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Train Up a Child: Ideas for gaining attention of children

  How can we teach a child if we can’t get that child’s attention? There are a few things I have learned through the years about getting the attention of children. Here are some things to consider:

·       Not all children are designed to sit still for long periods of time. Some children are “body smart” and will do better as adults in jobs that require the use of the body. There is dignity in hard physical labor, and it should be respected. As children, they need activities using the body.

·       Very young children can be expected to have an attention span of approximately five minutes. To gain their attention, a person might say, “Let me see your pretty eyes.” 

·       Children (and adults) are usually thinking about what they are looking at. Require children to look at you when you are talking.

·       Most people cannot use their ears and mouth at the same time. Children should be required to stop talking when the adult parent or teacher is talking.

·       A low-toned voice will gain the attention of children better than a loud voice. Children will strain to hear what you are whispering or saying in a low voice. 

·       Whispering in the ear of a child will gain attention.

·       Yelling at children in a classroom is not good. Children will only yell back.

·       Do not repeat things many times. Children begin to think that if they don’t hear you the first time, you will keep saying it over and over for them. (When I dictated sentences for my GED class to write, I told them up front that I will say each sentence two times. If they don’t get it, they must guess what I said. This helps develop their listening skills.)

·       Ask children to repeat back to you what you said to make sure they heard you. Tell them ahead of time that you will require this; then, they will listen more closely.

·       Remove major distractions from the environment. 

·       Some children have the idea that reading fast is all that is required to be a good reader. Those children should be stopped at the end of each sentence and asked to tell you what they read. This helps them learn to pay attention to what they are reading.

·       Give “fidgety” children physical activities to wear off part of their energy. Require them to participate in active games, hand out papers, sharpen pencils, etc. 

·       Rotate activities in a classroom to include both sit-down activities and stand-up activities. One activity is simply to wad up a piece of paper, throw it to a student and say, “What is 8 times 7?” That student answers and throws the paper to someone else and gives another question. This can be adapted to use with most subjects with questions about what was covered.

·       Have a signal such as everyone lifting hands when it is time to be quiet and listen. As children begin to raise hands, others notice and follow suit. Also, simply turning off the lights in a room will cause all to get quiet and wonder what is happening.


We need to be reasonable in our expectations of children in their ability to pay attention. In general, children will pay attention when something is meaningful and interesting, but there are many times in life when they need to pay attention without being entertained and must be required to do so

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