It’s not just about practice—kids should learn how to improve as well. Here are 5 ways to encourage deliberate practice and learning. Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Coined by psychologist Anders Ericsson, deliberate practice isn’t just hours of practice.
Sure, you can tell your child to practice playing the trombone for three hours every day. But he could still hit a plateau with his performance if he isn’t deliberate about what to improve.
Instead, deliberate practice is designed to improve specific skills you’re trying to master. A person receives feedback and corrects mistakes to improve his performance and strive for excellence.
How to encourage deliberate practice
This isn’t just about musical instruments, either. Deliberate practice applies to daily improvements, like your child learning to tie his shoes or getting better at baking.
To truly master a skill, practicing the task over and over isn’t enough—he has to be intentional about getting better.
So, how can you apply deliberate practice to help him excel in skills he’s interested in?
1. Offer instruction
While your child will learn many skills all on his own, there may be plenty where he needs guidance from others. Showing him how something works helps him learn the technical parts to do it well.
Let’s say he’s learning how to tie his shoelaces. Show him, step-by-step, how to hold the laces and loop them around. Or maybe he needs to improve his handwriting—point out which lines on the paper his letters ought to reach and the spacing between each one.
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2. Provide feedback
One of the best ways to instill deliberate practice is to offer feedback. Having your child practice on his own isn’t as useful as learning how to improve or correct himself.
Let’s say he’s learning how to play baseball. Have him think about his last few swings and say which ones felt right and where he can improve. Then, focus on that tiny improvement a few more times until he gets it just right.
Free play is important to discover and learn, but feedback is necessary if you want him to improve a skill with deliberate practice.
It’s like me learning how to knit. Sure, I could watch friends who knit and take a class or two for fun. I might even fiddle with it a few times on my own. But if I wanted to be a serious knitter, I’d have to be aware of the places I need to improve so that I can.
3. Don’t sugar-coat or over-praise
Do you feel compelled to praise your child as a way to keep her motivated? While the intention is good, praising and sugar-coating too often can lead to a distorted view of her progress.
If she shows you a so-so painting when you know she didn’t put much effort, don’t feel like you have to shower her with praise. Acknowledge the painting and reserve your genuine surprise and delight for the times she puts in the effort.
When you do praise her, offer descriptive praise. This means you’re describing what she just did (“You traced the letter ‘D’!”) instead of evaluative praise (“That is so awesome!”).
And focus on the effort rather than the supposedly innate traits she has. You might say, “You did it! You wrote the letter ‘D’!” versus “You’re so good at writing!”
4. Let your child struggle
The only way to master a skill is for your child to test and go beyond her comfort zone. The best way to do that? By letting her struggle.
She isn’t going to make leaps by playing the same piano piece she’s comfortable playing. But through challenge and struggle, she can learn to excel beyond her comfort zone. The better she gets, the wider she expands her comfort zone.
At first, she might feel uncomfortable learning something new, but she can find the challenge fun, especially once she masters it.
5. Embrace mistakes
Mistakes show us what does and doesn’t work, offer a glimpse of how far we’ve come along, and, let’s face it, are unavoidable in life. Rather than hiding in shame, your child should see mistakes as normal steps that can lead her to her goals.
If she makes mistakes, point it out matter-of-fact and either show or ask her how she can improve.
The more your child practices, the better she gets. But practice itself isn’t always enough, especially if she’s trying to improve. To make the best use of her time and truly master a skill, encourage deliberate practice.
Offer instructions and guidance on how to do a particular task, and provide feedback so she knows where she can improve. Avoid sugar-coating or over-praising, especially when her efforts don’t warrant it. Allow her to struggle and expand her comfort zone and try new things.
And lastly, embrace mistakes—they’re not only inevitable, but can help her grow and learn from the experience.
It’s not just about putting in the hours, but making the most out of them with deliberate practice.
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