Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Getting kids to practice

I give a fair number of speeches these days. But even though I have given the same speech many, many times, I always practice beforehand. I've realized that part of being a polished public speaker is knowing your material so well that you can use your extra brain power to read the audience, riff off things they say, move faster through material if you see their attention lagging, etc. This makes getting up in front of a big group of people a fairly easy thing to do. And that makes speaking a lot more fun.

I also know that practicing is a discipline I've come to somewhat later in life. I played the piano for years, but I never really wanted to devote large amounts of time to practice. I run, but I'm still not into doing the drills I know would make me faster. I do writing drills of sorts -- kind of what I consider my other blog -- and I can see my first drafts getting faster over time. So I know it works. I also know it's hard to embrace.

And so I've been trying to figure out how to convey this idea to my son (who just turned 6 last week). We aren't doing any sports or music right now that would require a practice schedule. But his kindergarten class is putting on a play. He has a few lines and a song he sings by himself. He seems to like some of the other songs in the play much better. And so he'll practice the other songs a lot. But not the one he personally has to sing.

I dislike nagging, or going all Tiger Mother on the concept of practice, so I've tried to just matter-of-factly say "Ok, we're going to run through your song once now and then once more after dinner." But he's resistant. Yesterday, I tried to explain exactly why we practice something like this. He may not like the song, but in two days, he'll be up on a stage and he'll need to sing it. And he'll feel much better being up there if he knows the words well enough that he can have a little fun. Things feel different on stage. Even if you vaguely know something in a practice situation, you have to really know it to not have being on stage affect you.

Or, then again, maybe this will just be a good learning experience about why practicing matters.

Do your kids practice music, sports, or other such things? Do they want to? If so, how do you go about encouraging this?


Calee said...

This is one of the main reasons I drive Audrey to ballet each week. I wanted her to do something where practice was necessary, but not something I would have to supervise daily (like piano). I hated practicing and quit quite a few things once the natural ability wore off. I'm hoping to help her not do that.

She doesn't love ballet, but her studio is very structured and she's improving. There are even days when she wants to leap and twirl at home, but she's the opposite f the other 6 year old girls who are begging to take classes 3 days a week. It's a funny thing to eavesdrop on the conversations of the other moms in the waiting area, but I've found it to fill the need for challenge in her life right now quite well.

Sara said...

We do piano for exactly the "practice practicing" reason (among others). J's recital is Thursday, and we've been focusing on her 2 pieces for that. I gave her a couple of "practice plans" but then she started writing her own. (They aren't particularly good or creative, but I like the idea of her taking ownership of planning her practice.)

I just ordered "The Little Book of Talent" from our library, I think because you mentioned it on your other blog(?). I'm hoping it's bite-sized enough to read outloud to J (age 8) so she can start thinking about practicing.... (Should help her growth mindset, too.)

the milliner said...

Since L has been very young (2-ish, maybe) he's often gotten extremely frustrated with not being able to do something well and quickly.

Early on we started talking to him about the fact that some things take practice to do well and that it's OK that these things take longer. He'll now remind us that challenging things take practice, so I'm hoping that it's becoming part of his internal dialogue.

At almost 5, this works well enough with things that he's interested in and has a certain affinity for (and is trying to get better at). For areas that are more challenging for him, it's still a bit of a struggle to get him to keep trying/working at it.

Anonymous said...

More and more, it is becoming clear that the 'talents' of people really are innate. Do you know when school became mandatory in the USA? It seems as though the mandatory school age almost 'holds up' the talents of children and smart parents need to work around mandatory education, especially if it is true that the average teacher is not a great student themselves. (And, by the way, the gifted students can tell.) Also, how is everyone working around all of the regulation to keep kids safe, but which also keeps them from good, old-fashioned true discovery. My child has always wanted to go full steam ahead with projects that today need supervision. Has society out-smarted iteself by over regulating learning?

Anonymous said...

In response to Calee's comment above,why would piano practice require parental supervision but ballet practice would not???

Anonymous said...

By the way, I used to do ballet, too, and I think it might be worth noting that children under the age of 8 aren't capable of holding correct balletic posture without potentially damaging the knees. If you're daughter is 6, she's probably really learning pre-ballet, which usually consists of superficially imitating ballet steps and exercises without holding truly correct posture and placement. The problem with this is, if she isn't really holding herself correctly, the exercises won't work very well to strengthen her muscles or do much else for her. She could practice this way 'til the cows come home, and never improve very much or obtain a sense of accomplishment from her work. Pre-ballet classes exist to satiate the commercial demand of the public and to provide a fun activity for little girls who are fascinated with ballet but who don't understand that they're too young to actually learn it. There is no reason for such a young girl to take "ballet" lessons if she does not truly enjoy it. If you want her to learn the value of practicing, ballet could even be counterproductive at this age.

This discussion of ballet brings up a more general point that I think is relevant to everyone: in order for kids to see the value in practicing, they need to be able to be able to see themselves improving, and they need to derive a sense of accomplishment from doing it. If you don't know what you're trying to improve, just doing the same thing repeatedly, with no real purpose in mind, is a waste of time and will grow boring pretty quickly. If, for example, a child is practicing singing a song for a play, just singing it over and over again won't do him much good if he already knows the words and can hit the right notes. Instead, he needs to be able to look for ways to improve (for instance, by changing the volume of his voice throughout the song to make his singing more expressive and interesting). Children should never be taught to practice just for the sake of practicing.

Laura Vanderkam said...

An update on this: my son performed in his play yesterday, and did a great job on his solo. The practicing paid off!

Anonymous said...

A talent that is a gift in a person is with the person at birth. It seems inexplicable, but it is in that person's specific DNA. The parent(s) protect the child's privacy, so he or she can try to have a 'normal' childhood. That child can exhibit that skill by twenty four months old for anyone, who is paying attention, to see (or sense in some way). It is similar to other species that do not have to practice their behavior; it is just the way they are naturally.