This is my son, age 5, practicing cello by Lake Michigan, a few blocks from our home. What I love about this picture is not that it looks like he’s got some mad skills (full disclosure: he’s playing "Hot Cross Buns", not Bach, and he’s not about to fall into the lake, though it kind of looks that way). This picture reminds me how invigorating this experience was for him, and to keep thinking outside the box when it comes to engaging in learning and practicing.
My son is in his second year of cello, and even though he’s only 5, his teacher is passionate about cello and expects her students to practice daily. He’s generally cool with that, except when he’s not, which is why my husband had the idea to take him to the lakefront for practice one Sunday afternoon. I gave an uncertain, “sure…I guess”, thinking it wouldn't go well. 'He’ll be too distracted', I thought, 'he won’t be able to focus'. And, ‘there’s a strong likelihood he’s going to toss his bow into the lake to see if it will float…’
Well, boo on me because he loved playing in a new environment! His cello sounded different outside, he was able to look at the water and feel the wind on his face as he played, and playing somewhere different was exciting for him. On the way home he said, “That was really fun!”
This isn't something we do now for every practice, but it was a nice reminder that working at something can be a reward in itself, rather than getting into a routine of rushing through work to get a reward. As I learned long long ago back in Montessori school, the joy of learning should be in the doing, in the process. I know it won’t always be that easy, but at least we can set a foundation of joyful learning now that will hopefully carry on.
Here are some lists of tips I found from around the web for making practice and homework more engaging. Please share any ideas below!
- NPR Music blog post, "Getting Kids to Practice without Tears". This is a nice article with some interesting games and techniques to make music practice more fun. One of my favorite tips was in the comments section: A parent said they keep their daughter’s violin and bow out of the case and in a place where she can access it. The idea being she can pick it up and play when she feels compelled to, rather than only during “practice time”. This seems like such an empowering idea for a budding musician.
- This list, How to Make Practice Fun, has some great tips, such as playing the same song slow, medium, and fast, playing outdoors, and encouraging music students to make up a song on their instrument. I also love the tip of taking children to concerts so they can hear their instruments in action. We took our son to see Yo Yo Ma play in the Goat Rodeo Sessions this summer, and it was inspiring for him to see and hear his instrument do that.
- There are a lot of fun ideas on this list, 75 Fun Ways to Practice and Learn Spelling Words, and what I really like is that many of these ideas can be adapted to learning many different things.
- This list, 9 Great Homework Habits that Work, by Katherine Lee, has more 'why do I never think of great ideas like this' type tips. I especially like #5-#7, which include ideas such as integrating your child’s toys and games into homework problems, and tying homework concepts into everyday life scenarios to make abstract concepts more relatable, and thus easier for young minds to digest.
- Work alongside your child. A mom friend recently told me how she and her 8-year old daughter head to Starbucks on Wednesday afternoons to “work together”. The mom brings her laptop and her daughter brings her homework. They order “fancy drinks” and spend an hour or two working. Her daughter loves this routine because she feels like she’s bringing her school work into a grown up setting. I remember when my mom was in grad school, I would sometimes bring my homework to the university library while she did research. It was fun working alongside college students and lent some gravitas to my algebra.
- 8 Ways to Make Practicing Math Facts More Fun focuses on clever ways to make math practice more hands-on and engaging for young learners
Got any ideas for making homework or practice more fun? Share them in the comments!