Monday, December 9, 2013

How to Help New Sunbeams Pay Attention

Keep things moving.
Sunbeams have very short attention spans.  Have your books ready, pages marked, lists printed out, flip charts on the table, visual aides on the board... whatever it is you need to step right in to teaching.  Then, once you've started, 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...

Look for every opportunity to let them move.
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.

Use lots of different teaching methods.  
Variety is essential to keeping kids engaged.   Movement, pictures, video or audio recordings, games, stories, even treats (occasionally and with permission) will involve children who absorb information in various ways.  It will also keep them guessing what's coming next.

Find ways to keep the children 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.

Make each Sunbeam a CD.
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.  Have a special December nursery lesson to welcome the children to Primary and introduce them to the "big kid songs."  Make a big deal of the gift with a colorful cover or pretty wrapping paper.  Don't fill the cd the songs you're going to learn in the upcoming year- you will have plenty of time to teach those.  Instead, choose songs from the previous year and other songs that your primary sings often!  Just six to ten tracks is enough to get them started.  And then...

Sing the songs 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.

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.

Praise, encourage and reward good behavior.
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 proactive like these Sunbeam eggs to help keep them in their seats and on task.

Get to know them!
Learn the children's 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.   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.  

Any more ideas?  Add them in the comments!


  1. This is a really great list, some tried and true suggestions that I have used, and some new ideas that I look forward to trying out! Thank you!

  2. This is great! Thank you so much. We have some wiggly and nervous little sunbeams so I'm excited to try these ideas!

  3. I still feel kind of new to Primary (six months), but one of my favorite ways to get wiggles out is to sing a song with mood markings like "with conviction" or "with commitment" and have them watch me for cues on when to stand and sit. Having them stand on the verbs and other keywords (I HOPE they call me on a mission...I BELIEVE in the Savior, Jesus Christ) helps me emphasize the meaning of the song. It also helps direct their attention to the front, and I'm secretly hoping it'll have some payoff come program practice time.