Monday, January 31, 2011

Practicing practicing

“It's a funny thing, the more I practice the luckier I get”. Arnold Palmer

It turns out children don't come out of the womb knowing how to practice.  They need to be taught to play the instrument, and then they have to be taught how to how to play it on their own.  I came to that realization as a young college student when the parent of a 3 year old student lamented to me that she'd send Suzy to her room with her violin, but she just wouldn't practice.

Now that I've had a 3 year old, that seems a bit daft.  I couldn't even get WonderGirl to get herself dressed without her forgetting what she was doing mid-task and meandering off wearing nothing but underwear and one shoe.  We have to teach kids to use a toilet, blow their nose, brush their teeth, hold a fork, so it makes sense that teaching practicing is just one more skill to put on our agenda.

Right now I'm in the process of teaching WonderGirl (age 4) to practice the piano, and we're having luck so far, remembering these simple rules:
  • She has no concept of time.
  • She needs a list.
It's my fault, partially.  When I say "In a minute," I can mean anywhere from 10 seconds to tomorrow.  So requesting she play for 15 minutes is basically asking her to sit on the piano bench and play with her hair.  I have a pad with charts that we use with Elmo on it, so it is thereby motivationally awesome.

Since she's usually practicing during the 1 year old's naptime, I have her play with headphones.  I give her specific instructions of what to play (i.e. "this page 3 times, then that page 3 times, then all together 4 times, etc.") and mark each box off with each time played, and when that's done, she needs to unplug the headphones and play for me (and a few stuffed animals) a concert of what she worked on.  When she has filled a whole page up, she gets some kind of reward.  I've only had one student that worked better with a set amount of time - every other student liked being given a checklist.  Including yours truly.

The trick is - she did everything I asked, and when she's done with that - she's done. Less whining, more playing, then off to the next adventure of the day.  So woohoo, teaching the art of accomplishing - accomplished!! (for now;)


Anonymous said...

This idea is AWESOME! I'm going to try it with my kid. She hates practicing, but this might be the key.

You should seriously write a book!

Jane said...

I love when people think that toddlers are logical. And will behave like adults. Some adults at least.

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