Parents frequently ask me how to get their kids to spend more time playing their instruments. And I have good news! I think there are a lot of things parents can do to support their children's musical development and encourage them to play more. Here are a few of my top tips for parents of elementary school-aged children:
1- Have Reasonable Expectations
Now that I'm a grown-up, a day feels so short. But I remember how long a day felt as a kid. Even a half-hour felt like a long time! Have you noticed your child's average attention span for activities? Making music shouldn't feel like torture, so forcing your kid to sit at the piano for extended periods of time (especially after a long school day) may do more harm than good. If your child is particularly high energy or tends to switch activities after about, say, fifteen minutes, you may need to factor this in to your idea of how much he/she should be practicing on any given day.
2- Practice Time Shouldn't Feel Like Punishment
Making music is much more fun when it's a social experience, but most music is not taught to be played with other people (this is one of the things I love most about the ukulele—it's perfect for playing and sharing with others!). Instead, most kids get sent off to a separate room to practice their instruments on their own. Do you realize how lonely that feels? Kids this age usually want to be near their parents, so try to make practice time a special time for the two of you. Resist the urge to send an email or wash dishes, and give your kid your attention. Then, find things to praise. Do NOT go into teacher mode, offering constructive feedback! Most kids thrive on positive reinforcement, so your advice— no matter how well-intentioned— may have the exact opposite effect of what you're looking for!
3 - Know Thy Child
Some kids are incentivized by sticker charts and rewards, some kids like when things are turned into a game, and some kids love to perform for others. But you know your child better than anyone. What's likely to motivate your kid? Experiment with different approaches, and see what clicks.
4 - Set the Example, then Follow Their Lead
If Mom or Dad is regularly engaging with an instrument at home, then making music becomes a natural part of family life. So if you play an instrument, make sure your kids see you playing (or better yet, play together)! And if you don't play an instrument, there are lots of other ways you you can incorporate music into life at home. One of my students played Rock Band (the video game) with her kids. How cute is that? You can also sing, dance, have a family jam, and listen to a variety of musical styles with your kids. What do they get excited about? How can you support their interests? As an example, my son became obsessed with orchestras when he was three. So I would show him Youtube videos of symphonies, which was a fun way for him to learn what the various instruments looked and sounded like. Then we would listen to music and chat about which instruments we heard.
Who are the music makers in your home? Do you have any tips for encouraging young musicians? Please share in the comments!