Here are a few ideas for counting games for a fun and productive practice session with younger children. The basic idea is that the adult chooses a particular spot that needs work – normally as small and specific as possible (perhaps a single clear note on the head joint for a beginner, maybe A to C for a child working on Mary Had a Little Lamb, or half of a  phrase of Cuckoo all in one breath, perhaps CCGG in Twinkle keeping the pitches in the right octave, perhaps “I Practice On Mars”/”Strawberry Cream Pie” in Minuet 1 – you get the idea – one specific and very small challenge that is tricky but manageable with concentration). Once you’ve chosen your spot, make it clear that the rule is that they have to accomplish the task impeccably in order to win the next point in the game. Perhaps the first few points can be won by just getting the main element correct, and perhaps after 5 repetitions or so, you can also insist on additional important elements on the same limited spot. (For example: working on A to C – the first few times might count just for getting the fingers to move together and with the left hand pointer pretty well anchored and supporting; after that is pretty well established, you might insist that the tone also needs to be clear to earn the point, then after a few more, you might also ask that the fingers not currently being moved remain closer to the keys, and so forth). I love it when kids do 20 repetitions in one day – there’s something really transformative about 20 correct repetitions. But smaller numbers can be good also for those who are really intimidated by the idea of 20. Perhaps consider one for each year of the child’s age – or whatever number works well for your child.

Here are a few game ideas:

1)     build a block tower (generally the adult places the blocks so the child can maintain practice momentum)

  • see how high you can get it – or get up to a specified number then your child can topple it over
  • build an interesting structure
  • build a path from one thing to another

2)     string beads

  • make a necklace, bracelet or ring
  • string them on a wire and bend into animal or other shapes

3)      fill the sections of an egg carton with pretty pebbles or other objects

4)      build pompon creatures

5)      color in a page of objects – adults keep track of number of repetitions, kids color all the “earned” spots after reaching a certain number

6)      reinvent the rules for a family game – use your imagination!

7)      Go to the ReStore or other recycling store, or perhaps the Dollar Store or a craft store. See what sparks your imagination that would appeal to your child as a fun way to count. The best plans are the ones you’ll think of with an understanding of your child’s particular interests in mind!

The key thing to keep in mind is that muscle training and brain to muscle coordination takes a tremendous amount of repetition. Parents can understand this concept, but young kids will normally only truly understand this once they have experienced it quite a few times. Counting games provide a way for a child to look at the repetitions that 1) is inherently fun, 2) gives kids an immediate and understandable reason to do it right (rather than some intangible sense that they might improve in a way that they may not believe or really grasp), 3) keeps the child’s focus OFF of the fact that the task at hand may seem difficult or impossible and ON something they’ll look forward to, 4)gives an external reference point for tracking progress, and 5)leads them to a direct understanding of how to learn, and a concrete understanding of how repetition and persistence can result in a successful learning experience. For parents, the net result is: 1) you don’t have to argue with your child about playing the passage the way the teacher asked – it’s just part of the rules of the game, 2) your child may relate to practice as a time they look forward to, so fewer arguments about when – or whether – they practice on a particular day, 3) practice can sometimes become a time you bond with your child – an oasis in the busy day where you can enjoy each other (not a guarantee for every day, but it definitely can happen, and is more likely with a parent’s spirit of fun and games), and 4)you have the joy of seeing your child overtake a learning hurdle and enjoy their own success, and move on to the next hurdle with greater confidence.