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In my last two blog posts I have been talking about how parents set the practice environment for students and a 3 minute system for parents to use before practice that will radically change your practice sessions.
This week we are going to talk about building an emergency toolkit for young students. I find that once we have set a good environment for practice and prepare ourselves as adults to have the best practice session possible (see the posts above for more information) the next step for productive practice sessions is to have some tools on hand that help keep young students engaged in the practice session. The younger the student is, the more helpful this is. I find the older students are and the longer they have been playing their instrument the less this type of toolkit is needed because student have learned how to practice and how to concentrate and focus more fully. However, even middle school students enjoy rolling dice for repetitions and using rhythm sticks to count out a difficult rhythm from time to time!
During my first 4 lessons with new parents in my studio I primarily focus on parent education and preparing the new family to be successful in the upcoming weeks and months. Each week I assign families a few tasks to do at home that will help them establish good practice habits (listening assignments, finding a practice time each day etc). One of week three’s at home assignments for new families (this is primarily for third grade students and younger, which is the age I typically start) is for them to make a home practice toolkit.
The practice toolkit is a group of items that will give you extra support during practice. Some days you won’t need this at all and practice will go smoothly and
easily. But there are days where something new and interesting is needed to help keep focus and engagement in practice. When we are having one of those practice days there really isn’t time to search all around the house for something to help with practice. By the time you find something useful, the chance to practice will likely be over.
The practice toolkit stays right in the practice area and helps students stage engaged, draw out the number of repetitions they can focus on doing, and can help the student feel like practice is more interactive and engaging.
What you put in the practice tool kit may change over time depending on your child’s age, interests and just a need for a little variety. Some items I suggest new families put into their toolkit include dice, game spinners, small items to count (one for each repetition or task in practice), small items to balance on the instrument and sticky notes or flags.
Having a practice kit right in the spot where you practice will help you to keep all of these practice tools handy for days they are really needed. As a teacher I always have some items like this in my studio. The younger the student the more I use them, but even middle school students can find rolling dice, or balancing an item on the violin to check posture a fun way to practice from time to time.
Here is some of the things I recommend parents use and some ideas of how to use them. Please leave a comment if you have ideas to add or other items that help you in practice with your child, or in lessons with your student!
This is great for rolling to see how many repetitions to practice something (I always have students roll again if they only get 1). Another option is to have a note card with a different task for each number on the dice written on the back. Each time the child rolls they can turn over a card to see what to practice next.
Game Spinner [from any board game or like the one HERE]
This can really be used the same way as the dice but can offer some variety if you’ve been using the dice a lot and need a new way to practice.
These can be used on fingers to practice small muscle control, on the top of bows to focus on watching the way and many other creative ways.
Small items to be counted with each repetition in practice:
You can use coins, rocks, buttons, clothes pins on the music stand . . . really anything small, these erasers are a favorite in my studio . Young students are very motivated to move items from one place to another (like walking an animal eraser across the table or stand for each repetition). I am often much more able to get a very young child to do 5 repetitions of something this way than most other things I have tried.
Practice Sticker Charts:
This pirate map chart is one my students love – there are all sorts of these at office supply stores and on amazon. Putting a sticker on for each repetition or each individual task in a lesson works wonders for motivation. Simply putting a sticker on a blank 3×5 card can work well too. I have a parent in my studio who started doing this for all sorts of things around the house because it worked so well.
Simple rhythm sticks or even wooden spoons are great for practicing twinkle rhythms, keeping a steady beat and practicing the rhythm of a new piece as students progress.
I highly suggest putting together some kind of practice toolkit for your practice sessions at home. You can start with items that are right around your house. It’s a great way to help students learn to focus and practice for longer periods of time and to make practice sessions more successful. Please let us know in the comments what items you have in your practice kit and any additional ideas you would add to mine above!