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.