With only so many teaching hours available, one of the groups that has been a blessing to add to my teaching schedule has been preschoolers. In some ways, this group is like junior high students. Teachers either seem to love teaching preschoolers or loath it. In my teaching years, it was the same for junior high teachers. Thankfully, I find it invigorating being around these often precocious & energetic young ones.
The pros & cons of teaching preschoolers
There are several things to keep in mind when deciding to offer lessons to this young group.
- Opens up your morning schedule … drop your own kids off at school & welcome in the little ones.
- The possibility of transitioning these students through the rest of your programming for long-term clients.
- Different pace of lesson from the rest of your students
- Many more resources than there used to be
- Getting the best hugs
- Different pace of lesson … these little ones need a lot of energy
- Shorter attention spans
- Must rely on parental involvement for every aspect of practice
Top questions about teaching preschoolers
If you decide that the hugs outweigh the cons, then preschoolers may be a great addition to your studio. Below are the 4 questions that I get asked the most about setting up preschool programming.
What program to use?
This is by far the most common question that I receive. The quick answer is that it depends on what you want. There is a lot of variety out there & it is absolutely possible to find a program that fits your personal teaching philosophy.
Each program has a different focus, but all have many teacher supports in place with everything from manipulatives & games, music (digital/CD/sheet music), videos & more. The key is taking a look at the goals of each program to see which fits your preschoolers the best.
- Wunderkeys: Focuses on recognizing patterns through play & songs. Student songs are taught through rote & tend to be duets.
- Piano Safari: Incredibly popular program with both rote songs & ‘regular’ songs. Focus is on developing great technique from the first lesson.
- Kindermusik: I find it is most common in early childhood centres (i.e. preschools) & often is taught as a group lesson. Heavy emphasis on movement through music as a foundation for later skills.
- Musikgarten: Programming starts as early as infants with parent & child typically participating in lesson together.
- Suzuki: This program requires dedicated parents, but the benefit is that you can start with babies & use the programming all the way to advanced level materials. (The link is to a Suzuki baby studio, but will give you an idea of the approach.)
There are many other great programs, but these are the preschoolers programs I am more aware of (or have taught).
How do you price lessons?
This one almost always follow closely on the heels of question 1.
In terms of pricing, I keep my rates the same regardless of age.
Preschooler lessons tend to require more prep, at least when starting out, & require much more energy than teaching an older student. Plus, I have no desire to compete with the drop-in group lessons available as after school care. We have slightly different clientele. They are providing a service that allows children to develop a love for music while being entertained until mom or dad picks them up. I am actively working to create lifelong musicians that will continue in my studio for years. Neither is a bad goal … they are different & the pricing reflects that.
How long are lessons?
I teach 30 minute lessons to students as young as 3 or 4. Having taught 15 minutes in the past, I realized it wasn’t worth it to me. We barely had a chance to introduce a concept, let alone play with it & solidify it for home practice. Before taking on a student, I do an interview to see how well the preschooler can follow instructions. As long as they can follow instructions, are willing to learn, & the parents are on board for being involved in practice, we are a go.
How do set up your lessons?
Especially once teachers, & often parents, hear I teach 30 minute lessons to preschoolers they say it just isn’t possible. I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is possible & chance are the preschooler will be asking, “What do you mean lesson is over? We just started!”
The biggest things to remember are that children this age:
- Learn best by doing & experiencing in a play-like setting. In other words, they learn while they are playing.
- Attention spans are short which is reflected in the length & type of activities. I switch activities on average every 5 minutes & we move physical locations for each activity (piano, floor, moving around, etc).
- Be flexible in your lesson plan. Depending on what has happened to your little one before lesson, you may be throwing that lesson plan out.
Format for preschooler programming
Each activity is, on average, roughly 5 minutes.
“How was your week?”
They (probably) want to share & WILL share throughout lesson every 5 seconds. Heading this off at the pass & find out at the beginning of lesson what “I just HAD to tell you …”.
- Putting a 5 minute limit keeps the student focused & gives you important information that you can include in the lesson. For example, after finding out that a student got a new stuffie, I can say “Let’s stomp like Larry the dinosaur!” to practice hearing & feeling loud sounds.
After sitting, children this age need movement to stay focused. My favourite to cover are:
- Rhythm: Playing “Simon Says” or using whole body movement to create rhythmic patterns (i.e. step – step – jump – slide)
- Nursery rhymes or really any song with actions: The more movement you can create the better.
At the piano with something old:
We review last week’s practice. I include lots of praise with gentle corrections when needed.
Game or manipulatives away from the piano:
This is the time I tend to teach theory concepts in a multi-sensory way. Sometimes, a student is fine hanging out on the floor. Sometimes, the game needs to be active so they move around.
At the piano with something new:
I introduce a new song by …
- Playing the song for the student while they actively listen for repeating patterns.
- Finding the repeating patterns in the music together. Even though the student is probably not reading the music yet, it links together what they are hearing to what is seen.
- Working on small sections (1-2 measure long) by having the student look & listen, THEN copy what I have played. We only go as far as a student can successfully play on their own. Sometimes that is 1 measure. Sometimes it’s the whole song.
“Let’s show off for mommy or daddy!”:
I guide parents through the week’s practice expectations by having the student show off or quickly “teach” a concept to the parent. I also use this time to praise the student’s achievements in lesson & remind a student if there was something they needed to work on during the week. (i.e. focus on playing through the whole song before starting to talk about something completely unrelated.)
What are your favourite preschool programming activities?
This group can be so much fun to teach & with all the programming options there is always a new way to teach concepts.
I would love to hear YOUR favourite activity or way of teaching preschoolers. Please leave your comments below.
And if teaching preschoolers has been a challenge, click below to learn about the most common preschooler challenges AND how to solve them!