My daughter’s preschool teachers saved my piano teaching sanity. How? By reminding me of imaginative play.
As I have young children, I routinely engage in imaginative play… but I had never considered using it into my piano studio until after watching my daughter’s preschool teachers in action.
They are absolute masters at getting into character and building an imaginative world around a theme, such as space, and inviting their students into that world… they learn about numbers, letters, manners and more, all the while exploring “space”.
When I stayed to help out at Halle’s preschool one morning and saw the power that “learning through imaginative play” had over even the most challenging students in her class I knew I had to give it a go in my studio.
Curing A Cranky Kid With A Construction Zone
My first attempt at an all-encompassing lesson of imaginative play was with a particularly grumpy little boy… who happened to have a passion for diggers and dump trucks.
Playing to his passion, when he arrived for this next lesson, I welcomed my little piano student with a pseudo AFV radio call…
“Dispatch, I see a truck approaching, he’s dumping his piano bag at the door. He’s ready to begin loading. 10-4.”
He was surprised and absolutely delighted.
We then spent the next half hour, not in a piano lesson, but at a construction site. Falling wrists were picked up by “cranes”, boulders (small pebbles) were placed on the keyboard for note-naming practice, construction-themed stickers were used above difficult sections of his music (with cute little speech bubble reminders), and detached playing vs. legato was compared by visualizing jack hammers and steam rollers.
Throughout the lesson I was the dispatch and he was the truck driver. We gave commands to each other through a closed fist to simulate the sound of a radio. It was an absolute hoot, and not a moment’s time was wasted on managing challenging behaviours.
Why Imaginative Play Works and When To Use It
The value of imaginative play is well-documented in early childhood education circles. An article in Psychology Today on imaginative play states:
An important benefit of early pretend play may be its enhancement of the child’s capacity for cognitive flexibility and, ultimately, creativity (Russ, 2004; Singer & Singer, 2005). [And] a school atmosphere in which pretend games are encouraged, or even just tolerated in the curriculum or recess play of children has also been shown to lead to even greater amounts of imaginativeness and enhanced curiosity, and to learning skills in preschoolers or early school-agers (Ashiabi , 2007; Singer and Lythcott 2004).
Children learn so much when they are fully engaged in an imaginary world – and if it enhances cognitive flexibility and creativity, why wouldn’t we capitalize on this when we are teaching piano lessons?!
Since introducing imaginative play into my own studio I’ve discovered that students are not only more engaged, but are also more comforted in being involved in a “pretend world”. They feel safe to experiment and take risks, they will ask questions more frequently (“in character”) and they will often take more ownership over their own learning by requesting repetition of certain activities, working ahead or attempting new challenges.
So should every lesson be imaginative?
Not necessarily. A good balance between imagination and reality is important. Some weeks you just simply need to have a regular ol’ piano lesson. But some weeks a bit of imagination is exactly what’s needed.
The point is to include some imaginative play; to observe the results and then to make it work for you and for your students.
Where To Begin With Imaginative Play
If you’re not entirely comfortable boarding the improv train and putting on a play for every piano student, you may want to start with our resource PianoGameClub.
Each month we release four imaginative games to our subscribers. These games have hilarious themes that reinforce a massive range of theory concepts and are an excellent jumping off point for using play as a piano teaching tool. You can learn more about PianoGameClub here.