How To Motivate Your Child to Practice

“The era of childhood is the time for learning.  The child’s work is learning and it is learning that brings them the greatest joy.” – educator Elaine Worley

Our focus in November at the studio is MOTIVATION.  Although children love to learn, maintaining regular home practice is not only the most common but often the most daunting challenge that arises for families with young children in music lessons.

The self-discipline that children develop when learning a musical instrument is a skill that will surely benefit them well beyond reaching their goals in music. This being said, self-motivated discipline is generally not something that comes naturally to young children, and the type of practice required may not always be the most enjoyable for them. In most cases young children will learn this discipline through their own experiences which makes the structure and support that their families provide such a huge factor in being successful.

Last month at Morin Music we discussed the must-haves to getting set up for success in home practice routines. In part one of this month’s articles we will begin with 2 important factors that lay the foundation for motivation in home practicing.

When we want to create long-term motivation in our young students, we focus on increasing their feelings of intrinsic (internal) motivation as opposed to those of extrinsic (external). We aim to make the act of practicing a reward in itself, instead of trying to motivate with anything else outside of this.

Getting started:

1. Never ‘Pay’ for Practicing

It seems logical to think that to offer a reward outside of the practice itself may add some positive incentive, however most often it only does the opposite.  When we offer a ‘prize’ for practicing, among other things it sends the message that practicing is a chore. The success of using material rewards to practice has an extremely low success rate – partly because the ‘prize’ will inevitably need to increase in order for this to remain effective, and also because this sends the message that there is no reward to be found in the practice itself.

Material ‘prizes’ are a very obvious way of offering payment for practicing, however there are other less noticeable ways that these “payments” can be made that send this same message.

Having a reward such as playing a video game or another activity as a reward after practicing still sends the message that the practicing is not enjoyable. Of course still enjoy these other activities, but try not to attach them as a reward for them ‘enduring’ their home practice.  If this is a habit that you are already into, it can often be quite easy to adjust this thinking  just by changing the language being used.

Use ‘comparison-shopping’ to make the practicing a reward in itself. If your child compares practicing the piano to going to the playground on a nice day, the piano will likely seem like the work rather than the play. Instead, incorporate ‘options’ in your household that work well for your family that also position their practicing as the fun. Perhaps they may have the option of washing dishes after dinner or working on their new song. They can help to shovel the walks this winter or stay inside to figure out the counting in their new piece.  Find what works well, but aim to position the practicing as the fun and enjoyable reward itself.

If your child is working through challenges and you are looking for ways to provide incentive for them to reach their practice goals, have all of their rewards based in their music – such as a fun duet or concert at the end of their practice, learning a new piece of music, learning a pop song they enjoy on the radio, etc. There are many creative ways that you can do this, but try to keep all ‘rewards’ attached to their music itself, and their feelings of accomplishment at the instrument.

2. Keep Practices Goal-Oriented

There will most likely be a time guideline that your teacher has assigned for the amount of home practice required to reach their goals. This amount of time is important, however it is not critical to emphasize this number of minutes each day to your child.

If practicing only to fulfill a certain number of minutes as opposed to working towards specific goals, the time not only passes more slowly but practicing becomes much less intentional. Without goals, their session will likely be filled with mindless practicing which is much less rewarding.  Also if they were not working towards any goal to begin with, they will be left without any feeling of accomplishment when they complete their work.

Again, this concept can be added with only a minor adjustment to language and routine.  Instead of just having your child “practice for 30 minutes”, rather help them to choose a portion of their homework assignment that you feel may take approximately this amount of time. If reaching their goal ends up taking a little more or less than their recommended time that is okay! Not to worry if there are some practices that are a few minutes short, you will know that they have been productive, and practicing in this way will also help them to feel much more motivated choosing a new goal in their next session.

Try your best to focus on these two key points this month as we lay the groundwork for long-term practice motivation! Let us know what works for you and also where your challenges lie in the comments below, and stay tuned for part 2 when we will discuss effective ways that you can motivate in the practice sessions themselves.

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