keeping students engaged to last lesson

June.  The weather is perfect for dinners on the patio, a fantastic fruity drink in hand, kids running around with their friends not to be seen for hours, visiting with friends in the extended evenings & relaxing in the sun (or shade, if you burn like I do).  But, keeping students engaged to last lesson can be challenge.

Or, perhaps your June looks a little more like our home …

Just an average day in June

Mornings are hectic because

  • Kidlets don’t want to get up since the sun kept them up way too late.
  • The garden & lawn needs to be watered BEFORE school so the water actually gets to the soil (instead of just evaporating into air).
  • The kidlets have forgotten that they have had morning chores all year & start crying because “It’s just SO unfair!!!!!!”
  • While you scramble to make sure everyone (including you) actually gets breakfast & has everything needed for school/work.

Afternoons are hectic because

  • The kidlets don’t want to leave the school playground even though mommy (or daddy) desperately needs to get to work & playing by the house just won’t do even though all their friends are there.
  • Once you get home the kidlets decide they are tired & don’t want to go outside but then are jumping all over the furniture & fighting with each other.
  • Perhaps the kidlets are reminded (because of all of the above) that on certain days loving is a choice … Can they guess which it is right now?

Evenings are hectic because

  • It’s like herding kittens in a room full of rocking chairs trying to get the kidlets to complete their homework since they are having fun with their friends (since you finally got them outside)
  • The relaxing on the deck didn’t happen & visiting with friends is WAY down the road
  • Plus, the sun stays up past bedtime keeping everyone up to start the vicious cycle over again in the morning.

Need a break?

This is the month I tend to tell my husband  that I just need ONE day of not needing to deal with someone else’s drama or emergencies. A week would be fabulous, but that just feels too greedy & impossible at the moment.  And, that doesn’t include keeping students engaged to last lesson.

And, as much as I would like to think it will just be a couple of days … I’ve seen this before.  June is a crazy month for families with kids birthday parties, end of year concerts, outdoor sports, camping every weekend you can get away, planting/maintaining the garden, end of year projects the kidlets need to complete or just HAVE to show you (as you are heading out the door because that’s the only time to get mom/dad’s attention).  The kids are ready to be done school, the parents want the image in their mind of relaxing in the evening to actually match reality, & everyone is just a bit more tired than usual.

Getting balance in your studio (course)

Signs your students (& their families) are done:

  • You arrive at their home for lesson &:
    • The schedule of who goes in which order for lessons has completely dissolved into tears all around.
    • Piano books are in the most interesting places …. just not by the piano.
    • Before you have even taken off your shoes, mom or dad apologizes for the kids being so tired/cranky/out of sorts … parent may or may not be close to tears depending on the day.
    • The kids don’t want to come in from outside, even though they normally love piano lessons.
  • Your students practice has gone WAY down from normal.
  • Students want to give up on their pieces much quicker … or, progress slows down substantially.
  • Student attention spans remind you of Dog from the movie “Up” … any possible noise or peripheral image causes their head to swivel.
  • You probably will begin to rue hearing basketballs bouncing, lawn mowers going, & kids running past the house, & all the sounds that bring out the “SQUIRREL!” phenomenon in your students. (see above)

Signs YOU are done:

  • Tempted to use repetition as a punishment, not as a corrective tool
    • punishment: tell student to repeat without anyone bothering to articulate what needs to change, assigning an entire section of a song for repetition (8+ measures)
    • corrective tool:  asking questions to guide student each repetition on how to improve, making sections small enough for quick success.
  • Half-heartedly listening to what is going on in your student’s life
  • Lowering your standards on a song, just to get it done & out of your life … I mean, your student’s life.
  • Hearing yourself move from positive reinforcement to finding something negative to comment on.
  • Actively focusing on NOT participating in the “SQUIRREL!” phenomenon … or, perhaps you’ve given up.
  • Ending the day tired, but not in a good way.
  • Dreading teaching that day … or week, or month.

Something HAS to change!

June will always be a crazy month for families in your studio.  There is nothing we can do to change that.  But, there are ways to make piano lessons more enjoyable for EVERYONE.

  • Greet students & their families with a smile & an understanding comment if they tell you things didn’t go well that day or week.  Be the positivity they need.
    • If you don’t feel all that happy or understanding, fake it until you make it!
  • Change up the format of lessons. Do you always do things in the same order?  Add in a new activity or change the order.
    • In 2 weeks, I’ll be sharing a list of activities my students LOVE to do outside …. as we review all sorts of theory concepts. Shhh!  Don’t tell them they are actually (gasp) working & learning!
  • Reduce the time you spend on each song/activity. The “SQUIRREL” phenomenon is here to stay, so work with your student’s short attention span by spending no more than 5 minutes on each activity or song.  You can always come back to something later, just like during interleaved practice.
  • Use humour often.  My students are quite familiar with Dog from “Up” … regardless of whether they have seen the movie or not.  When they lose attention for a moment, saying “SQUIRREL!” gets a giggle & works as a gentle reminder that their focus needs to return to lesson.

Reduce your expectations, not your standards

This month is still a busy month in our studio, but all activities & challenges are about winding down for the summer.  Student have a minimum standard to reach before a song is considered mastered.  But keeping students engaged to last lesson is about a variety of activities that encourage students to engage in their learning in a different way.

  • Student-led conferences:  Students plan these & I bring games/manipulative they can use.  Great for reviewing & celebrating what has been accomplished, plus reminding parents how they just can’t live without you!  

Learn more about student-led conferences

  • Recital review:  You can use these fun MAD Libs,  as well as take a look at the wonderful comment cards students received from the audience.
  • Finishing up compositions:  We have used worksheets, dice, & more to compose.  Our favourite method was improvising with chord progressions.  Once the songs are ready for notating, they get entered in Noteflight. Each year is an adventure with  the kids having a blast & engaged in creating.  Plus, it’s been so easy to incorporate all sorts of theory they would have snored through otherwise!
  • Getting SMART with their music:  Forget about having students learn new repertoire if their focus is totally shot.  Why not have fun with songs they have already learnt?
    • Students can choose a review song to get SMART with this month.  They earn points for each change they make to the music & are able to explain. (i.e. played opposite dynamics, changed the rhythm, played it somewhere else on the keyboard, etc.)

Group Lesson Week!

This is an annual favourite in the studio.  It’s a fun way to end out the school year while still providing valuable learning for students right up to the last lesson!  The ideas here are endless … games-palooza, performance party, outdoor activities, body movement activities, anything goes!

Group Lessons Outside

Keeping the excitement going until the very last lesson:

Perhaps that dream of relaxing on the deck with a fruity drink in hand may not be happening quite yet.  Yet, keeping students engaged to last lesson is possible!  Let go of the parts that can’t be controlled & be the positive influence on your students (& their families) they need right now.

Perhaps there is an activity or resource you wanted to try out & just didn’t have the time.  NOW is perfect!  Students are eager for something out of the ordinary.  Parents will LOVE hearing their kid(s) having fun in lesson.  And, you will get to try something out without a huge commitment.  If it goes well, awesome!  If not, have a laugh with your student & move onto something else.  After all, isn’t that what we love best about summer?  The laid back, try something new, & relaxed expectations mindset.

How are keeping students engaged to last lesson?  I would love to read your comments below!

Have a great weekend!

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