Welcome back to the latest installment of our Monday blog series about what you can expect from young music students at every age and developmental stage! In previous weeks, I’ve covered just one year at a time, because of the big changes that happen at age 5 and age 6. This week, I’ll be talking about ages 7 and 8 together, because the next set of developmental turning points tends to occur across these two years, depending on what types of experience the child is having and on his or her unique development.
Remember that, beginning around age 6, a child’s rate of development really starts to hinge on the types of experiences they have, so the growth described in this article can be helped along greatly with your guidance! This holds true for music learning as well, so be sure to expose your 7 or 8 year-old to music in as many ways as possible to help accelerate their learning. Taking them to short concerts, listening to (and talking about) a wide variety of music in the home or in the car, and making music with your child are great ways to help ensure that they develop their abilities.
Your 7 or 8 year-old is gaining the ability to:
– Complete activities independently: While your child may still need reminders or gentle supervision to complete tasks (especially long-term), they don’t require as much constant monitoring or assistance. In fact, many children begin to enjoy engaging in activities by themselves at this age. As they continue to learn their instrument, you may still need to remind them to practice, but they are much more likely to sit down and complete a focused session of practice on their own without a parent supervising the practice session. This is a great age to begin having your child keep track of how many days they practice per week, whether they’ve done their homework for lessons, and so on, to help develop their sense of independence and responsibility.
– Understand music in a more sophisticated way: At this age, your child’s understanding of and ability to communicate about music really begin to blossom. They know and can use a much bigger musical vocabulary, can describe different genres of music accurately, and express their musical preferences and the reasons for those preferences. The music that they improvise (singing a song they’ve made up, inventing patterns and melodies on their instrument, etc.) becomes much more complex and organized, and your child is also developing the ability to hear more complex and meaningful patterns in music. Their proficiency on their instrument may also really take off at this age, and skills that they have been practicing for some time may really begin to show in their playing. Again, the best way to take advantage of this development is to expose them to as many music experiences as possible: performances, books and movies about music, and making music with you, their peers and their teacher will go a long way toward maximizing this intellectual growth spurt!
– Connect with peers and outside adults: Your 7 or 8 year-old is likely to move away from the safe base of their parents and immediate family, toward interacting with their peers and with other adults (teachers, other relatives, their best friends’ parents) in a much more meaningful way. Your child is truly beginning to understand how their actions impact others, and that people around them have feelings and thoughts that count, just like their own. They may begin looking to peers to help them cope with frustrating emotions (more about those further on!), and to exhibit a stronger sense of fair play. Because they are gaining a sense of mastery in many areas, they may especially enjoy teaching younger children or showing off their skills. This is a great age for children to try engaging in music activities with other kids, giving them a chance to share knowledge while learning to make music in a cooperative way. It’s possible that they may frustrate each other initially, but at this age, they are able to find (or at least attempt) cooperative solutions, and they will work harder to include each other and show regard for each other’s feelings.
WATCH OUT FOR:
– Strong sensitivity to criticism or failure, and feelings of inadequacy: Just as your child is discovering all the areas they are proficient in, they can also suddenly become hyper-aware of instances when they aren’t as capable, or when they worked hard, but didn’t get the result they expected from themselves. 7 and 8 year-olds can suddenly become their own worst critic, and can be prone to giving up out of frustration when they aren’t living up to their own expectations (or when they feel they are coming up short when they compare themselves to their peers). At this age, these feelings can lead to a child walking out on activities, or wanting to give up because they aren’t “good enough.” Even though your child may be pulling away and seeking independence more actively, your reassurance that they are doing well, and that they will continue to improve with time and effort is crucial. Learning to play an instrument can be prime territory for your child to convince themselves that they are inadequate or not as good as others around them. The good news is that it is also an excellent moment for you to step in and help them see all the progress they’ve made and to begin understanding that everyone accomplishes things at their own pace. In short: encouragement, encouragement, encouragement! It’s up to you to be the loving and positive voice that counters that critical, negative voice in your child’s head.
– Pushing boundaries: As your child experiments with independence, they may begin to experiment with some less desirable behaviors, such as lying, refusal to comply with directions, and throwing tantrums or causing other disruptions in an attempt to show that they are in control of what they will and won’t do. They may be full of accusations that their circumstances are “not fair.” While these behaviors may or may not appear in lessons or in practice, music learning can help a child develop a positive outlet for independence. Allow your 7 or 8 year-old to choose the types of music they want to hear in the car or at home, give them more responsibility for practicing and homework, and allow them to teach skills to a younger sibling if they have one. All of these can give a child the opportunity to exercise their independence in a constructive way, which can help diminish the need to engage in negative behaviors.
Have questions about your 7 or 8-year old music student? Want to share an enlightening or humorous story about your 7 or 8-year old? Leave your thoughts, comments, questions and stories in the comments below!
Sara R. Longwell, M.M.Ed, MT-BC
Community Relations Manager & Music Therapy Specialist