The first need of a child this age - - or of a student of any age - - is to instill a sense of confidence and self- worth. The child must feel that he is important to you and that he is capable of learning to play the piano.
Since piano study may be one of a child's first adventures in the Big Wide World, piano study must be a safe environment in which to learn. Questions should be welcomed and answered as well as possible. They should never be brushed aside or treated with disdain. There are lots of interesting side trips you and your student can make stimulated by a query - - but you'll never enjoy them if the student feels uneasy posing a question to you.
Young children are still gaining control of their small muscles. I believe in starting with large muscle groups (legs, torso) and moving to medium-sized muscles (whole arm, hands) and finally to the small muscles (fingers). Rhythmic activities, for example, can start with marching to music and end with playing notes to the metronome.
Give the parents activities and games to play at home with the child. Involve the whole family in admiring the child's achievements.
Start with concrete manipulatives. Use letters the child can pick up and move around when drilling on note names. Later move to letters written on pieces of paper. Later still, move to the keyboard where the letters are found in a seemingly abstract location.
Attention span will doubtless be a problem. Keep the activities short. Ten minutes working on note reading is more than enough.
Alternate small muscle activities with large muscle activities, such as being an elephant with a trunk swaying to music and doing steps and skips on the piano keyboard.
Move around the studio: do note reading games in one area and play rhythm games in another.
Give whimsical names to drills and activities. For example, The Copycat Game is one where you tap a rhythm for the student and he taps it back to you. If you have a drum and tambourine in the studio for this purpose, so much the better! As his confidence in the material under study increases, let the student "be the teacher" and you be the student. Make sure the teacher checks your work. This is an advanced level of comprehension, as the child must look at your answer and compare it with his own rather than just give his answer to you. Be sure your student can make this jump successfully before asking him to "be the teacher."
I think middle C position is the best for beginners.
Don't even think about eighth-notes! The child should be in 4th grade for this, regardless of what shows up next in the method book.
See also the articles here on pedagogical guidelines based on age and achievement level and what beginners need.
copyright 1996, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me for reprint permission.