There are many great reasons to learn an instrument as young as the Preschool years including: a child that shows interest, time to practice as part of the routine before school & homework begin, and that students this age are at a developmental stage where music will become part of who they are, just as learning their native language will be.
A big key to a student’s success at this age is for parents to know that they have a huge part to play, especially when it comes to practice each day.
If you are practicing at home with your preschool child you may be encountering practice challenges that are unique to this age. Also, if we as parents try to practice with this age group the same way we would with a 10 year we’re very likely to encounter resistance and problems.
If we instead work with the developmental stage of our child, and keep in mind their own personalities we can have a lot of success and a great time spent together doing it.
Here is one of the secrets to success for practice with this age:
A successful practice with a preschooler may not look anything like your definition of practice. What counts as practice at this age might surprise you. It might look totally different than you remember practice being when you were growing up. Or it may be totally different from your preconceived ideas about practice if you’ve never studied an instrument yourself.
It actually may look a whole lot like play (although a structured form of it).
When I was getting my education degree I took a whole class on teaching science to preschoolers using play. My daughter who is studying to be a Speech Language-Pathologist is learning to use play combined with Speech Therapy when working with this age group. And, often in lessons I use little games and activities with this age to teach music and the violin.
I invite you the parent to do the same.
There are some students who this will appeal to more than others & specific games and activities will be more interesting to your child than others. Experiment and try out different ideas (there are many if you search on Pinterest or Google for “practice games”). I also recommend putting together a practice toolkit (Read my post about that HERE) so that if your practice session needs something to make it a game you have it right on hand when you need it.
Here are some of the main concepts about practicing with Preschool aged children that I have found to be helpful to keep in mind:
The preschool years characterized by lots of play and lots of imagination.
Act out a story with your music. Draw a picture with one part being added after each little chunk of practice. Add a block to a tower that you build over the course of practice. Throw a ball into a bucket for each part of practice you complete. The ideas are endless and don’t have to be complicated. Experiment and see what appeals to your child and be sure to change things up from time to time to keep it interesting.
Preschool is the age where creativity and imagination are a huge part of life. If we fight it during practice it can cause a lot of conflict. Maybe one day we bark the twinkle rhythms like a dog, and the next day we quack like a duck. Maybe we imagine the bow is a rocket ship blasting off into space. Go with the imagination and fun. It isn’t a waste of time, it is connecting positive feelings to practice. It is engaging your child fully in what they are doing. It’s how they learn and interact with curiosity. Even if it seems silly to you – as a teacher let me reassure you, this is still practice.
Do the least amount of talking possible
I find this to be true in lessons and I hear from parents all the time that it’s true for them at home in practice. The less we, as adults, talk and explain things during practice the better practice goes. Demonstrate. Roll dice to figure out how many times to practice something. Most of all, remember to keep directions very very short and to the point. Kids this age are very physical – keep them doing things in order to keep them engaged.
Stop before your child is begging to stop or is melting down
Start with short practices. Do them a few times a day if you can. One of the secrets of practicing with this age is to stop before they ask to stop. I know in some cases your child may ask to stop before you’ve started – if that’s the case work on the other tips in this article and keep practice short. When I teach a lesson to a preschool age child (especially when they are first starting) I am often working with a child who can focus for a couple minutes at a time, at best. At first I give breaks between what I ask the student to do and talk with the parent about practice or have them do an activity that is unrelated to their instrument and then we do another small chunk. Over time we string these together and the attention span grows. Keep it short! Your child is more likely to be a willing participant in working on something hard if they know it won’t go on forever.
Use lots of positive reinforcement and enjoy the process
Sometimes it can seem like nothing is happening because development is happening in the brain that we can’t see. Sometimes our child is growing or ill and is not at their best. Don’t worry about the results when you hear them play on a day to day basis. If you’ve been playing awhile go back and look at a video from 6 months ago and notice the progress. Growth is happening and if your child is willing to participate in practice (at least most days) and enjoys their instrument, then it is going great!
Finally, find the most ideal times to work with your child
Older students may be able to concentrate whenever they put their mind to it. Preschool age children who are extremely tired, hungry or have used up their ability to concentrate for the day may not be able to concentrate at all. Don’t take this as a sign they won’t be able to learn an instrument or that you the parent is doing something wrong. Play around with practice times so you work with them when they are at their best.
An important note of caution: practice should not devolve into fights with your child on a daily basis. As a teacher, I always like to know right away if there is a challenge like this so that we can work together to help solve it.
Who our children are developing to be is much more important than what we practiced today. We cannot control our children’s strong emotions or their behavior, but we can set up the best environment for them, personally, to learn in. That may look really different from one child to the next. Your relationship with your child comes first and there are often many ways to solve practice problems so it becomes more pleasant for everyone if you are struggling. Ask your teacher to help if you are struggling.
Wishing you all many happy practice sessions!