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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Brink

3 Ways to Support Your Child's Self-Directed Learning in Music and Beyond

One of the things I love most about teaching music lessons is that not only does it have the potential to create a lifetime-long passion, but it also is a great place to learn how to learn things. Music is a non-invasive activity that allows children to practice things like self-correction, recovery from mistakes, performing under pressure, planning and following through on a practice routine, and learning how to break something down into pieces to learn step by step.

So...we all understand there's a science behind the process of learning, but how do you explain cognition to a six year old? Well, first of all, instead of trying to explain it to them, just give them opportunities to apply it. Here are a few essential tips:

Tip #1: Prepare the physical environment where they will practice their self-directed learning.

It's easier to remove barriers to entry than it is to increase motivation. So first, consider what things in your child's physical environment are either getting in the way of their learning, or making it harder to do. These can be simple, but important, such as always having a cup of sharpened pencils nearby, their keyboard or guitar already plugged in or set up, and a special spot that their sheet music always goes. Their instrument and supplies should be set up in a way that makes it very, very easy to get going. It's why I tell my students to leave their guitar out instead of putting it in a case. Just the visual reminder of seeing their guitar regularly will encourage them to play more. Invite your child to participate with you to set up the learning space. If they have some say in how they want it organized, you will be supporting them to take ownership of the process. Even if it's just asking, "Where do you think the pencil cup should go so that you can reach it easily?". Then not only do they get to decide where it goes, they get to think about why it should go there.

Tip #2: Work together with your child to make their practice plan.

One thing that helps students take ownership of their learning is to actively participate in creating their practice plan as opposed to having someone tell them exactly what to do. In lessons with my students, I like to have them make some of the decisions about which songs they will practice, or write down the number of times they plan to practice it. You can also support this at home--ask them to pick which five days they will practice this week, and then help them remember.

Here are a few ideas that have worked well for some of my students. Remember to involve them in creating the plan!

  • Use of timers for 10 or 15 minute practices. Or even a 5 minute timer for mini-practices! That may not sound like very long, but just helping your child get started by taking small steps toward doing longer practices will help them nurture their love for music and see that once you start playing music, it can be hard to stop!

  • Dividing the practice time up into different types of activities. For example, maybe they always practice their music book songs first, then work on their sheet music, and then finish with something of their choice-- more book or sheet music practice, improvisation, looking up a YouTube tutorial, or changing the title and words to one of their book songs.

  • Make a numbered sheet saying which order and, if it helps them, for how long they will do each activity -- 1. Practice Music Books (5 minutes) 2. Practice Sheet Music (5 minutes) 3. Your Choice (5 minutes). Of course, this can be more specific (warm-ups, scales, metronome, music theory, etc), tailored to what is appropriate for their age and experience level.

Tip #3: Check in with your child about their learning process on a regular basis.

This doesn't have to look like "did you practice today?". You can ask your child to show you what they've been working on. And I don't mean just playing it for you--I mean, let your child be the teacher. Ask them questions about how to do what they do. It will give them a sense of pride to show an adult what to do, and is another way to practice helping them take ownership of their knowledge.

So there you have it! Getting a child to become a master of their own learning process requires that they get to help in its creation. The physical environment should be set up with intention, they should have a practice plan they help create, and regular check-ins to create a world that is centered around self-directed learning for music and many other things.



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