It is a common misconception that preschool children know what it means when you ask them to “listen”. Grown ups constantly ask them to “listen” or “pay attention”, but a young child can’t comply with those requests until you explain what that will actually look like.
I teach my little ones the “Give Me Five” signal. When I need my very best listeners, I hold up my hand and say, “Give Me Five…Four..Three..Two..One” as I slowly count down with my fingers as well. At “One” I put the single finger in front of my mouth for a quiet “shhh”. The children usually follow along, shhh-ing as well, bringing us all to a quiet spot. But listening is more than just being quiet, so I teach how to listen using the FIVE. The first time I use it, I tell them there are important parts to being a good listener, that they can remember as we count down.
5…Your eyes are looking.
4…Your body is still.
3…Your hands are to yourself.
2…Your ears are listening .
and 1…Shhhh. Your mouth is quiet. We’re ready to listen!
(I’ve even made a big poster drawing of a hand and put pictures of eyes, bodies, etc. on each finger as a visual reminder.)
I’ll repeat this long version the first few times I use “Give Me Five”, often changing it up to reinforce those behaviors (5…Danny’s eyes are looking, 4…Oh, wow, Jill’s body is so still….), then I shorten to just counting, but pointing out children that are doing the specific behaviors once we finish counting, thanking them for being good listeners.
I don’t use this every time I want someone’s attention, I think they would tire of it. But I use it frequently at the beginning, to teach listening skills, and then I use the “5-4-3-2-1 shhh” when I need to get everyone’s attention during a busy time (while they’re talking during snack, or a project for example). I also use it as a quick reminder at times such as large group, using my hand as a signal and saying, “Who’s giving me five? Oh wow! Yen is such a great listener!” Try this out with your little ones, and see if teaching them how to listen will help them to listen!
Photo Courtesy StillSearc.
I like the countdown idea. These are some good ideas to pass on to my teachers.
Glad to hear it’s something you can use! Let me know how it goes!
Catherine McMahon says
Love this technique! Used it in my classroom this first week.
I’m so glad! Thank you for letting me know!
I love your Give Me Five! method–a very clear directive for preschoolers. I can’t wait to try it with my kids!
Thank you for these ideas. They are very like the methods that I’ve used for many years in my early-years classrooms. I’ve used “Whole Body Listening” like your five. Google whole body listening and you will find a range of posters to suit your level. The original idea (or maybe I just added it along the way!) included listening with your bottom, so that it was on the floor! I realise that a very directed approach doesn’t sit well with a lot of contemporary-informal approaches to teaching, but sometimes you need children to be still to listen well (no longer than 5 minutes!)
Luckily it’s extremely possible to approach teaching/childcare from a less “directed approach” by offering lots of time for free play, solving problems non-punitively, etc… all while setting children up to succeed by having very clear (and appropriate) expectations and procedures, and even practicing if necessary. A lot of problems can be avoided when children know what to do and how to do it.
The book “Teaching Children to Care” is a classroom management book that goes deeper into this idea (though I ignore the parts where the author recommends using time-out).