Getting your child to practice anything can be tough. It’s easy for them to get distracted, bored, or otherwise uninterested when faced with a task. In this article, piano and singing teacher Mariana L. shares her reward system for kids that works brilliantly on her music students…
Children can get bored and easily distracted while trying to focus on a task.
Many of them look like this:
As a piano and voice teacher, the number one question I receive from parents is:
“How do I get my child to practice more?”
This question usually arises after they find themselves constantly nagging their children to practice. In turn, this causes the music students to become frustrated; they may even lose the interest and love they felt for their instrument when they began taking lessons.
What’s my suggestion for handling this situation? A reward system. Its purpose is to encourage students to practice and regain the joy they felt for music when they first wanted lessons.
In my experience, parents are always excited about introducing a reward system for music lessons because it’s something familiar; most of them already use a reward system at home for their children’s schoolwork, chores, behavior, etc.
What is a Reward System?
The concept of a reward system stems from the operant conditioning studies of psychologist B.F. Skinner. Skinner studied positive and negative reinforcement as a way of changing or achieving a behavior from an individual.
In his laboratory, Skinner placed some rats in a box that had a lever, which, upon pulling it, released pellets of food. At first, the rats would accidentally push the lever and receive their reward. After several times of getting food by accident, they figured out how to receive the reward (food) whenever they wanted it.
For children, practicing their instrument is the lever and the food is whatever your child gets excited about. Their reward could be toys, books, games, or even an extra outing to the park – it’s up to you.
Setting Up a Reward System
I strongly recommend you work with your child’s instructor to figure out what both of you would like to achieve from the reward system. For example, you might simply want your child to practice more than fifteen minutes a day, but your child’s instructor might also want them to mark their sheet music before coming to the lesson.
Work out your goals first, then compare them to the goals of the instructor, and then construct the reward system from there.
To prepare your little music student for success, make sure they have the following items:
- An assignment chart
- Tons of stickers
- Fake money [optional]
With my students, I use three sheets to manage the system.
1) The Point Tracker
On this sheet, each colored star has its own point value. All you need to do is assign X amount of points to X amount of dollars and you’re good to go! I find it easiest to calculate points per one dollar value.
2) The Point Earning Guide
On this sheet, you’ll assign a point value to behaviors and/or tasks. You can be as broad or as specific as you want. For instance, you could reward ten points per one minute of practicing, or fifteen points for finishing a unit. In this example, the guide is quite specific because there were certain behaviors my student’s mother and I wanted to correct.
3) The Reward Menu
This part of the process, in my opinion, is the most fun to create! Parents, teachers, and students can work together to decide what type of prizes the student will receive. My rewards include students getting to play with a box of my percussion instruments, playing a musical game on my iPad, or playing on my keyboard with voices other than the piano (violin, trumpet, xylophone, etc.).
Remember to assign a somewhat high “cash” value to the rewards to ensure the goal is not achieved too early. As a bonus, this is also a wonderful way to teach children about saving money!
My Shareable Files
I use a free graphic design service called Canva to create sheets for my students. Below are the sheets that I use. Feel free to change them based on your student’s needs and desires.
How to Keep the System Working
After working with a reward system for a few months, parents often wonder if the system is sustainable. In other words, they’ll ask:
“Will I always have to reward my child in order to get them to practice?”
To tell you with complete honestly, there’s no general answer to that question. Some students develop an almost Pavlovian response to practice, where they no longer need a reward to pick up their instrument every day; playing music IS the reward.
The natural consequence of more practice is, of course, developing an advanced skill to play an instrument. And with enough practice, being able to play more complex and interesting pieces of music.
If a student is not ready to practice without getting rewarded, it’s always a good idea to find ways to keep the system fun and fresh; every couple of months, sit down to change the rewards and ways to earn points. It’s best to consult with the student’s teacher first, since certain behaviors and skills might have already been achieved.
If you can take anything from this post, it’s this: remember the joy that music brings to your child’s life. Find a way to keep that passionate flame burning. The last thing they want is to restart piano lessons as an adult, regretting the fact that they quit as a child.
For more information about reward systems and encouraging your child to practice, try scheduling a lesson with a private music instructor. A little one-on-one instruction goes a long way!
Know any tricks to get young students to focus on practice? Comment below!