The best way to get the attention of children and keep it: Tips for parents and teachers

Get the attention of your students in the classroom. Get your kids to listen to you. Follow these simple tips on how you can get children to be attentive. on how you can get them to be more focused and on how you can help them learn better.

Children, whom I prefer to refer to as 'little people' have a mind of their own, and they can be easily distracted. So, getting their attention or getting them to do what you want is not the easiest of things to do. But, if you can somehow grab their attention and keep it from wandering, they are like putty in your hands. Little people are also inquisitive and passionate about learning new things provided it is taught to them with as much enthusiasm.

When parents and teachers tell me about their children's lack of interest I regard that as a problem (read failure) of the adults and not the children. Adults blame the kids when it is they who fail to excite an interest in the children.

I have been a teacher, and have had many a 'difficult' (not my term for them) students, under my tutelage. When I started teaching I was around 21, fresh out of college. My first teaching job was at a highly reputed residential school, and the class assigned to me comprised of mostly boarders. It was unnerving believe me because the batch consisted of bold, mischievous and very confident young girls. The chatter in the staffroom wasn't encouraging; the older teachers had many stories to tell of the students under my care - tales that compounded my fears. These students were seen as difficult to handle.

Back then I didn't know what I was doing right, but I sailed through the first days, the first few weeks, and the first few months without problems and went on to be loved and respected as a teacher. I didn't witness any of the preconceived challenges that I had been warned about. Over the years I realised that my approach had been different. I wasn't the stern educator who went by 'rules'; instead, I was someone who encouraged participation. I connected with my students and bridged the gap. There was communication, which led to cooperation.

The tips below are compiled purely on my experience. They have worked well for me and if done right, can work for parents and teachers as well.

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Learn to keep your cool

Working with children can be an intimidating experience because getting their full attention and keeping them engaged can be quite an uphill task. The best way to work through this dilemma is to remain calm. Your anxieties and exasperation and all the other emotions of uncertainties that you feel, are easily discernible and can put you at a disadvantage. So, practice the following -

  • Remember to stay calm and be in control of your emotions
  • Interact with the kids and enjoy your time with them
  • If you are too stiff around children, you will put them on guard and they will resist you
  • Look at your time with them as fun rather than a job that needs to be done
  • Follow this basic advice and you will have children under your care eating out of your hands

Over the years I became better at what I did. I loved my job and my students loved me. The one lesson that I learned was that all children want the same things. They want someone who guides rather than enforces actions upon them. Children want adults they can communicate with, without fears. They want someone who enjoys being a part of their journey, not an onlooker who dictates from the sidelines. Adults must be willing to connect with children and do things at their pace to keep them engaged and interested. Children like to have fun, so the key here is to make learning fun.

Share enthusiasm – it is contagious

As adults, we get so engrossed in the mundane and the essential everyday things that we have no time to appreciate little things. However, children can be easily excited, even over ordinary things. Don't hold yourself back – go ahead explore the world again, with the children. Don't just share your experiences with them, don't just teach, rather let them build their own set of experiences. It is a better way for children to learn and a good way to keep them interested.

Let them discover the realities, through real life experiences. Create activities that help them discover the regular stuff and share their enthusiasm with them. For example, a lesson on the different stages of germination can be made more memorable if it includes practical knowledge. A child who sees the transformation of the seed will carry a photo image of the sequence in his mind. The lesson would be etched in his memory forever. Also, the child will connect with you, as you helped him discover the amazing wonder.

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Play a game

A game is a fun activity. Classroom and at home lessons can be turned into a game. A game brings in active participation because it is not boring. It creates an adrenalin rush that allows all of a child's faculties to be focused. You can get a child's 100% attention by turning a lesson into a game.

So, how about a quiz or a little fun activity after a lesson! But, let the child know before hand that there would be a game after the actual lesson. And that it would revolve around the lesson. In doing so, you trigger the latent competitive spirit in the child. Everyone wants to be a winner and the child here will be more attentive through the lesson, so he can be that winner. I am talking about friendly competition, not fierce challenges.

Think out of the box. The game must not be boring. In a classroom setting the teacher can divide the class into teams and have them quiz each other. At home, you can have the child quiz you.

