A common challenge for new teachers is trying to keep a whole group of young children engaged during circle time or other group times on the carpet. This is challenging because young children have a high need to move around and they are just learning how to control their bodies and their attention. Because of their temperament, learning experiences, and age, some children can do this better than others. First, keep your expectations appropriate for the developmental level of the children. There is not a set amount of time that children can sit and pay attention based on their age, because their focus will depend greatly on what the activity is and their interest and understanding. Instead, learn to pay careful attention to children’s body language. When many children are beginning to wiggle and fidget, you need to wrap up or move on to a different activity.
Paying Attention at Group Time/Circle Time
There are specific techniques that you can use to help children be successful in paying attention. Consider these techniques as prevention of more troublesome behavior. It’s always easier to prevent behavior then stop it once it occurs. First, make sure that the physical environment of your meeting area is large enough so the children don’t have to touch each other. I prefer to have the children in a circle or square around the edge of the rug rather than bunched into the middle so that children can see clearly and not be in front of each other. Carpet squares can be used to help define the child’s personal space. Next, teach children what behaviors you want them to use. You can have them practice how to sit, where their bodies should be, and what it looks like to pay attention.
You can also help children stay engaged and focused by using plenty of interactive activities in which they can answer, move or participate in some way. Sometimes when I observe teachers I find it hard to pay attention myself because the lesson itself it not engaging. Be sure to keep the pacing of the lesson quick enough to move things along without being so fast that you lose the children. This takes practice, of course. When you notice a child losing attention, try to engage her by calling on her to participate, or moving close to her. Do not stop your lesson to ask for children’s attention. By the time you do this, you’ve broken to pace of the activity and you’ll likely lose the attention of other children. Instead, remember to give positive attention to children when they are focused and acknowledge when children are participating well – especially those children for whom staying on task is a challenge. Remember that what you give your attention to you will get more of!
Group Time Techniques:
· Have appropriate expectations for how long children can pay attention and focus
· Watch children’s body language for signs that you need to move on to a different activity
· Keep your group activities engaging with opportunities for active involvement
· Be sure your meeting area is large enough
· Sit children in a circle with enough room so they don’t touch each other
· Keep the pace of the lesson going when redirecting children
· Teach appropriate behaviors and acknowledge when children use them
Filed under: Student Engagement