Sports and music are great ways to develop self-discipline and a strong work ethic that can help children succeed later in life.
But in a world of instant gratification, it’s often hard for children to understand that mastering a skill takes time and effort. “I think most kids don’t have the inclination to pick something up and practice,” says Andra Kulans, who teaches private violin lessons in Winnetka, Glencoe and Glenview.
Getting kids to practice can be challenging, but once they get into the habit of practicing anything from an extracurricular activity to academics, they soon start seeing amazing results—and then usually they’ll want to keep striving on their own.
Here are 7 tips for no-fuss practice:
1. Set goals: You might think it’s bribery, but Kulans says setting goals and rewarding achievement is important in developing discipline. Try giving younger kids a sticker every time they practice, or give older kids a larger prize if they practice every day for a month.
2. Set a time: “Establishing a routine is vital,” says Michelle Weiner, who teaches 6th grade special education at Elm Place Middle School in Highland Park. When it comes to practicing skills like math or spelling, Weiner says parents need to set a consistent practice time every day that’s free of distractions like TV, computers and phones.
3. Mistakes are human: Chris Beacom, who coaches baseball for the Illinois Baseball Academy in Wilmette, Winnetka and Glenview, says kids need to understand that making mistakes is acceptable. “When kids make mistakes, when they make a throw that’s ridiculously off target… get the child to understand one-on-one that anything takes practice,” he says.
4. Be involved: Sit with your child during practice time; this makes you a participant, not a disciplinarian. Kulans suggests parents act as an audience when their child practices an instrument. Weiner says parents can offer to quiz their kids on spelling words or look over their homework (without correcting it) when it’s completed.
5. Be positive: Make sure you tell your child she’s doing a good job; don’t point out her errors. “I think it’s important to build up the student’s self confidence,” Weiner says. “Especially if a concept is hard, that’s the last thing they want is to be criticized.”
6. Make It fun: Whether it’s baseball, violin or math, kids aren’t going to practice if it’s not fun. Make a game out of practicing so it doesn’t feel routine. Weiner says she tries to make fractions fun by showing how you can use them to divide up a pizza or figure out how much something would cost if it were on sale. Or she keeps kids engaged by having them visit math websites like mathplayground.com.
7. Don’t force it: It’s fine to sign kids up for an activity to expose them to it, but after a while, they should want to continue on their own ― not to please you. Beacom says you need to talk with your child to make sure he’s having fun. “There needs to be an experience along the way, a moment where they feel intrinsically motivated. They need to think ‘baseball makes me feel good about myself,’” Beacom says. “Over time, that kind of motivation that comes from within is what sustains them over the long run. “