Delegate responsibility

Instead of lecturing and ordering your children give them opportunities so they can act responsibly. What you need to do is allow the child the freedom to make decisions and to let them do things by themselves.

We all want our kids to be organised, and either, end up yelling at them to put their stuff in order or do it for them. Why not get them involved instead. Walk into their room and have a friendly chat on how they could remodel their room. Ask for their suggestions on where they would want their toys or their books kept. When you have their feedback, ask them to change the setting, so 'we' can see how it looks. You need a little tact.

A teacher, on the other hand, can get them involved in the classroom. A boring history lesson could be livened up if the same is enacted. Dates of when the Battle of Panipat happened or when the Dandi March, for instance, will be remembered better if someone, in the play, announces them loud and clear. Like this -

"It was the year 1526. Ibrahim Lodhi was the king of the Lodhi Dynasty…"

Remember the more dramatic an enactment is, the better impact it will have on learning. We still remember the nursery rhymes from our childhood, because we sang along and enacted them. We live the part.

Presentation matters

Even in our adult lives, despite all our knowledge, we fall into the trap of clever marketers who present their ware in nifty packaging. There is a science behind it – humans are naturally attracted towards beauty or things that are well-presented.

Transport the same kind of presentation that attracts us into your child's world. It helps when a lesson is packaged well. Young children's books almost always have big, colourful images. It's not that they cannot see too well. Colourful images are there to garner their interest.

Incorporate the same in teaching as well. Posters, charts, flashcards even videos can make learning easy, as they get the attention of the children. Images leave a more vivid memory than mere words.

Tell a good story

Turn bits of information into stories. The human brain recalls stories better than pieces of information. You perhaps remember the movie you saw as a kid or the names of the characters of your favourite storybook. Stories are a powerful teaching aid. They can be used to teach lessons on morals and on life, and also turn boring lessons into interesting.

I once turned a particularly boring General Knowledge lesson on scientists and their invention, into an interesting lesson, by narrating anecdotes related to these famous people that I had found mentioned in a book, in the library. At the end of each anecdote, I would tell the class of the person's inventions or discoveries. I also displayed images of these famous people. So, the lesson ceased to be about boring facts. Putting up a self-made chart that described each scientist's contribution further accelerated the learning process.

Be precise and be consistent

Children like to be treated fairly. Avoid partiality, no playing favourites. Every child in class or at home must be treated equally. Rules apply to everyone. Have a structured routine that can include a reward system. It should not be a barter system, where the children know that they will be rewarded only if they do something. It should be more like, we accomplish something and then we celebrate.

The main activity must always remain the focus. Create a structure where a fun activity is slotted after the main activity is completed. However, the main activity must not be hastily done. The purpose behind the main activity must never be forgotten.

What you should and shouldn't do

There are a few rules for you to follow –

  • Do not lose your temper. Remain calm, stay pleasant, have your say, in a clear and audible voice
  • Do not force things on kids – do not shut them up. Allow room for questions – they may have genuine doubts – clear them
  • Create a fun environment, be it at home or in the classroom. However, don't lose sight of the fact that you are in charge. You still need to introduce rules and set boundaries
  • Don't parrot the lessons, make them interesting. Introduce well-thought-out of activities to keep boredom out of classroom lessons. Break the tedium of lectures with games, drama, models, charts, diagrams and more
  • Alter the tone of your voice. Speaking in a monotone can get so boring. Encourage them to think. Pop questions like – "what do you think happened/will happen?" "Do you have an answer how something (name the thing) could be done?" Voice modulation emphasises points as do question and answers
  • Throw challenges at the kids, through activities that get them involved. A quiz, a puzzle, games, role playing – get innovative
  • Build a competitive spirit in the kids under your care. Don't pit them against each other, but let them see the goal as a challenge that needs to be completed. The goal could be as simple as tidying the room before the child goes out to play or accomplishing something within a specific time-frame

Children are sensitive and they are intelligent. They are inquisitive as well as eager. Tap the talent of each child you encounter with techniques that bring out the best in them. You need to innovate and you need to make things interesting. Even the uninteresting stuff can be made interesting if you add a bit of spice to it. So, go on, add something new to your teaching methods. Get involved, and get ready to inspire.

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