How To Help New Sunbeams Pay Attention

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How-to posts contain ideas for dealing with problems and/or meeting teaching objectives.  These posts may be updated as I discover or think of new ideas.  If you have something to add to the conversation, please leave it in the comments!

1.  Keep things moving. Sunbeams have very short attention spans.  Have your books ready, pages marked, lists printed out, flipcharts on the table, visual aides on the board… whatever it is you need to step right in to teaching.  And once you’ve got it going, don’t stop.  If your cd won’t load or your pianist is having trouble finding a page, ask the kids a question or guide them in some wiggles.  In fact…

2.  Look for every opportunity to wiggle.  There are lots of ways to work in a wiggle song.  If the weather is nice, start with “Popcorn Popping.”  If you’re learning about faith, take a break and sing “Snowman” but change the words to “Once there was a small seed… in the sun he grew.”  Add sign language or hand movements to your songs whenever possible.  Or just repeat the songs you’re learning as you move in fun ways, like marching, balancing on one foot, drumming the rhythm, etc.

3.  Use lots of different methods.  Variety is great for keeping kids engaged.   Movement, pictures, video or audio recordings, games, stories, even treats (occasionally and with permission) will involve children who absorb information in all different ways.  And it will keep them guessing what’s coming next.

4.  Find ways to keep them constantly involved.  Ask them questions- especially yes or no, thumbs up or thumbs down, or “raise your hand if you…..” types of questions which the entire primary can answer without being disruptive.  Ask them to pat their heads whenever they hear a keyword.  Have them point to the pictures as you sing the lines.  Let them hold pictures, pick songs, etc.  When you plan your lessons, ask yourself whether there is anything you can delegate to a child.

5.  Make them cd’s  As I explained here, I don’t normally give out cd’s for Christmas, but I think it’s a great idea for new Sunbeams.  Make a big deal of it with a colorful CD cover, label, or wrapping paper.  Have a special nursery lesson to welcome them to Primary and introduce them to the “big kid songs.”  Show excitement about what you’re teaching.  Don’t include the songs you’re going to learn in the upcoming year, though- you will have plenty of time to teach those.  Fill the CD with songs from the previous year and other songs that you sing often!  Just six to ten tracks is enough to get them started.  And then…

6.  Sing songs that they know as often as possible.  Between the songs you taught in nursery, the songs on the cd, and classics that they’re likely to have picked up at home, you have plenty to choose from.  Throw one in every once in a while!  It will re-engage them and boost their confidence.

7.  Tell them what to do if they don’t know the words.  I explain to my kids that if they forget or don’t know the words to a song, I expect them to sing “la la la.”  For the first few months, you might display a different animal card at the front of the room every week.  Ask the nursery children to sing the songs that they don’t know in cow language (moo the words), cat language (meow the words), and so on, depending on which animal they see.
8.  Praise, encourage and reward good behavior.  First, be clear about your expectations and repeat them often.  Tell the children what you WANT them to do, not just what you DON’T WANT them to do.  Next, make sure that you recognize when they are working hard, singing, paying attention, or showing respect and reverence.  A thumb’s-up or a “good job” goes a long way.   Never give out rewards to the “best” behaved child.  At this age, they’ll only be disappointed that they don’t win it every week.  And never give candy or toys.  You shouldn’t create the anticipation of a big reward every week where a small acknowledgment will do.   Finally, be creative in helping them remember what they should be doing.  In church, especially, discipline should feel more like reminding than scolding.  Try something like this to help keep them in their seats and on task.

9.  Get to know them!  Learn their names.  Help the teacher by sitting with them during Sharing Time.  Say “hello” in the hall.  Give them a wink or a small wave in Sacrament Meeting.  Ask them questions about themselves and their families.   The short story is- they’ll behave better if they know you and like you.  And you’ll have a better idea of what works for each child if you get to know and love them.  
10.  Facebook Commenter KellyAnne suggests giving the Sunbeams a stuffed animal to hold.  I’ve done this as a Sunbeams Teacher.  I had the children hold stuffed monkeys and asked them to show the silly monkeys how to behave in church.  I’m not sure how you could implement this in your capacity as a chorister, but it’s not a bad concept.  Maybe you could have a “visitor” doll that sits at the front of the room and ask the children to set a good example.

Any more ideas?  Add them in the comments!