Secrets to Successful Practice with Preschoolers

Secrets to Successful Practice with Preschoolers

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:

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  • 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. 

  • Be creative.

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!

Practice Spot Cards & Repetition

I’m always thrilled when a parent asks me for advice about how to practice better at home! I try to make it clear in parent education that this is something I like to help with & that parents need not struggle through alone. It’s always great when someone takes me up on the offer to problem solve together. Often I have ideas that I’ve come up with, that I’ve heard from wonderful colleagues or we try out new ideas together.IMG_2802

 

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The To Be List

Being a Suzuki Parent can feel like a big to do list :

Attend Lessons
Take notes
Ask the right questions
Attend Group Classes & Recitals
Make sure your child has all the materials & equipment they need
Make sure to listen every day
Practice on the days that you eat!

The list could go on and on and it’s an important list for sure

However, on days where it all seems like a bit much – when you wonder if it’s worth it or if you’re doing the right thing . . .  I would challenge you to think of a TO BE list instead . . .

Suzuki To Be List

Be present
Be a family that listens to beautiful music
Be a part of the community around you
Be daily practicers
Be your child’s biggest fan
 .  .   .
 I am sure we could go on and add more (I would love to hear what readers would add!) but it’s a start at least.  As a teacher, I am passionate about the idea that if we focus on what we want to be: as a family, a parent (a teacher, or a student) then we can create an environment that helps students be successful.
Having a lot to do is stressful –  having the chance to develop into who we want to be is inspiring! I challenge you to give it a try!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice Struggles . . . What I Wish my Students Knew

practice struggles

How is practice going at your house?

Does your child start their practice without any nagging or reminding from you?

Does your child come to every practice eager to learn and work on their lesson assignments?

Does your child stay focused through every practice session so you don’t have to remind them to keep going?

Does your child work through new material with ease, happy to repeat practice spots in order to master them?

You may be able to answer YES to each of the above questions (if so, that is great!) If not, don’t be discouraged . . . most students and families struggle with some part of practice along the way.

I think it’s important to remember the following when practice struggles happen:

 

It’s normal 

very few students start lessons and never have any struggles with practice. We are teaching our children wonderful skills like self discipline, concentration, working towards long term goals, perseverance and more.  These are things that have to be developed – they do not just happen.  Feeling like it’s hard and that it takes a lot of effort is ok – it will pay off in the end.

Let your teacher know you are struggling! 

That being said we all want to make practice as positive and painless as possible!  As a teacher, I want to know if a family is struggling . . .  it’s the only way I can help!  Don’t be embarrassed to admit that things are not going well at home – your teacher will likely have lots of great ideas to help and/or helpful resources to share with you.  We want to make it easier!!

Back off the intensity a bit until things smooth out

If there is conflict going on in the home practice sessions, I often advise parents back off the intensity level of practice for awhile.  Try to get through all the assignments, but mostly try to get to the point where your child enjoys coming to practice and playing – once we get there we can accomplish a lot more.  It may feel counter-productive but in my experience this really works.!

Starting practice can be the hardest part – practice anyway!

 I often hear that leaving what a child is doing to start practice can be the hardest part.  It is normal for students (and even adults) to have some trouble transitioning from one activity to another.  Setting a timer (we practice when it goes off) or giving a few minutes warning can help.

Know that it may just be hard to switch gears.  Don’t let that deter you from practice – do it anyway.

It’s a good life skill to be able to start doing something you need to even when it’s hard to start (exercise and tidying up my house come to mind as an adult – I’m always glad when I’ve done it but starting is hard!)

Listen more, attend more concerts, & inspire a love of music 

If it’s tough to motivate your child to practice or put their heart into what they are doing I find this one very very important.  How often are you listening to the recording? When was the last time you listened to music other than your Suzuki recording? When was the last time you saw a live concert? What kind of music inspires your child most?

Practicing just to practice can be a drag – practicing because we love the sound we hear from great musician’s and want to strive towards that ourselves is priceless motivation.

Be patient with the process! 

That list of questions in the beginning . . . most of my teenage students would answer yes to each one.  They wouldn’t have as young students though!

Through the years they have learned how to work with themselves, motivate themselves and that the music is it’s own reward. If your child is young – take heart – keep going – it is a process and it can happen for your child too.

Focus on the end goal.

I think for most of us, this journey is about helping our children develop the ability to make beautiful music to the best of their ability & to help them develop into wonderful adults along the way. How practice goes on a Tuesday when our children are 10 is not the end goal – who they are becoming is. We will lose some battles and have frustrations during  practice sometimes, but I believe a great team of Suzuki Parent, Teacher and Child who work together are going to make those bigger goals a reality.

What has helped you or your students most when practice becomes a struggle? I would love to do a follow up post featuring reader ideas – please share in the comments or email me at Christine@SuzukiTriangle.com

If you need more resources to help you with practice you can:

 

 

5 Ways to Keep Practice Interesting

There are many rewards that come with practicing at home with your child.   You have the opportunity to find out how your child learns new concepts, you have daily one on one time with your child, and you both get to experience music together which can be a great bonding experience.   There can also be challenges with daily practice sessions and sometimes getting the instrument out and getting started is the hardest part of all.

Young children (I’m mostly talking about preschool and younger elementary school students) like to play.   Often the problem with starting to practice is that we are asking students to stop (or postpone) something fun they want to do.  It is a good idea to add in some fun and interesting activities to practice, a few times a week, to help keep it interesting and fun.

Here are a few ideas to get you started. . .

1.  Pull out a game spinner or pair of dice:   Rather than telling your child to play a difficult measure over and over, have them spin a game spinner or roll 2 dice to see how many times they should play it.  It is amazing the attitude shift that happens when the dice tell them to play it 1o times vs. me as the mother.   There are no power struggles involved which is great and the practice ends up feeling like a game.   My rule is that the number has to be bigger than 2 or we spin again!

2.  Line up favorite stuffed animals or dolls:  If your house is anything like mine, there are bins full of stuffed animals and action figures – let your child bring some of them into the practice room.  Have your child line them up and play to each one.  A fun idea is to have them play one review song to each different stuffed animal.

3.  Play somewhere fun and unusual: If the weather is nice (and you have a portable instrument) have your child take their instrument outside and play on the back porch or under a tree. Many students also love the sound when playing in a kitchen or bathroom.   Sometimes the change in scenery is just what a student needs to enjoy playing that day.

4.  Play Fishbowl:  Write down each practice assignment (scale, review pieces, new piece etc.) on slips of paper and fold them up.  Place them inside a bowl or shoe box and have the student pick them out one by one.  Everything on the practice list will get accomplished but it will feel like a game.

5.  Hold a Family Concert: Gather the family together and put on an informal concert for them in the living room.  Students can play one piece or a number of them.  Encourage them with enthusiastic applause 🙂

This gives you a few ideas to get started.   Leave a comment and let us know what you do to keep practice fun and interesting!