How to help my 6-year-old who is tired for after-school lessons

Jill said: Jan 18, 2017
 3 posts

My 6-year-old is in school until about 4 and has his viola lesson (40 mins with one other pupil) and group lesson (six kids) at 4:20 and 4:45 pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The lessons are great, the teacher is wonderful, but my kid struggles to focus for the full 40 minutes. He says he’s tired—which is easy to understand after a long day at school.

Unfortunately we can’t change lesson times until maybe next semester (but there are no morning lessons or Saturday lessons in any case) and I can’t realistically leave work earlier to pick him up early enough from school that he gets time to rest before the lesson. I have made some changes—like he had a piano lesson during after-school-care on Wednesdays right before viola, and we quit that so he can focus on one instrument at a time for a while. We don’t have any other after-school activities this semester, so it’s not over-scheduling. And obviously getting to bed earlier is a sensible goal that I’m working on.

Does anyone have any other good ideas for helping a kid be less tired for an after-school lesson? Unfortunately I think he’s now developed a habit of saying he’s tired and making viola the villain that stops him getting home and (in his mind) having TV or iPad time. Sigh.

Sue Hunt said: Jan 19, 2017
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

I wouldn’t expect a 6 year old to focus for a whole 40 minutes.

Having said that, there are ways of making things easier during lessons.

Suzuki said that we should teach by our own good example. Do your best to pay attention to the teacher rather than to him. Don’t engage with him, during the lesson, especially when he complains about being tired. You could just pretend to write notes instead. Just smile and write.

Make a note of when he is attentive and does what he is told without complaining. See how well he does and you could come to an agreement later about a tiny treat for a certain number of compliances. Stay focused on the good things and don’t give demerits for whining. A friend of mine drops tokens into a box and her child counts them up after the lesson.

Make sure that he has a healthy snack and a good energetic bounce before the lesson.

TV and iPads are often the villains because they teach us that we can have Instant gratification, just by pressing a button. Learning a musical instrument requires hard work and focus. Just a thought here, but have you considered setting strict limit on technology time and adding extra for all there is a obedient and non-whiny moments?

Heather Reichgott said: Jan 19, 2017
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
102 posts

Cookies and milk after school? just on the viola days so it’s special?

Vanessa Jacky Davis said: Jan 20, 2017
4 posts

I have been through 2 six year olds during Suzuki music lessons, both with very different personalities and let me say, it’s simply not going to be easy for 6 year olds to pay rapt attention for 40 minutes. It sounds like you love your teacher, a good teacher will understand his/her students and even though Suzuki has high expectations, the most important one is to keep your child playing, and be a loving supportive parent. Praise your child when they’re acting great, look at your lap with their not, and let the teacher do their job. I always felt like group lessons should be fun, not boot camp and a time for little ones to feel like their part of a group, which means not always standing at attention. (I’ve seen Suzuki teacher parents have silent melt downs when their own children were not behaving the way they expected in class, so don’t sweat it)

That said, this is a commitment to a journey. And all journey’s have uncontrollable variables, so enjoy the journey as much as you can and you and your child will learn to sail through the rough spots.

Kristiina said: Jan 23, 2017
 14 posts

40 minutes for a six year old sounds really a long time, and twice a week, wow,
when I was a child there was always only 30 minutelessons until I was 12. I think I begun with two 20 minutelessons when I was 7 and then it shifted to two 30 minute lessons after some years, So after the long schoolday 40 minutes is too much I think. Is it possible to make the lesson shorter? Too high expectations, some are able to to work that hard but its not the childs fault if it is too much at 6 years.

The other thing is that as you know what makes him tick (tv and computer) then you know how to reward him. Meaning only screentime after the lesson when he behaves well. With my 3 year old, who has played for a year, we always go get icecreams after the lesson and that is the only time we get icecreams. But if she didnt behave we wouldnt be getting those icecreams and she knows it. Of course I am not expecting her to concentrate 20 minutes without brakes, only expecting her to do what is told and relax in between the playing.

Rewarding with positive things is essential I think. When we practise she gets to watch tv and play games afterwards, but only after the practise. So now she is really excited about the lessons and really looks forward to them. I would think it is the same with older kids, work and reward afterwards, only the expectations and rewards may be different.

Sue Hunt said: Jan 24, 2017
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

Just a quick word on rewards and bribery. A reward is given for things which have been done. A bribe is a payment that you give to ensure that things which should be done, actually get done.

It is vital to establish ground rules when offering rewards, because we need to be on the same wavelength as our children.  We don’t want to find ourselves moving the goalposts, or to be manipulated by our children into increasing the payout (bribery).  Rewarding involves both parties understanding the rules.  In the past, have had to teach children who were bribed to behave in the lesson. They couldn’t possibly focus, because they had a constant need to check that the parent was sticking to his or her end of the bargain. These same children often actually acted out, in order to manipulate the parent into offering a bribe.

An important part of my ground rules for rewarding, is that parent and child quickly go over what is expected, before the lesson and neither of them mention the subject till they have left the studio.

Personally, I believe in immediate extrinsic rewards for young beginners as it takes a major effort for a youngster to focus for a 1/2 hr lesson. Furthermore, it takes a very long time for a beginner to get any intrinsic reward out of playing music, so a system of immediate extrinsic rewards works like magic.

Jill said: Feb 1, 2017
 3 posts

Thanks for all these great suggestions. Your reminders that 40 minutes is a long time for a six year old are great! We now switched to 20 min individual lessons, and they are going well. He is still acting out a lot in the group lesson. And I agree that 40 mins is a lot for a six year old—but the other six year olds seem to be doing OK with it… Just not my kid….

