5 Biggest Challenges When Teaching Piano To Preschoolers

5 Biggest Challenges Teaching Preschoolers

Teaching preschoolers brings it owns joys and challenges.  The hugs are a-mazing!  And, the smiles are the best kind of infectious.  But, there are certain behaviours that can leave teachers wondering what happened at the end of lesson.  And, perhaps needing a big nap.

We have twin boys and oh how I remember how exhausting it could be some days to just keep up with them.  Especially if I didn’t have a way to redirect all that energy.  Thankfully all that experience helped immensely when it came time for me to add preschoolers to my studio!

5 Signs It’s Not Utopia

These beginner students can be a wonderful addition to any piano studio and can keep a playful teaching approach. However, teaching preschoolers isn’t always a utopia of stuffies and hugs.  However, disruptive behaviours tend to fall into 5 categories.  Fortunately each has its own fix!

The Chatterbox:

My boys LOVE to talk.  The only things that seem to stop them are screen time, eating food, and burning off energy.  While teaching preschoolers, I go with option 3 for lesson time.

The best activities for a chatterbox are ones that get them singing (so they can still use their voice) while getting them moving.

  • My absolute favourite is singing “Head and Shoulder, Knees and Toes” in every increasing tempos until we both collapse in giggles.  How fast can you go?
  • My next favourite is moving to a listening activity.
    • Tip toe as you listen to Hayden’s “Surprise Symphony” and jump when you are caught at the end.  (One lovely grandma let us ‘sneak up’ on her during lesson and ‘caught’ us at the end.)
    • Practice dynamics to Saint Saen’s “Carnival of the Animals: Kangaroos”.  Jump up as high as you can for loud sounds and crouch low for quiet sounds.  Side benefit:  You get a great leg workout as you rise for the crescendos and sink low for the diminuendos!

Wanderlust Child:

Teaching these preschoolers is an exercise in patience.  This child LOVES to get into everything, regardless of whether it has anything to do with lesson.  While we do our best to set clearly defined physical boundaries, they often go over this child’s head.

Sometimes this can be a power play, more often it is just curiosity.  So, peaking the student’s curiosity elsewhere redirects them back to where you want.  “Oh!  I wonder what is over here?  Let’s find out together!”  Moving around the various areas of the studio over the course of the lesson or first few weeks can help take out the ‘newness’ of the location.

5-Second Attention Span:

This is probably one of the most challenging times in teaching preschoolers and often leads to wanderlust.  Spending a short period of time (up to 5 minutes) and switching the location of each activity tends to do the trick most of the time.  However, my favourite two tricks I use during lesson are:

  • Take away the piano bench.  Having the student stand at the piano lets them move freely from various areas and lets the student make micro movements without doing the bench scoot.
  • Give them a specific physical activity for any downtime.  Letting the student decide what to do while you quickly write out practice notes is a recipe for disaster.  The result will just be an action you don’t want happening.  My favourites are:
    • Jumping jacks (or hopping in place)
    • Dancing to music I have playing
    • Running laps (with parent permission and if there is space available):  On the days when a particular student forgot to take his medication, he would run 3 circuits while I quickly wrote down his practice notes.  His Mom loved the idea because he was engaged and was more focused when he sat down again.

Painfully Shy:

Sometimes while teaching preschoolers, students take awhile to warm up to someone new and become highly anxious if their parent is not immediately available.  I invite the parent to stay in the room for the first few lessons as “we all get to know each other”.  Don’t worry if the student seems less engaged than your more extroverted students.  This is completely normal and tends to lessen over time.

My top tips to help these students open up are:

  • Get down to the student’s level (physically) as much as possible.  It can be scary seeing this tall stranger looking down on them.
  • Share things about yourself that the student can relate to or will find funny.  I tend to tell girls about my sons and finish off with, “Aren’t boys so weird?”  This tends to get them giggling.
  • Listen for clues during the lesson.  It might be as small as wanting to stay on an activity for a bit longer or as big as an actual comment (“I drew a rainbow today.” while you are practicing floating your hand up each octave.)
  • Choose activities that may be a bit more subdued (energy-wise) and don’t require a lot of talking.  It gives the student a chance to get used to you without being bombarded.
  • Look for and celebrate small gains … praise often and keep in mind it just takes longer for these students to feel comfortable with a new person.  Many times, they have become my chatterboxes once they completely open up.

Over-Involved Parent:

This parent tends to answer for their child, do things for them (rather than letting them try on their own) or may try to control their child’s behaviour in lesson before you have a chance to work with the child.  Their heart tends to be in the right place, but the results are less than positive for building a teacher relationship with the child.  Before taking on a student, I also interview the parent(s) to determine their willingness to work with me.  If they are comfortable with my approach and are ready to let me handle lesson time, we will probably be a good fit.

For these parents, I make sure to:

  • Set clearly defined roles for myself and the parent.
  • Remind them that I am helping the child prepare for having an external authority figure in a school setting.
  • Remind the parent that the child will be showing them what they did at the end of lesson.  “Imagine how proud Sally will be to show you what she has accomplished.”
  • Let them know that as a professional I have seen all these behaviours before and know how to  help their child adjust to lessons with me.  Often this has helped them relax because the onus is no longer on them.  Someone else has it covered.
  • Reassure the parent that you both have the same goal … help their child be successful in lessons.  While you have the experience, if they have concerns or you have questions both of you will communicate with each other so their child has the best experience possible.

Teaching ALL Preschoolers

Even if utopia isn’t quite there at the beginning of lessons, teaching preschoolers can be hugely rewarding.  Not only are you building your studio for the future, but preschoolers bring a unique view of the world … and lessons.

What are your favourite ways to keep preschoolers engaged throughout lesson?

If you aren’t sure if teaching preschoolers is right for you or want ideas on how to format lessons, I’ve got you covered.  Click below to find out answers for the top 4 questions teachers ask before teaching preschoolers!

Click here to have your preschooler teaching questions answered!

NOTE: This article was originally published on February 14, 2019. It has since been updated with new and engaging ideas for your studio!

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