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!
I appreciate your perspective on teaching littles privately versus in groups . In ten years of teaching I have learned that without question I am a one on one teacher , it is just in my DNA. There is so much pressure everywhere I read to do group classes and make more money . Obviously most piano teachers need to make more money , but I am trying to figure out how to do that and remain true to my nature. I am very effective one on one and have what I deem a successful studio. I teach 30 lessons a week , some I travel to others come to me. I would like maybe 5 more students during the daytime hours. I have two teens and a husband and I am not trying to run as hard as I can as fast as I can . At 55 years old , been there, done that!!! Any suggestions ? I do have some precocious pre schoolers!
Hi Robin! You should absolutely do what works best for you. And if regular group lessons are draining, there is NO reason you should “have” to offer them. I think one of the best parts about getting older is we can try something & if it doesn’t work for us, say “no thank you”.
I offer group lessons throughout the year that all my students attend (even my littlest ones). It’s the best between both worlds. My students get the social aspect of group lessons, but I’m not doing them week in, week out. Plus, it gives me a week of prep … without calling it a holiday.
If you are looking for daytime students, contacting homeschooling organizations & preschools in your area may be your best option. It can be difficult to get “in” with the homeschooling groups on Facebook so having a community event or open house type thing with the various boards could be options. Also with the population aging, teaching seniors during the day is another great option. While I haven’t done this, you could reach out to local retirement homes that have a piano (or if you can bring in your own keyboard) to see if you could offer lessons to their residents. The lessons will probably be structured differently, but it is an option. Lastly, have you considered teaching online lessons? This is an area I’ve begun to research more about since I think it will be a good fit for my studio.
If you are looking for more income (without necessarily increasing your teaching hours), what can you add to your studio offerings that would allow you to increase your tuition? For example, the group lessons I hold regularly throughout the year, lab time & that I travel to my students homes all allow me to increase tuition from year to year. Especially as I share with my clients how my costs to provide these offerings for their children continue to increase as well.
We have tween twins so I understand what you mean about trying not to run as hard or as fast as you can! It’s been wonderful stepping back a bit so when one of my boys wants to talk … I actually have the time to hangout on the couch & just listen. It’s a juggling act to balance everything so I’m glad to read you are focused on how you teach most effectively.
Robin, I would love to hear what you decide are the best options to get those 5 daytime students & bump up your income! Can you check back in to let me know how it goes?
Thank you so much for your reply . It has taken me a bit of time to reply . I love your idea about going to retirement homes . I currently volunteer to play at different assisted living homes in my area , the residents love it 🙂
Well , in the last 2-3 weeks I have added 10 new students !!! Referrals have flowed freely . I am grateful for that for sure . It means I had to open Saturday up , so back to 6 days a week !!
Now my number goal for the holiday break is to get organized . No matter how much organizing I have done to prepare for a new semester , by the end of that semester I feel like everything is chaos !!!
I would love to know more about how other teachers manage their time , not lesson time , but personal time , including time for personal practice . Practicing keeps me somewhat sane . It is so difficult to structure my time during the day . I end up feeling like I work from the time I wake up until time to teach , then My actual job of teaching starts and then I fall into bed!! It is a good thing I enjoy my work , but by the end of the semester I am absolutely exhausted (and often sick ) ! I find work /life balance particularly difficult because I work evenings!!!
I wish you a wonderful holiday and thank you so much 🙂
Thank you so much for letting me know how things have gone since we last spoke!
Over the years, I’ve learnt that balance is a series of choices. Some days we do great & others balance is a little skewed. To learn how I’ve created the space for things important to me, check out “How to Balance Running a Creative Studio AND Having a Personal Life“
I have several preschool students that I’m teaching privately using a mishmash of techniques and programs … learning keyboard geography, rhythm, letters, stories … much of it off bench … it’s great fun and definitely takes a lot of energy but very rewarding!
Hetty, I totally agree! Each lesson is different & interesting. But sometimes you wish you get just a little bit of that energy, right?
Hi Rosemarie, I really liked this post. Do you stick to one method with pre-schoolers or offer different methods? And how do you decide which to use on a particular group?
I choose a method based on the individual student since each method offers something a bit different. Many preschoolers need a program that allows them to be active, kinaesthetically interact with the material, sing just as much as they play piano, plus require only a little reading (by either parent or teacher) & do not have a heavy writing component since they are still developing those fine motor skills. I tend to choose WunderKeys because it ticks all the above boxes. But, I’ve also used Celebration series (Royal Conservatory of Canada) or My First Piano Adventure (Faber) for students that are able to read or, in the case of the Celebration series, will do better with a streamlined look. Both options have transposition & improv built into the songs as well. This year, I am starting a new student fully on Piano Safari (I’ve done various songs & exercises from the series in the past) which also could be a great fit for the right preschool student. The little ones love the animals & great technique is built right in from the start.
Even though I choose a method that I think will suit the student, I take things I like from each program & bring them into appropriate lessons/units. I would recommend checking out the different programs so you get a sense of what each offers & then matching that up with the individual student. I’d love to hear how things work for you!
Thanks Rosemarie, I’ve just done WunderKeys so far, but I think I’ll take a look at other methods – Piano Safari in particular.
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?
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.