Realistic Expectations for practice
I’ve heard from many parents that practice is the biggest struggle they face with their children. They spend money for lessons and feel that the student is getting nowhere because they are not practicing. Let’s face it Practice, is the most important thing that will move them quickly towards learning a skill, however, repeated arguments, insults and disappointments will only cause them to harbor a hatred for their newly learned skill, ultimately causing them to quit.
At Morbyus Music, our number one goal is to keep the student totally in love with their instrument and with the language of music. This cannot be done if we continually make them feel bad because they have not practiced. I’m constantly hearing from parents that they want their child to be self motivated, to remember to practice on their own, and to not have to be reminded or scolded into practice. That sounds awesome! I want that too but let’s face it, I’m not even that self motivated (unless I have put my practice into a routine schedule). When I began exercising, I only remembered to do it 2 days a week, then it turned into 3 then 5 and pretty soon, it was something that I enjoy and even do on vacation but it is a constantly changing process that I have learned to accept and allow myself to return to it and get back on track because I know where it fits well into my schedule.
The Schedule is Key. No matter how young the child, he or she will remember to practice if the practice time is scheduled along side something that they know is coming up. For example with my son, who is 4 years old, we scheduled practice when we arrived home from school. We also reminded him on the way home by saying, “You can play games on my phone but remember that means you will practice piano when we get home” This way we reminded him of his responsibility and showed that we trusted he would do it, by rewarding games ahead of time.
Now, that did not always work. In fact the first month of us getting him to understand his routine, there was a lot of times that practice was not mandated because he was already upset or asleep, had a bad day at school or something else got in the way. Having a great routine, doesn’t happen the minute you decide to start. Think about any time that you decided to go on a diet or start a regular exercise schedule. How many missed days did you have the first month? We have to learn to keep our schedule and when we introduce something new into the schedule, it takes our brain a while to remember that it is a part of our schedule. If it takes our brain a month, it will take our young children longer to realize that practice time is always after dinner.
Sometimes we have unrealistic expectations for our children. We want the best for them and we somehow think that they will have the same understanding of their routine that we do but they have not had all the experiences we have had. We must remember that to encourage practice and to get our very young children to want to practice we have to make the whole idea of practice fun. Yes, it is important for growth, which is why the teacher should praise the student when he or she has practiced. But honestly, most kids can’t see into the future to see how their actions affect what will happen next. That’s why even the best of kids has to have punishments on occasion.
However, PRACTICE SHOULD NEVER BE A PUNISHMENT! That is why when my son began his practice schedule there were days that we did not mandate or shout at him to practice. There were times that he didn’t want to practice and we would compromise by asking him to just play 3 songs because we understood that his routine would allow for him to take more time to practice once he is enjoying his practice.
So to sum up, here is my Motherly Advice:
1. Accept that your child is a child and may not always want to practice, though they may love their instrument. Rather than shout at them, try to compromise. If it becomes a difficult situation just move on and try again tomorrow.
2. Develop a schedule that puts practice time next to something the child does everyday, like eat dinner or brush his/her teeth.
3. Give them reminders that practice time is coming up so they can be mentally prepared to move on to a new activity.
4. Sit with them and praise them for what they are doing (only praises, DO NOT SCOLD THEM). Remember practice time should ALWAYS be fun. You can take pictures and videos to encourage them to play more than one song.
5. No one is sitting nearby with a clipboard, taking note of every missed practice. You will not go on the “bad parent” list if you forget, or your child forgets, or your child is too upset and you have to skip practice.
6. You should never judge your child’s progress with another child’s progress. Each child is different and the key is that we support and enjoy practice time.
If we develop a LOVE of PRACTICE then the child will LOVE to PRACTICE.