During my first summer as a camp counselor, I lost my voice almost every week. Each game, devotional, and worship time seemed to require loud yelling to control the kids. I stumbled through my weekly responsibilities with hoarse, cracking speech. And the joy of the job was fading!
Thank heaven for Steve, then. As our camp leader, Steve had mastered the art of holding kids’ attention. He would shout, “Fingers Up!” and hold his pointer finger in the air while covering his mouth with the other hand. At large-group session, Steve would greet everyone and then whisper, “How should we call in our speaker?” The kids would shout ideas, and then he’d hush the crowd. With a mischievous grin, Steve would invite the whole group to call out: “Act like a gorilla, [insert speaker’s name]!” The speaker would then swagger in like a mighty gorilla. The children would laugh—and all eyes would be riveted on the speaker.
I paid attention. By the end of the summer, my cabin responded to different calls and hand signals. Those rituals became part of our cabin culture. I even overheard cabin counselors using the signals at night during sharing time. My voice returned—as did my sense of humor.
Rallying a group of young children can feel like herding cats. Preschoolers are still learning how to focus their attention. They often don’t know how to behave in group settings. Friends, environment, and visible objects derail their attention. To create a climate for learning, young children benefit from visuals, music, words, and physical actions. Physical motions also occupy little hands that might otherwise reach for something else.
These fun ideas grab and hold a child’s attention. Incorporate one or two into your classroom routine:
Seven “Attention Getting” Tips
1. Establish “Ground Rules”: As each class begins, show children what you expect of them. For example, suppose your classroom rule is: “Obey quickly, cheerfully, and completely!” Start by saying, “Obey quickly” then walk in a silly, slow-motion gait. Ask, “Is this ‘obeying quickly’?” As the kids respond with a resounding “No!” show what obeying quickly looks like! The words and physical movement combine to reinforce your rules.
2. Act It Out: Call out an action (see ideas below), demonstrate it, and invite the kids to follow. Keep going until everyone joins you.
•dance like a monkey
•act like a robot
•salute like a soldier
•stand like a statue
•flex like a bodybuilder
3. Use Your Hands: Invite children to respond with a physical hand motion. For example:
•Fingers Up: As you call out “Fingers Up,” have the kids raise an index finger into the air with you. Option: children can cover their mouth with the other hand.
•Arms Up: Raise both arms into the air and freeze your action until every arm is in the air
4. Sing Songs: Select simple songs to designate transition times. Choose a different song to signal time for: large groups, small groups, stations, cleanup, and goodbye. Sing together or use a music clip.
5. Use “Response Techniques”:
•Call out “1,2,3 eyes on me” (and teach the children to respond) “1,2 eyes on you.”
•Say, “If you can hear me… (insert action such as: clap, put hands on head, finger on nose, or show two thumbs-up).” Repeat until every child is engaged. This gradually quiets the room and encourages listening and obeying.
6. Make Noise: Bring a noise-making object (frog, clicker, bell, or another sound) that cues children to FREEZE whatever they are doing. Be sure to keep the object handy so you can “freeze” kids whenever necessary.
7. Have a Whisper Session: When giving important instructions, create an air of mystery by lowering your voice. Repeat this several times until everyone is listening quietly.