Capturing the attention of preschoolers

by Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. on April 3, 2010

in Professional Development

There are lots of techniques teachers use to capture the attention of preschoolers.

Walk Over
When needing to get the attention of only one child or a small group of children playing together, it is always more effective just to walk over, bend down close and speak warmly to them.  What doesn’t work well? Yelling across the room. Kids learn to tune this out pretty quickly.

Eye Contact
I always say if you don’t have eye contact then you really don’t have the child’s attention. If I need the children to stop and listen to my words for a few seconds, I will use a creative technique to get their attention first (which will be described below) and then pause to get eye contact.  I might say, “Eyes on me so I can see you listening” and then wait again for just a second.


Waiting too long
I don’t want to exasperate the situation by waiting too long for every student to stop and put their eyes on me. Waiting too long is like putting out fires. The minute you get one set of eyes, you will lose another. So go with the majority of eyes on you and move onto what it is you needed in the first place.


The child that just wont look at me
For this child, I often will walk over while talking to all the other children and gently take his or her hand and have them walk with me while I continue talking to everyone else. I avoid shouting or coming down on the child in front of everyone else. No need for humiliation and the truth is, shouting or harshness really isn’t all that effective – it just creates stress and stress leads to a unhappy learning environment.


The observant child
Have you ever watched an adult lecture a child and just by observing you start to feel uncomfortable?  When you decided to come down on one child, the rest of the children may very well feel like they are being punished too. Children are sensitive to your body language, tone of voice, and choice of words whether or not they are target of your frustration.  I had one little girl tell me, “I don’t like preschool…. my teacher yells at Nathan…”


It is better and more effective to walk over, make eye contact, and gently address concerns with a child or small group of children personally than to punish the entire class by making a loud scene.


Here are some great suggestions from my fans on Facebook!
I recently posted a request for suggestions on Facebook and here are some of the responses that I found to be extremely creative.

Jess Mueller: When I taught preschool we did clap imitations. I would clap a rhythm and that was their clue to quiet down and clap the rhythm after me. I kept clapping different rhythms until everyone caught on and was participating.
Brienna Parker:”I turn off the lights and say…If you can hear my voice touch your head, If you can hear my voice touch you shoulders” ect It is a great game and it gets their attention. I do this all while lowering my voice. If I am outside, I will go to 3 or 4 children tell them to tell their friends that I am going to play a game and to com on over and I start doing that but much faster, those kids that came laugh and the kids that did not hear them laughing in a group and they come over, so much fun!!
Adriana Escobar:

claps and lights works for me too, but I would use them when they’r getting out of control… usually I would say: “1-2-3 eyes on me” (then they will turn at me and blink their eyes) to get their attention…. it works just fine!
Sue Alva: I

do “open, shut them, open, shut them, give a little clap, clap, clap, open, shut them, open, shut them, put them in your lap, lap, lap” my kids all know that means it is time to be quiet and listen.
Carol Martin Black: I bought a soft flower at the dollar store for a $1.00 and it is about two ft long. I call it my ‘quiet flower’ and whenever I need the childrens attention or I need to talk to them I hold up that flower. I ask them what does this mean and they tell me it’s time to listen or time to be quiet. Works great and I don’t have to fuss at them the whole time.
Alicia Bayer: “Raise your hand if you’re listening to me.” The kids quickly notice each other raising their hands and quiet down to figure out what’s going on.
March 23 at 11:58am ·  · Report
Jen German: I hold up my hand and count down from five, folding fingers down as I go. The kids catch on and start counting down with me, and when we get to one, the one finger goes over our lips in a shhhhh. So, 5,4,3,2,1,shhhh. By then (hopefully) all eyes are on me. I stole that from my son’s kindergarten teacher 8 years ago :)
Kelli Gillim Wood: We sing “Can you be as quiet as a mouse, mouse, mouse?” as loud as we can then repeat it over and over singing softer and softer until everyone is listening. We also squish down to mouse size too. It is not a slam dunk everytime but 2′s and 3′s seem to like it.
Tanya Sims: I use a call back- I say peanut butter and the students say jelly… and we do it a couple of times if we need too
Marcy McKee Emanuelli: My lead teacher uses “criss cross applesauce” to sit inidan style and “make a bubble” (with your cheeks) to stop talking.
Diana Davis Pratte: I have used wind chimes and moved them to get the kids attention. I have also used a xylophone and when that sound was made they were to freeze for directions. I also made up the song” Time to Listen” – Time to Listen, Time to Listen. Right now, Right now. Ears are open, Ears are open. Mouth is quiet (sh) mouth is quiet (sh).
Kim Robbie Lyons: T

o get the whole class’ attention, I say “catch a bubble in 5-4-3-2-1″ and the kids catch a ‘bubble’ — puffing their cheeks out.
To get an individual child’s attention, I sing while spell their name — ex. C-H-L-O-E spells Chloe, etc. I just find a tune that matches up with the amount of letters in their name.
Soha Saad Abdelkader:

SIMON SAYS:put ur hands up, shake ur hands, eyes on the teacher, now its my turn to talk & ur turn to listen
IT REALLY WORKS
Merrili Nou: I whisper and go to one or two of the children, telling them that i need to tell the class something. usually the one or two children stopwhat they are doing, causing the other children to also stop and listen. :)
Erin Eller Jones: I would sing (to the tune of if you’re happy and you know it) if you can hear my voice, clap your hands, if you can hear my voice clap your hand, if you can hear me it’s time for listening, if you can hear my voice clap your hands.
Linda Blankenship Cardenas: I use 123 all eyes on me, or if you can hear me clap 2 times, etc. Holding up my hand is called the quiet sign, and when they see it, they are supposed to raise their hand too, until everyone catches on and gets quiet.
Jamie Kinney Beastrom: I hit the lights ~ off means there is a direction to follow or an important message. they freeze and hands hit the air, they can’t move until the lights go back on! works really well for us

Tom Hobson: I just beat a drum. I use the drum for transitions so they know it means to pay attention.
Rahma Dona: Just like teacher Tom but Tamborine i use its quite effective*)
Tom Hobson: I use the drum at parent meetings too. Last year a parent made t-shirts of a cartoon Teacher Tom beating a drum and saying, “Stand up children!” It was so bizarre when the kids and their parents were wearing the shirts at school.

Sharon Gear: we sing ‘are you listening’ and it’s amazing how fast they all stop to listen….

Beryana Evridawati: I’ll clap n if it doesn’t work, I’ll call they name one by one..

Dewi Susanti Siahaan: Speak with low voice, almost whisper, if you think you can make your voice can be heard by only two or three students it is OK. trust me it works.
This article is being shared with you by Deborah Stewart of Teach Preschool - Sharing the wonders of early learning in action!

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Comments on this entry are closed.

1 Erica April 3, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Thanks for the gentle reminder! As a homeschooler, my first reaction is to yell..ugh! I think even at home, I need to be better about addressing them one-on-one. And you’re right, it’s not that effective anyway!

2 Deborah J. Stewart April 3, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Hi Erica,
I appreciate your comment:) I am not perfect at this but for the most part at home, I hardly ever raise my voice. I think it is a habit I built from teaching so many years. One time I told my daughter (at age 5) in a quiet voice but serious tone “Honey, stop running.” She stopped and looked at me and said, “Mom, you don’t have to yell!” I just laughed because believe me, the girl really never heard me yell in her entire life. It was the seriousness of my tone that got her attention – she just didn’t know the difference.

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