before we had children, but as soon as they came I adapted them to my schedule. (I am a firm believer they are a product of their enviroment).
    Couple of things I did as they were newborns…I breastfed as well as nursed. I started that right away and my babies had no problem going back and forth. I did this so that IF I ever had to feed while teaching I could without making myself or the student feel ackward. Also, IF a mom was around and wanted to help they could (who doesn't like to cuddle with a babe) 🙂
    And until they were Kindergarten age, I always had them take a nap during lessons. As soon as a I would see a student pulling up in the driveway I would go and lay that child down. Since they had been doing this since they were newborns the noise of everything didn't bother them.
    Now, my children are 8 and 6. We live in a different home where my piano studio has a separate entrance as well as one into our house. My children get dropped off from school from their Auntie 3days a week and know to go in to the main house where I have set up a snack, and a afternoon "station". They know what day it is and what chores to do besides homework and praciting violin or their awana verses. It works out good!
    I must say that a lot of parents can't believe that I can do that and the kids can handle it, but it is something they have known all their life. There have been times that it is crazy and that is where you just have to be super organized. I forgot to mention that as they were toddlers they would take their naps during lessons but I always had a snack all prepared for them, sitting at the table, in case they woke up early.
    So just be consistent and start training them EARLY in their little lives.

  • I recently found your blog and love this post since we are thinking of adding baby #2 and was wondering how to juggle new baby with teaching.

    My situation is a bit unique so I thought I would share. I teach at my students home instead of my own. I got the idea from a teacher I had as a teenager. She had recently graduated with her masters in music and was putting her husband through school and couldn't afford a quality piano (she just had a cheap keyboard) so She decided to teach at her student's homes instead. My mom said she loved the convenience of it.

    I started teaching when my husband's boss asked if I would be interested in teaching his daughters. I was currently working as a secretary part time and loved the idea of teaching piano instead so I could be home with my boy more. It actually worked out perfectly because they lived a few streets away from my in-laws so My MIL watched my boy while I go to their house and teach. Pretty soon, some of their neighbors heard about our unique arrangement and asked if I would teach their kids as well.

    My mom told me to come start advertising in her area so she can watch her grandson too 🙂 so she spread the word and I have a few more students in her area starting in a couple weeks. I only will be teaching 2 days a week for a few hours at a time and it works perfectly for me and the parents are always saying that they love how convenient it is.

    As a teacher, it is not always the best situation since the homes can sometimes be noisy with the other children but most parents do a good job of providing a quiet environment during lesson time. I only have 8 students total but that is good for now. Eventually I want to teach at my own home and expand a bit but right now while my son is still young and we plan on having one more baby, this works great for us.

  • Jenny, I have read your blog for awhile now and love all the great ideas! We were in school together, although I don't think we really knew each other, I just recognize you. Would anyone be willing to say exactly how many students they have while they have young children? I am a violin teacher with 3 children, 6, 3 and 2. I have 11 students. In your own life experience, would you consider this too large of a studio with small children. I teach one evening a week, and saturday morning with my husband home, and then one afternoon when I hire a sitter. It seems to be going okay, but wonder sometimes what others with young kids see as feasible.

  • Amanda
    4 years ago

    Sorry, posted above comment under my husband's account. 🙂