Last week I tried a star chart where I told him about all the stars he was getting for doing what the teacher asked, but I didn’t really feel like it worked—although I like the idea of the tokens. In fact, he was acting out so badly last week, holding his viola wrong on purpose, that he dropped it and the bridge broke… Sigh. (It’s fixed now, but obviously I wasn’t thrilled…)

I was thinking a lot about the intrinsic/extrinsic motivation though, reading what you wrote, and most certainly, I don’t think he’s getting much intrinsic motivation out of viola yet… And thinking about that, I realise he is going through exactly what he went through learning to ride a bike, to ice skate and to read: there is a phase very soon after the first excitement where he realises it’s HARD and is terrified that he simply can’t do it. And at that stage, he actively works against learning. He’s much more that way that my other kids—with ice skating, the others figured it out, more or less, in an hour, but this kid needed to go back to the rink 12 times before he was confident, and was very resistant. But now he absolutely LOVES skating and is very proud of being able to go fast.

I think we reached that spot in viola—it’s not just loose strings, it’s getting the bow hand right, AND the rhythms, AND the fingers and it’s actually really hard and he’s not seeing much progress because he really resists practicing. I think that’s why he acts out so much in group lessons. He’s terrified he can’t do it, so he refuses to do it properly so he can’t fail.

So my current theory is that we’ll just have to tough it out and stick to practicing every day despite his resisting it and after a few more weeks he’ll get over this hurdle, like he did with skating, and cycling, and reading, and he’ll like it more. It would be very easy to just quit and give up, but I think I remember his big sister being similarly unmotivated at about this stage—pre-Twinkle, but started using fingers? You still can’t do play much, and it’s really hard? Is that a common thing?

We’re also scheduled to go to a Suzuki viola camp a few weekends from now. I really hope that that HELPS and that he doesn’t sabotage the whole thing…

Kristiina said: Feb 2, 2017
 14 posts

Well mine is almost 4 but just wanted to add she also starts acting out when faced with a really difficult thing. And then I need to be tough and just force her through it. When she has done the first time she gets over it. She is younger so I guess it might be more common with younger kids but that you are definately alone on this. It might be a personality issue too. The more time I let her act out the more she will do it. Then afterwards when I ask her was it difficult she laughs and usually says no. So its just that I need to be allert and push her through sometimes, I consider it also as teaching how to get through difficult new things in general, not just with violin.
Those are the only times I resort to pushing, otherwise I resort to rewards and we negotiate them always before. In fact I consider it a good thing that a child learns to negotiate early on.

And I want to add that it is a cultural phenomena also what is required from a young child. In my country it is considered best to just let the preschoolers (school starts at the age of 7) play games and with each other and I have to justify a lot why she started so young. She wanted herself and I know that musical education is best started very young, but it is against the general view here, though we are of course not alone in this.

So it is interesting to read that it is considered the norm to make a 6 year old concentrate for 2 40 minute lessons a week in addition to practise. And as kids are still the same around the world I wouldnt feel bad at all if a child of mine wouldnt be able to concentrate that much, I really dont think it is possible to ask that much from an average 6 year old but in the same time I think it is not too much to ask, it just depends on the child, a happy child grows better in any case :)

Jill said: Feb 2, 2017
 3 posts

Thanks, Kristiina! Good to know I’m not alone. I agree that there are times you have to push the child a bit—he hated learning to skate, but now absolutely loves skating and takes immense pride in it. I think I’m going to focus on lots of practice and hope that increased mastery improves the group classes. After he broke his viola last week of course the viola was being fixed for several days so we didn’t get much practice last week! Fingers crossed we can manage lots this week.

I live in Norway, so there is a LOT more focus on play and unscheduled time for young children here than in the US, but we switched from starting school at 7 to 6 about 20 years ago and it’s progressively getting more and more academic for young kids.

Our Suzuki program is through the city music school, and they offer one 20 minute individual lesson (sometimes two kids share a lesson and get 40 minutes between them) and one 40 minute group lesson each week.

How long are your four-year-olds lessons, Kristiina? How long are most group lessons for six year olds?

Kristiina said: Feb 2, 2017
 14 posts

well here, in finland, in our suzuki school they usually start with 15 minutes once a week or 30 minutes for 2 if I now remember correctly, we soon changed into private tuition, so it was 15 minutes last spring and autumn and now we had to change to 20 as there is so much to do and as I dont play the violin, I need to be taught too. I prefer private lessons, because then it is shorter, dont actually understand the point of teaching 2-3 preschoolers at the same time, it is so difficult and the ones that are not playing get restless. Also when children have so very different cababilities I cannot see how having only group lessons would benefit anyone. But just my view and with older kids like over 12 years fo age its different. My girl basically concentrates only when she plays, so its only a couple of minutes out of that 20 minutes lol

Group lessons are only once every 2-3 weeks, which is not much, but this is a small school, grouplessons are always 30 minutes and I think that is the maximum time the preschoolers are able to focus. And I mean the maximum ;) Allthough I guess it depends how the group lesson is structured. My girl likes the grouplessons and she likes to perform, and that is probably due to me making her play outside whenever the weather permitted during spring, summer and autumn. Practising and performing in parks and forests regularly is a good idea :) such a pity one cant do that in winter.

Good luck with practising!

Edward said: Feb 10, 2017
Edward Obermueller
Suzuki Association Member
Morris Plains, NJ
73 posts

You might find this helpful for burnout avoidance and practicing when tired.

Happy practicing,

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Rebeca Padilla said: Mar 1, 2017
11 posts

Thankyou very much for this website, I am going to e to my parents, it gives great ideas to how to work at home.

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