In August at my Music for Young Children professional development session, one of the presenters shared that she doesn’t offer practice incentives to her students. Instead she challenges parents to talk to their children and figure out what will motivate them. I remembered this piece of advice a few weeks later when I sat down to help my own six-year-old daughter practice piano. It seemed like she resisted practicing. There was always something more interesting to do; practicing was hard work.
A week or so later I bought a ceramic tea set for my daughter to take to a friend’s birthday party. My daughter told me she wanted one just like it. I knew that my daughter could save her allowance and purchase her own tea set. However, I decided to offer the tea set to her as a practice incentive. At first I thought we would track her practice for a month or so and then give her the tea set when she practiced five or more days for at least four weeks. However, I ended up with a different plan.
I purchased the tea set at Toys-R-Us. My daughter was with me when I purchased it, so I explained my plan. Every week she practiced five or more days, I would give her one piece of her tea set. She happily agreed, and it has made a huge difference in her practicing. Since we started this arrangement five weeks ago, she only had one week where she didn’t earn a piece from the tea set. (Sometimes children want to know if we will stick to our guns!) We still have at least seven more pieces of the tea set waiting to be earned.
Although I would rather have my daughter intrinsically motivated, she seems to need some extrinsic motivation right now. She does enjoy music, but piano lessons are my choice not hers. I’m hopeful that once I help her develop consistent practice habits, she’ll enjoy the thrill of music making and the pleasure it brings to herself and others enough to be self-motivated.