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Thread: Helping Children Pay Attention

  1. #1
    darkened dreams Array labyrinthine's Avatar
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    Apr 2007
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    Default Helping Children Pay Attention

    I know we have a number of parents and teachers on this forum. I have an important question for you.

    I need to learn a number of effective strategies to get children to pay attention during their piano lessons with me. Knowing that I need to be more forceful or whatever isn't enough because it doesn't come naturally. I need specific things to say and do that I can draw from. Also, new perspectives on it entirely are appreciated. The children are usually happy, sometimes a little excited to be at the lesson, but can get kind of naughty. There are two categories of issues:

    The first is with very young children (one is still three about to turn four) who simply cannot listen, but are just wiggly and jabbery. This has at times concluded with someone's feet sticking straight up in the air and they weren't mine. Sometimes these kids needed a snack, or it was too late in the day, etc.

    The second group are elementary aged-children who want to show they can do it all by themselves rather than following instructions. I don't have trouble letting them do this, and my issue is that I let them interrupt me to do it too often. One little boy who idolizes his father who is in the military was completely beside himself the day his father brought him to the lesson. We got through part of the middle section of "Indiana Jones" on the piano, but he couldn't focus. I also have a first or second grade girl who is illegally cute, but also quite naughty. She wants to spend the whole lessons digging around in the music supplies to find fun stuff to play with instead of playing the piano. I'm also not sure of this, but I think she pretends to be confused about playing a song and makes mistakes as a funny game for attention. I don't want to make the mistake of assuming that it is a game if she is actually confused, which she sometimes is.

    As a person, it is not natural for me to tell people what to do. I have tried to take a firmer approach to get their attention. I do have lots of fun games we take a break away from the piano to play, we also tell stories at the piano with sound effects. For their notereading and other tasks, I make sure they have sticker books and materials that make it more interesting and fun. I know that my presence is non-threatening which has some advantages for this kind of thing because the children feel comfortable, but I also am not as forceful as I should be. Some of the parents have said that the child is constantly testing boundaries at home as well. I know it isn't entirely me that generates the issue, but it is me who needs to solve it in this context.

    I look forward to reading your ideas and experiences.
    The first man to raise a fist is the man who's run out of ideas. H.G. WELLS
    The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. FEYNMAN

    If this is monkey pee, you're on your own.SCULLY

  2. #2
    Senior Member Array norepinephrine's Avatar
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    Jun 2008


    I am probably not the best person to give advice. As a matter of fact, when working with youth I am often the one leading them off track with a random observation. Chaos ensues.

    That said, I have worked with youth. Have you set benchmarks? Used the sandwich technique - "This was good, you could could work on that, but that part was excellent." Often, that makes them focus on the part that wasn't so great. But they have to want it - and for each child it's a different carrot.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Array ThatsWhatHeSaid's Avatar
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    May 2007


    I have some experience working with kids. I think having a "serious face" really helps. You don't have to be a mean disciplinarian, but now and then, you need to be firm. When the kids totally lose focus and are really testing you playing games and being disobedient, that would be a good time to use a word in a very commanding tone and be very firm and direct. It doesn't matter if it doesn't feel natural to you at first. You'll get the hang of it. For instance "Okay, TIME OUT. That is NOT how we act during piano lessons. It's time to sit down and practice [whatever]." If (when) the kid disobeys you again, just repeat the same line, but in a more serious tone without shifting your eye gaze. They'll probably be a little worried and unsure of how to act, so tell them exactly what to do next and even start doing it with them. You can say something like "lets try playing [whatever] together. Ready?" That'll keep things flowing and smooth, and it'll let them know that you're still cool with them.

    The other idea would be to structure the lesson so the end has some kind of reward, with the reward being something related to practice. Like, if they practice their scales at first, then later they can play their favorite song, or they can play it together with you, or maybe they can solo. Heh. If they're really testing you and misbehaving, though, I would not start with this, because they'll likely to just shut down altogether.

    A third thing, if they get REALLY REALLY out of control, I would just ask them to sit in a chair somewhere off to side until they're ready to start working again. You can photocopy some pages from some beginner piano workbooks and have them complete the worksheets (which are probably hella boring) until they're ready to behave again.

    Just some thoughts.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Array Works's Avatar
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    May 2008


    I started reading your topic and thought, "Oh, I'm a teacher. I can offer some advice." Then I saw the age range and subject matter and realized I have no experience with either. I'm also not a parent. Anyway, here's my observation.

    This could be addressed by not letting take charge of the lesson:

    The second group are elementary aged-children who want to show they can do it all by themselves rather than following instructions. I don't have trouble letting them do this, and my issue is that I let them interrupt me to do it too often.
    In general, structure works better the younger the kids are.

    Also, the sooner you can figure out the motivations for your students behaviors, the better you'll be able to react to them. You might have to take a shot at possibly being wrong instead of always assuming the best.

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