Teaching Precocious Preschoolers

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.

But, there are several things to keep in mind when deciding to offer lessons to this young group.

Benefits

  • 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

Cons

  • 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

Teaching Precocious Preschoolers

 

If you decide that the hugs outweigh the cons, then preschoolers may be a great addition to your studio.  Below are the 3 questions that I get asked the most about setting up preschool programming.

Question 1: 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 you 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 ones I am more aware of (or have taught).

Question 2: How do you price lessons AND how long are lessons?

Okay.  So, I am cheating a little here with it being two questions.  But, these two tend to go hand in hand & 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.

In terms of lesson length, 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 student 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.

Question 3:  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 so that 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.

Below is the format that I use for my preschooler programming.  Each activity is, on average, roughly 5 minutes.

  1. “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.
  2. Movement activity:  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.
  3. At the piano with something old:  We review last week’s practice.  I include lots of praise with gentle corrections when needed.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. “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 if it isn’t utopia?

Disruptive  behaviours tend to fall into 5 categories & 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, & burning off energy.  During lesson time with my preschoolers, I go with option 3.

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 & Shoulder, Knees & 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” & jump when you are caught at the end.  (One lovely grandma let us ‘sneak up’ on her during lesson & 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 & crouch low for quiet sounds.  Side benefit:  you get a great leg workout as you rise for the crescendos & sink for the diminuendos!

Wanderlust Child:

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.

While 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 & often leads to wanderlust.  Spending a short period of time (up to 5 minutes) & switching the location of each activity tend to do the trick most of the time.  However, the 2 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 & lets the student make micro movements without doing the bench scoot.
  • Give the a specific physical activity for any downtime.  Letting the student decide while you quickly write out practice notes will just result in 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 & 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 & was more focused when he sat down again.

Painfully Shy:

Some students take awhile to warm up to somTeaching Precocious Preschoolerseone new & 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 & 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 boys & 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) & don’t require a lot of talking.  It gives the student a chance to get used to you without being bombarded.
  • Look for & celebrate small gains … praise often & 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 & 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 & 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 & know how to best 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.

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.

Have a great weekend!

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2 thoughts on “Teaching Precocious Preschoolers

  1. Thanks Rosemarie for the wonderful post. This year I hope to start teaching preschoolers. I have experience teaching 4+ students but not below. Do you give them individual or group lessons?

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    1. Roshinee, I am so glad you found the information useful!
      While I teach my preschoolers one-on-one, they do join the rest of my students for our group lesson weeks. I have found that overall they do really well with the individualized attention of private lessons. Something about having the undivided attention of an adult for an extended period of time appeals to them. During my group lessons, I plan activities carefully so that I can spend more time with my littlest ones to keep them moving along.
      Best of luck setting up your preschool programming & feel free to ask any questions that might come up.

      Like

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