Teaching Pre-K Children
Written by Anson Sin, November 18th, 2020
To provide an ideal piano experience for our students, we must plan our piano lessons for children from different age groups through designing a tailor-made scheme. Taking into account into the characteristics and personality of students with respect to their developmental stage is remarkably important in the educational field. The reason is that young students’ developmental psychology can extensively influence their ability to learn, especially for pre-kindergarten students. In my opinion, children’s psychological maturation at this stage has to be carefully considered, as they are encountering so many new experiences with people and surroundings. In other words, as Dr. Wheeler described in her presentation, teachers must take account into youngsters’ psychological aspects in order to match up to their thinking patterns and needs. In this case, teachers must mold the children’s minds and thinking patterns.
Firstly, understanding characteristics of children at this age group is primary. As many reports have shown, children around three years old are extremely curious about many things in their surrounding environment. As a piano teacher, we must encourage them to use their creativity and imagination by answering their questions and concerns. More importantly, allowing children to learn through doing activities/playing games, (which apply to all senses) perhaps is the most ideal way to set up the lessons. In this case, a piano teacher can introduce some aural-training games; such as, repeat after the piano melody singing in “La” as an echo and clapping or playing simple percussion instruments in some rhythmic patterns. Also, games with body involvement can be the best choice to introduce rhythm and ear training to pre-K learners; such as, stepping using their feet along with the rhythms and jumping on the third beat of a measure.
Secondly, keeping the youngest piano students engaged is perhaps the teacher’s first priority in piano lessons, since children in this age group cannot concentrate on a single activity for too long. Therefore, it is necessary to keep things moving during a piano lesson. According to Rebecca Pennington’s article, “Lessons for our Youngest Beginners”, by providing off-bench and on-bench activities under the rule of “age plus one minute” in planning lesson activities can consequently have an effective result. Besides working with the piano method books, piano teachers should prepare other teaching materials/activities that take place without sitting on the bench. In other words, teachers must make the lesson fun in many ways, as young students learn the most when they find what they are doing is enjoyable. In addition, I find some off-bench activities fascinating and useful:
Name the Fingers: After introducing finger numbers to students, we can provide a practice session with the student by touching different fingers on his or her thumbs and having him or her call out the finger numbers. For example, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, and 1-5. Also, letting the student point to teacher’s fingers as the teacher calls out the finger numbers. By increasing the difficulties, teacher can go faster and faster as the game goes along. I am sure students will find it exciting in the process of learning and practicing it.
Key Searcher: Teacher calls out note letter names, while the student finds the keys on the piano. For example, I will say search for all of the A’s on the piano or play two different B’s with your second finger of right hand. In a more diverting variation of this game, we can play “pretend” by allowing the students the opportunity to play the role of teacher and call out keys for the teacher to play. Sometimes, teachers can play a wrong note and ask the student to catch and correct the mistakes.
Improvisation: The teacher plays the bass line of an ostinato pattern or chord, and then has the student improvise by playing chord notes. For example, the teacher provides the notes before starting by saying, “for this music you will need only these three notes C, E, and G”. I am sure it helps to make piano lessons more motivating and fun.
Last but not least, it is always an excellent idea to ask their parents for more information on their child’s strengths and limitation, as well as likes and dislikes. For example, if the student likes collecting stickers, the teacher might want to prepare some of his or her favorite Disney character stickers as an award of an accomplishment in a piano lesson.
In summary, it is imperative for teachers to understand the particular and various needs of pre-K students relating with different developmental stages in order to adapt the proper educational approach.