In many ways, the idea of practicing goes against what we believe about talent, which is that it’s innate. I taught music lessons while drafting my latest novel, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky—and learned that children often equate having to practice with being bad at an activity. I wrote The Junction, in part, to depict a young artist getting better over time … with practice. After all, talent only takes a student so far, and then discipline and the ability to work hard take over. So what can a parent do to encourage a child to master and love the art of practicing? Try these six tricks and watch as your child reaps the benefits!
If the activity you’d like your child to practice is tied to a weekly lesson (like playing a musical instrument), ask her to show you what they learned as soon as you get home. This reinforces the concepts they’ve been introduced to and gets them over the hump of starting a new week’s lesson.
2. Make it enticing.
If you want your child to practice reading, let him read what he’s attracted to—even comic books. If you want him to take up an instrument, let him tell you which he’d like to try—and be flexible. So much of learning what we love is trial and error; if your child decides he wants to switch instruments or sports, try to find a way to accommodate it.
3. Reward them appropriately.
Recognize the effort your child makes. Consistent practicing can be rewarded with fun stickers, new notebooks, cool guitar picks, etc.
4. It’s not about the length of time, but daily exposure.
It may not seem like much can be accomplished with 10 minutes of practice, but early on, practice is mostly about developing a routine. Let your child determine the length of practice time; getting in the habit of practicing each day is much more important than practicing for hours on end.
5. Follow your child’s lead.
You know your child best; if she’s extroverted, be sure to include frequent mini-“recitals” or showcases for friends and family. If she’s shy, be sure to compliment her in quieter ways—at the dinner table, or in the car on the way to school, telling her how much you enjoy her music, for example.
6. Record the progress.
No matter how shy your child is, make an effort to get a visual recording (perhaps on your phone). Record him practicing layups or a song or reading aloud. Two or three months down the road, record him again, and play both clips for him so he can see the progress he’s making.
Getting better is addictive—once children see that practice really is making a difference, they’ll only want to practice more. Short daily sessions will lead to longer, more productive practice times. Practice not only teaches young students the specifics of learning an instrument, sport, etc., but also teaches children how to put in the work, how to master concepts and improve—skills that will be essential to success in any field throughout their lives.
Holly Schindler (www.hollyschindler.com) is a former music teacher and the author of two young adult novels, A Blue So Dark and Playing Hurt. Her first middle-grade novel, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, was released on February 6, 2014.