In an effort to discover the cause of my sincere dislike for school, my mother began a “mom reconnaissance mission.” She climbed the schoolhouse stairs, peered in the window, then suddenly burst through the classroom door. “BOYS AND GIRLS,” she demanded. The stunned children climbed off desktops and jumped down from chalk rails. Bending over the crying teacher she whispered, “You’re the adult here. I’ll teach you how to keep the children tuned in and excited about learning.” A super hero in a “mom suit” rescued me from frightening chaos! The secrets to her success were her leadership skills and a plan to help children learn self-control.
Tools as simple as a definition, a plan, and an environment can make all the difference.
Discipline – Training that develops a child’s self-control. Children who learn to listen to loving leaders will find it much easier to obey God’s Word.
Set the guidelines and explain them to leaders and kids. Then, point out the rule to the child who forgets, ignores or disobeys it. Children need clear and age-appropriate boundaries to feel safe and to know they can succeed. Make guidelines fit into simple categories: Leader, Others, Me. These categories provide guidelines for hands, ears, voice, and feet. Repeat, review, and reinforce the guidelines often in loud, soft, wacky and fun ways.
Give clear and specific instructions. Kids will be less likely to run in the hall if, as each child leaves the room, you whisper the secret in each child’s ear, “Walk in the hall.” Ensure a direct path to large group by clapping a beat as you repeat, “Walk, sit, criss-cross applesauce. You can do it, yes you can.”
Define the consequences. Give one warning and follow through. If the consequences are fair and consistent, the children know what to expect. There’s nothing more confusing to a child than having the anvil fall on him when the other guy got a pass. Continually reinforce the concept that following the guidelines makes life so much more pleasant. “You can sit next to your friend when you keep your hands in your personal space.”
Reward good choices. Something as small as a touch, a wink or a nod can communicate volumes to a child looking for approval. But if you want to send a child over the moon, sing his name in a song. Sing “Jason is a good helper, he puts the toys away,” and all the children will fall all over each other gathering toys. Sit a small plush puppet on a child’s shoulder saying, “ Amanda, you are one amazing and kind friend!” This puppet’s favorite word is “amazing.”
The environment you create helps kids stay tuned in and excited about learning.
Preparation and Relationship
A leader who is completely prepared with crafts, games, toys, activities and lesson can be involved WITH the children. A child’s relationship with his leader is one of the most important motivators to good behavior. When a child feels loved, encouraged and accepted, he wants to please his leader. A child gets a picture of pleasing God when he succeeds at pleasing his classroom shepherd.
NO DEAD AIR. Be so organized that there is no lag time during worship and story time. Make your goal to move seamlessly between activities.
Kids love to do what they’re currently ready to learn. They’re ready to learn categorizing, color and symbol recognition, scanning from left to right and so much more. Toys placed in color coded and picture labeled bins make it easy for kids to put toys away without anything more than a “toys away” song and some team effort. Use a song: “Toys away, don’t delay. Help your leader have a happy day.” (Any tune will do.) Turn car tubs on the side. Kids can gather cars and “drive” them into the “garages.” Post a leader or a very savvy child at the toy shelves to put the tubs away by category from left to right.
Vary the schedule
Alternate active and quiet activities and songs to help children learn how to reign themselves in.
Transitions and Cues
Help children learn to control themselves by using transitions and cues. Parents tell me their children use these fun tools at home with their friends and family. Start an “imaginathon” and your leaders will develop their own “Ts & Qs” (transitions and cues). When used consistently, the following activities are golden!
- How old are the children? That’s how many commands they can remember.
- “Don’t do ANYTHING until I say GO.”
- “Quietly stand up, push in your chair, sit on a carpet square.”
- REPEAT pointing to a finger with each instruction.
- Hesitate, “GO!
- “Today the number is 6. By the time I count to six, all the toys must be in the tubs.” Slowly count to the number, occasionally reminding kids about the goal.
Occasionally remind kids what the key words mean and be sure all leaders use the same words: control, personal space, banner is at the door, lock (be sure you tell them to unlock mouths), kitty cat slippers, wiggle, freeze!
Create ways to make key words more fun. Use a flexible, plastic shower hose to whisper the key word into each child’s ear. Silence reigns as each child waits to hear his personal message.
A parent told a leader who provided a fun, yet controlled environment that his generally out of control son was VERY upset when he announced they were skipping church. “I have to go to church,” he sobbed. “My teacher will miss me. She just loves me.” We learned later that church was the first place where the boy could control himself.
A remarkable leader has a plan and creates an environment in which each child can succeed, have fun, listen and grow.