Are any of the little violins in your house dotted with dried tear stains? I openly confess before everyone that ours are! Whether they are tears of frustration with themselves, frustration with their music, or frustration with you for making them practice, tears will happen at some point. Unless puddles of water are forming inside the violin, don't worry occasional tears are normal. Even though it's normal doesn't mean we can't try to stop the tides from happening.
Children like to be engaged, challenged, and even a little distracted. Parent's also like their children to be engaged, challenged, but definitely not distracted. Good thing both parties can have their cake and eat it too! When a parent or music teacher implements fun practice ideas, both the student and the mentor come out as winners. Fun practice games keep little musicians engaged and challenged AND keeps them focused and on task while letting them feel distracted (shhhh don't tell your students).
Here are my (and my kiddos) latest favorites.
1. Engaged Minds Puzzle Over Music.
This idea happened upon me one day when I had a daughter that wanted to do puzzles instead of her practicing. I realized that it would be a power struggle or a positive learning moment depending on how I reacted. So, we combined the two and had a fun productive practice session. Every time she played a passage we both put a piece in her 100 piece puzzle. We would race to see who could find a piece first which helped to cut down on her dragging her feet in between practicing. Before we knew it she had practiced many selections multiple times and the puzzle was done. Plus we all know the puzzles make kids smarter, and music makes kids smarter, so they 'fit together perfectly'.
2. The Quarter Challenge
Have you ever had a child that just had a hard time sitting still or standing in place for long enough to finish their practicing? This idea will challenge them to do just that. Simply place a quarter under their foot (if standing) or under their behind (if sitting). Set the amount of time that you know will be a slight challenge for them and if they don't get off that quarter until the timer beeps then they get to keep the quarter. Pennies also work great for little students who have no concept of money, but I'm pretty sure my 10 year old is past the point of doing anything for a penny. Obviously when little kids or siblings are around, you must be super careful about using small coins.
3. Tower of Distraction. (Creating focus through diversions)
This idea can be implemented several ways. First using Jenga or Tumbling Tower blocks, find a section that needs learning or perfecting. The parent and student take a turn taking out blocks after the student plays through the section. The second option involves back and forth play between a musically skilled parent or teacher and the student. For example in my home, I will play through the section on either my violin or the piano while my violinist listens...then I take my turn pulling a block out. Then my little violinist plays through the same section while I listen before she takes a turn with the Jenga game. I love the back and forth for the student listening and then playing. When the tower is knocked over you're done practicing that particular passage.
This game could be really fun played in the orchestra setting either as a large orchestra group or broken up into smaller groups and even stand partners.
If your kid struggles during practice time, try some of these ideas before you jump to the 'I can't take this anymore...."just quit then!"' solution. Making practice time fun has very positive short term and long term benefits. Plus many of these ideas implemented will help foster bonding time between parent and child as you laugh, play, and practice together.