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8 goals we should aim to achieve during the first 8 lessons with a special needs student.

Updated: Jan 15, 2020

Are you turning down special needs students because you don’t feel you are prepared to deal with the potential challenges and extra work involved?

If your answer is yes, you might be missing out on a wonderful and very rewarding opportunity to teach a very intelligent and talented child.

The first month is usually the most difficult but at the same time full of possibilities. It is the time to develop a plan and get clear on your objectives.

I want to share with you how I approach what can be a terrifying prospect to some teachers...

My main objective for the first month is to achieve the following:

1. Know the student and build a relationship:

Getting to know your student and building a relationship with the student and the parent should probably be your first goal, without which, you can achieve very little.

Find more about what the parent’s expectations, hopes, or maybe fears are. Find out if the parent is willing to help with practice or not. Some of the parents will willingly share these with you, and some won’t. You are going to need the parents when you teach a special needs child more than when you teach a neuro-typical child. They have to be more involved in practice and in a few cases during the lesson as well.

2. Assessment:

The following list seems long, but really… you will be able to get most of it completed during the first 1 or 2 lessons. You may have to write things down, especially to be able to monitor the progress later on.

  • Fine motor skills and finger independence.

  • Posture and muscle tone.

  • Talents: you will notice that many special needs children are actually talented, many have perfect pitch and an excellent auditory memory. Stay open and don’t focus on the challenges and difficulties; what you want to try to do, is to go through the challenges and not climb over them. The child’s talents and strengths are you allies.

  • Cooperation of parents.

  • Practice at home or the lack of it.

  • Communication skills.

  • Attention span.

  • Ability to focus on task.

  • Visual tracking.

  • Sense of rhythm.

  • Sense of pitch.

  • Ability to read alphabets.

3. Develop love for the piano in the student:

…because you want the student to skip in happily to the lesson and not to be dragged unwillingly. Always include a fun activity in every lesson, I prefer to schedule this at the end. It is always great to end the lesson on a good note.

4. Teach the child to play at least one song even if only using 3 notes:

After all this is why the child is coming to you… because she wants to play songs on the piano. The sooner you can achieve this, the more motivated your student will be. Hot Cross Buns and Mary Had a Little Lamb are two good options.

5. Develop the ability to move all fingers independently and play with using all of them:

This is usually more difficult to achieve with special needs children and most of the time will take more than one month. However, I start working towards this objective from the first lesson. We play 5 finger scales during every lesson. The students love them and use them to improvise their own tunes.

6. Get the student familiar with the keyboard:

Help him recognize the black / white key pattern and teach him the key names. There are many creative ways to do this. You can create your own method or use the following figure.

7. Teach the student to observe rhythm:

I like to use a different instrument here. My students love to play the tambourine or maracas while I play the piano. Be creative…

8. Develop a general plan and decide on the suitable method books you are going to use:

You might have to adjust or rewrite parts of existing method books and worksheets to introduce concepts in smaller and more digestible bites. Most special needs children find reading music quite challenging and it takes them more time to become confident sight readers.

You can download The Easier Piano Book for FREE. It is a primer book that I developed to prepare the students for note reading in a smooth and struggle free way.


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