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9 Different Approaches to Getting Kids’ Attention

Tips and Approaches for Getting Kids’ Attention in Your Ministry.

We’ve all had that moment when we realize we’ve lost control of the class. Our minds go blank, leaving us with none of the hypothetical ways we’ve learned to regain kids’ attention. It can feel intimidating, but with just a little forethought, you can become the master of directing kids’ attention.

First of all, maintaining kids’ attention has a lot to do with how engaging your lessons are. If kids aren’t participants in the learning, keeping their attention is going to be a lot more difficult. Group Publishing explains this best through their R.E.A.L. Learning philosophy. Click here to watch a video and read more about how R.E.A.L. Learning works.

At first glance, R.E.A.L. Learning may seem like it leads to activities that are actually out of your control. But the truth is, with R.E.A.L. Learning, kids will be engaged and they’ll be learning in a way that helps them to remember Bible truths for a long time. What’s the point of having a quiet, orderly group, if they’re not engaged and excited about what they’re learning? Without the elements of R.E.A.L. Learning, kids will go home remembering something—but it probably won’t be life-changing Bible truths. It might be that church is boring and kids can’t be themselves or have any input while they’re learning. I think it’s safe to assume that’s not what you want them to learn.

However, once you’ve got R.E.A.L. Learning down pat, you’re still going to experience some moments when you’ll need to regain kids’ focus. Kids are human, and when they’re excited and engaged in learning, they might get loud, or overly excited. Here are some quick tips for getting kids’ attention when that does happen.

9 Different Approaches to Getting Kids’ Attention

1. Just Do It

Some of the sayings or methods people use to get kids’ attention may seem silly, but kids love them (and they work)! Go ahead—shout out that silly phrase with confident enthusiasm. The more you commit to it, the more the kids will. Remember, practice makes perfect. You’ll want to retrain yourself to use the method, rather than attempting to shout over the crowd of kids. If you do practice often, before you know it, it’ll be like second nature.

2. Repetition

Speaking of practice, the kids benefit from repetition, too. You want what they learned to be like a reflex in any moment. If kids can’t remember how they’re supposed to respond to you, it won’t be as effective. At first, use it when it’s not necessarily needed just to get kids used to it. You’ll build the community feel for kids as they do it together, and it’ll become like a fun game to them.

3. Switch it up

This might seem contradictory to the previous tip, but hear me out. It’s important that kids know and understand your chosen methods so that they respond quickly and it’s effective in getting their full attention. But if you only have one way to get their attention, it’s going to get old after awhile. And the less enthusiastic they are in their response the less amount of full attention you’re going to have. Teach kids your first couple methods, then slowly add more as the weeks pass. Preteens will be able to retain at least 5 different methods, if you introduce them over time. Because repetition is developmentally appropriate, preschoolers will thrive with less variety, but you can still teach them two or three. Just remember to keep them simple. Use similar or catchy tunes so it’s not hard for kids to remember all of them.

4. Make it Fun

You might think that using a silly phrase or pose to get kids’ attention will promote more goofy behavior, but that’s not true if kids know your expectations. A silly phrase allows kids to get a little silliness out and to have a moment of comradery with their peers before you redirect their focus. But make the fun age-appropriate; what’s fun for 3 year olds isn’t the same as what’s fun for preteens. When choosing your method, you may know that sweet spot right off the bat, or you may have to try a few different ideas to see how kids respond.

5. Clarify Your Expectations

Whatever clap signal, phrase, or pose you use, it won’t be effective if kids don’t know what you expect of them afterwards. The method should be a signal to them of your expectations. Maybe you want them to look in a certain direction or sit in a specific position. When you teach kids the signal, also explain the behaviors you expect following the signal. You can even use different signals for different behaviors. For example, if the noise level of kids’ voices is escalating too much, you might have a different signal to let kids know they can continue speaking, but in a whisper. Simply shouting at them won’t have as long of an effect, it’s definitely not fun.

Now that we’ve covered tips for how attention-getters work, here are some common and effective approaches for getting kids’ attention:

6. Auditory Cues

Choose a clapping rhythm, and either have kids copy you, or respond with a separate clapping rhythm. For example, you clap three times, then kids clap three times. Or you clap slowly twice, and kids respond by clapping three times quickly. Make it into a fun beat, but keep it fairly simple. Stay away from sounds that have to be made with certain objects—you want kids to be able to respond anytime, anywhere.

7. Verbal Cues

The options are endless with verbal cues and leader/response calls. As with the claps, you can have kids repeat what you say verbatim, or you can have them respond with a corresponding phrase. One simple phrase used by many teachers and leaders goes like this: Leader: 1, 2, 3 eyes on me; Kids: 1, 2 eyes on you. I’ve also seen people use well-known advertising jingles or common phrases from songs or movies. For example, the leader might say “Peanut butter,” and the kids would respond, “Jelly time!” Or the Leader might say, “Yakety yak,” and the kids respond, “Don’t talk back.” Yet another method is for the leader to mention a noun, such as a cow, a waterfall, or a train, then kids will respond with the sound that the noun makes. Whatever you do, choose a phrase kids can learn easily and they’ll really get into.

8. Physical Responses

Usually physical instructions begin with the leader saying something like, “If you can hear me…” The leader might have kids touch a body part or do a motion. You can have kids do several different actions to ensure you’ve regained their attention. One popular method is to have kids do something silly that actually prevents them from talking, such as “Catch a big bubble in your mouth.” Other times, leaders choose a difficult pose or hand gesture. One of the funniest gestures I’ve seen is when the leader says, “Mustache time,” kids use their pointer fingers to make mustache shapes over their upper lips. While this method takes concentration on kids’ part, it may not always be useful if kids are sitting or if their hands aren’t free in the moment.

9. Visual Cues

Some leaders like to use purely visual cues. For example, if a leader holds his or her hand in the air, then the children do too. I wouldn’t suggest turning out the lights, as that can be jolting and for younger children it can be scary. Visual cues are good if a leader lost his her voice, but they don’t always give the quickest result. If kids are caught up in what they’re doing, it could take a long time to regain the entire group’s attention, and in the meantime illicit giggles from other children.

There are certainly other approaches; so feel free to get creative. Try whispering like you have a secret, rather than shouting over the crowd. In more rare cases, use a special signal that individuals or teams get pointsor prizes for when they’re the first to respond. Avoid making this your sole method though, as you want to build a strong community rather than building a competitive spirit. Whatever you do, make it encouraging when getting kids’ attention.

Looking for more teaching tips? Check out these ideas!

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