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Spring Break and Practice Routines

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

We finally made it to spring break. For students, I think this is a huge relief. For teachers, this is a much-needed pause to catch up on some of the administrative work that starts to slide sometimes when teaching all week, and to mentally regroup. For parents, especially this year, I think it's a mixed bag. On the one hand, you won't have to be supervising online lessons and remote learning. On the other hand, having children at home and unoccupied can present other challenges.

From the standpoint of at-home practice, how you approach this during school break is a very individual situation. For a student who has worked hard and practiced regularly over the past term, taking some time off over the break can be healthy, and I've often seen students come back playing BETTER after taking the entire break off. It is important to note that this is ONLY true if the student has a solid practice routine while school is in session. Students who don't practice well during school do not improve with additional time off over breaks.

For students who struggle with a practice routine, a school break can be a perfect time to try to set one up, especially now, when, at least in Ontario, we are all under a stay-a-home order with nowhere to go.

I'd suggest starting with choosing a practice "time". Doing it at the same time every day can help make it routine. Consider giving the child control over WHEN this will happen. If it's break, this can be morning and they can get it out of the way and do what they want for the rest of the day. Often it's easy to think you have the whole day to do something, only realize that that day, and the next and the next have passed and you didn't practice.

Another good option is directly after dinner. You know you are going to eat every day, if you build practice time into that, it can help make it routine.

Or, if you have an early riser, they can do it before breakfast. It doesn't have to be a long session, especially if we are talking about young and/or beginner students. Get up, do the wake up routine, play through all your assignments, have breakfast.

Other tactics include making practicing a haven from chores. This one most likely has to be approached with care, because I do believe that kids need to have choose and help around the house, but especially if you are trying the after dinner routine, consider making them exempt from after dinner chores, or, take one chore they hate, and they can trade doing it for practicing.

Doing a little is always better than doing nothing. It’s easy to think that if there isn't a solid half hour you can devote to practicing, you just don't have time and you have to skip it. It's also easy, especially for kids, to think this is going to take forever. Five minute is better than no minutes. Five minutes most days a week is better than half an hour 1 day a week, even if the total time adds up to less than half an hour. Frequency matters. Also, for young children, "minutes" can be an arbitrary, meaningless concept. Start by setting routine where they have to play through all their assigned pieces 1 time (I usually recommend 4 times, but if a routine is a struggle, start small). Playing each piece 1 time is tangible, and gives them a concrete goal that doesn’t sound insurmountable. Even for older children it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking a practice session will take forever. I fall into this trap myself with many things. Start by just getting started. Tell them, or yourself, you just have to do it for 5 minutes, or play 3 pieces of music. Then you can stop. Often, once you start, you find you don't mind going for longer.

Also, I often see the assumption that if a student likes/wants to play an instrument, practicing should be something they want to do, and that there is something wrong if they don't. Think of all the things you want to do. Do you always feel motivated to do them? PLAYING an instrument can be a lot of fun. Practicing isn't always.

Think of the child who loves dogs, wants a dog, begs you to get a dog and promises they will take care of the dog. Even if that child loves the dog, it is very likely that an adult of the household is going to end up doing a lot of the work, and it doesnt' mean that the child loves the dog any less, or doesn't want the dog, or is bored of playing with the dog, but it's hard and often unappealing do anything on a prescribed schedule when there are so many things you'd rather do (or watch). Of course they'd rather have screen time than feed the dog. That game they love is much more fun than getting off the couch and walking the dog. They’ll do it later. They promise. It's the same for practicing.

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