5 Ways to Keep Younger Students Engaged While Distance Learning

By Jessica Peresta

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, it took us all by storm. All of a sudden, you weren’t able to see your students in person. This is difficult for so many reasons, and one of the main ones being not being able to motivate your younger students in the same way.  

When you teach them one-on-one or in group lessons, you’re able to keep them engaged in what you’re teaching and to be there to give feedback.  The good news is, you can still keep them engaged while teaching virtually or while not seeing them as much, it might just look a bit different. 

1. Motivation Goes a Long Way

We all know that motivation goes a long way with kids. They’re motivated with sticker charts, stickers on their shirts, stamps, or any other incentive.  Gold stars are easier and more rewarding to give in person. 

Now, motivation might look more like an email to tell them you’re thinking about them, encouragement to keep going, or a reward they can earn for proving their practicing each day.  On an app like Tonara Studio, things like chats and stickers are built-in. Whatever you do, keep communicating, keep the rewards going, and keep motivating them just like you would when you saw them in person. 

2. Find a Way to Keep Communication Going

The good news is, you’ve already had a way you’ve been communicating with your students each week.  What’s awesome about this is that you can keep that system going! Although your students are young, they are used to the way you communicate with them and will continue to expect to hear from you. 

Now is a great time to increase communication with parents.  Let them know how often you want their students to practice, what exactly their child needs to work on that week, and anything their child needs to do before the next virtual or in-person lesson. 

Technology is already providing us with lots of ways to communicate with our students. It is all about finding the right platform for you and your students’ needs. I personally like Tonara because it is an engaging app that comes full circle, in that there are assignments, points, and incentives right there too. Even better, is the ability to create groups. Students of all kinds are missing that interaction with one another.

chat_screen_tonara_studio
Chat view from Tonara Studio

In Tonara, you already have ways to communicate with your students through chats and messages.  If you haven’t taken advantage of this communication, now is the perfect time to begin. Some other solutions I’ve seen are Zoom, Google chat, group emails, or even creating a private Facebook group.  

How you decide to communicate with your students, individually and as a group, is completely up to you.  But, what matters the most is that you develop your own unique way of keeping the lines of communication open to your students. 

3. Keep Tracking Student Progress

When younger students aren’t being taught consistently, it’s definitely difficult to keep them engaged.  But, it’s still important to track their progress. Remember, we already talked about how motivation goes a long way.  It’s so important to keep that factor in mind.

Students can email you a practice chart or share it with you through the other ways of communication we just talked about in the previous section.  They can also easily share a video of them practicing and you can send back an audio or video message with feedback. Then, you can give them critique, like you would during a one on one lesson.

Practice screen in Tonara Studio

Then, don’t forget how awesome it is to pick up the phone and call your students.  Just talking with them about what they’re learning or to see if they have any questions will go such a long way for them AND their parents.  Also, we mentioned Zoom calls earlier (or whatever video platform you use is fine too.) You can definitely do one-on-one calls as well to check-in, have students play for you, and to track their progress as well. 

4. Get the Parents Involved

Parents want to help their children learn and to succeed. Most parents are already involved in helping their kids to learn the piano and are great about communicating with you.  Continue to keep this going as much as you can.  

Even if parents aren’t musical themselves, they’ll be able to help their child stay engaged in what they’re learning by:

  • Kids generally know what to practice, and sometimes just need their parents to check in to get them back on track.  
  • Parents can encourage practice by actively asking their child to play for them. This is an exciting and fun thing to do as a family while getting in some practice time. 
  • Kids may need some help with technology. Parents are key players in not only giving them access to the devices but syncing with you on what is needed for a successful lesson and follow-up throughout the week.

5. Know that Things Will Go Back to Normal

You’re going to miss your normal routine and seeing your students regularly.  But, the good news is, things will go back to normal. When will it go back to normal?  We don’t know this. But, remembering that this is just a season will drastically help your mindset..

In the meantime, you might need to let go of some of the expectations you’ve put on yourself and your students.  These kids (and parents and teachers too) are overwhelmed beyond belief right now. Students will have way more wiggles and might be a little bit more overwhelmed than you’re used to.  

But, just remember to keep encouraging them, not to give up, and to continue showing up and teaching music to your kids.  Then, the engagement piece will follow.

Jessica Peresta is the online piano teacher and elementary music podcaster at  www.thedomesticmusician.com.  She’s passionate about music education and loves inspiring others to teach, learn, and thrive as musicians and music teachers.