Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Tips for Teaching Our Littlest Learners

Little Learner

Little Learners love to have fun!

When I was five, I wanted piano lessons in the worst way. After all, my parents had just bought us a shiny, new spinnet that some college students were pedaling off the back of a truck from a music store surplus. And my big sister was already signed up to take piano lessons of her own. Trouble was, not too many teachers in my town wanted to take on a squirmy, scrawny, little, five year old. But eventually my sister’s teacher gave in, and I was thrilled to get my very own piano lessons.

I don’t remember much about each lesson, but I do remember that gorgeous baby grand piano, pristine white carpet, the arthritic cat, and that my teacher seemed really, really, old. (She probably wasn’t!) I also remember scales and fingerings written in a little manuscript book and wanting so badly to be better than my sister.

Thirty years later, I’ve happily worked with a variety of piano teachers, music professors, and had the privilege to teach many piano students of my own. Given my early beginnings, I’ve always been sympathetic to the plight of the younger beginner. But I have to admit that it wasn’t until I had my own child that I really began to understand the extra needs of a small child at the piano. Surprisingly, watching hours of children’s television shows with my son has opened my eyes to see how our little ones need to learn. Here’s some things I learned from my son’s favorite t.v. shows:

Dora the Explorer: First, next, last. Dora goes on frequent adventures. Typically, each adventure is broken down into 3 parts, which the characters review, review, and review in every show. They may say, “First the mountain, next the rainbow, last, the forest.” The watchers look forward to what’s coming next! Understanding the sequence of things helps little learners know what is going to happen next. Knowing what to expect helps them concentrate on what’s going on now. It also helps to break up the lesson into smaller parts. Explain to them, “First, review. Next, a music game. Last, learn a new song.” Remind them several times throughout the lesson so they remember what comes next. These cues help children to transition between activities more easily.

Blues Clues: Wait time. I used to think Blue’s Clues was a slow moving show. But in reality, it’s not the activity that’s slow, it’s the wait time in between questions. The characters on the show are searching for clues to solve a mystery. They ask a question of it’s watchers, and then…..they wait. A very long time. This give lots of room for the little ones watching to think through the question and come up with an answer of their own. Our tiny players need extra time to mentally process what’s going on. When asking questions, give plenty of space for them to answer before jumping in to teach them. They need time to process the question, think of the answer, and then process how to say the answer. Give them lots of space and it will help them learn and remember the information much better.

Yo Gabba Gabba: Wiggle Time. I have to admit that I don’t totally understand Yo Gabba Gabba. Maybe you have to be a child to grasp it, but my little guy loves it. The thing I love about it is the section where they all “Get the wiggles out!” The characters sing a song and the kids get to wiggle! It’s great for the littlest learners to take a break and get off the bench for a little wiggle time. You can play a music game, or even just play a kids song and stomp or clap to the beat. Get in some giggles, too, and they’ll really enjoy their lesson. They’ll be better able to concentrate for the rest of the lesson after a quick change of pace.

Oso: Three special steps. Special Agent Oso, the Unique Stuffed Bear, swoops in to help small children with big problems. You know, problems such as how to make the bed, brush their teeth, or clean up their room. The beauty of Oso is that he breaks everything down into ‘three special steps.’ Younger students can’t always process multiple step directions, so it may help to break concepts down into more manageable pieces. They’ll feel more successful, and so will you!

Your young students aren’t going to remember each and every lesson, but they will remember the feeling of accomplishment that comes with a well-learned lesson. They’ll also feel more connected to you when you relate to them on their level – whether it be through Dora, Oso, or a whole bunch of giggles. It’s those little things that help our younger learners feel like a great big success.

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  1. yiyiku

    This is a great post! I love these tips, and associating them with the TV shows is awesome! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Steve

    Outstanding article, Amanda!

    I made an age exception and have a young student who will benefit from these techniques. What a gift we have to share with music!


  3. Amanda Furbeck

    Thanks, yiyiku! I’m glad you enjoyed it. =)

  4. Amanda Furbeck

    Thank you, Steve! I love the exuberance of our younger students. Every age certainly comes with teaching challenges, but the rewards are even greater. =)

  5. Susan Duschatko

    I’ve been using Skype to teach a student who is gone for the summer. It’s been going very well. I think it can truly be an invaluable tool! Susan

  6. Amanda Furbeck

    Susan – do you have any suggestions for using Skype to teach?

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