Have your piano students inadvertently participated in the “Summer Slide”… that dreaded slump that occurs after 2 months of barely any piano practice?
Amidst our excitement of starting lessons again, of using new materials, of trying out new teaching techniques… many times our enthusiasm can be extinguished as we realize a student or two have taken giant steps backwards.
Even those of you who teach during the summer may have experienced the “Summer Slide” as days at the lake and overnight slumber parties interfered with your students’ practice routines. Maybe they still attended lessons… but did they progress as much as they would have mid-school year?
If you have a student in front of you who has taken a ride on the “Summer Slide” … here are our Top 5 Tips for reversing those two months of little to no practice.
Steps To Reversing The Summer Slide
1. Avoid calling attention to what has been forgotten – I’ve found that one of the worst things I can do is to revisit a piece that my student used to play well. Starting fresh is a great way to get piano lessons back on track without any feelings of inadequacy clouding the situation. Kids learn best when their self-esteem is high and healthy, and the last thing you want to do is to make your student feel as though the start of piano lessons has been tinged with negativity.
So, grab a brand new piece that is a level or two below where you left off and approach it as you would any new piece (this is my method here). Then, you can revisit where you left off in older pieces/method books after the mental cobwebs have been brushed away.
2. Set them up for instant practice success – turning the Summer Slide around is not an instant process… so take it easy for the first week or two. Adjust your practice expectations (and amount of material you send home) so that your students can ease back into routines without feeling overwhelmed. The start of school and other extracurriculars can be a really stressful time for young children, so keeping piano enjoyable is important. Be sure you are sending them home with a piece you know will catch their attention and interest immediately.
3. Wake ’em Up With Off-The-Bench Activities – if you use flash cards, manipulatives, piano games, movement activities… this is the time to break them out! You want to engage all parts of your students’ brains to “wake-up” those faint memories of what they used to understand. This a really friendly way to re-visit previously-learned concepts that need review.
4. My biggest success in banishing the Backwards Summer Slide comes as a result of setting a goal for the near future (usually 4 weeks after lessons have begun). This puts a sense of immediacy in your students’ minds from the get-go. Setting a recording day, a mini-performance, a group masterclass… anything that requires practice… is a great way to get the gears in motion quickly.
5. Schedule a Reminder to Remind – The first few weeks of school are hectic for families. Routines seem to hit them like a ton of bricks. The worst thing that can happen is for your newly-inspired and ready-to-practice piano students to head out the door and then get lost in the September Shuffle. Schedule a reminder for yourself to email/text/call parents 2-3 days after lessons as a friendly and personal “check-in” on how practice routines are settling in. You can do this in a very creative and humorous way (like texting something like the image below) to avoid nagging… but your point will still get across.
A Final Bonus Tip…
My #1 goal for “Backwards Sliders” is to help them achieve quick success with their first “back-to-lessons” piano piece. This means that much of that first lesson is spent teaching students how to effectively practice. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways and we’ve blogged on this subject frequently!
Check out our 4 favorite posts on teaching students how to efficiently practice: