Focusing Young Ones

Hocus Pocus, This is How We Focus!


The setting: Circle time in a 3 year old preschool class.

The Teacher claps twice then states in an animated voice: “Hocus pocus,” 

Children Respond “…this is how we focus!”

I heard this cute little phrase in a preschool classroom one day to get children back on track at circle time and it prompted me to think about how we can keep little minds paying attention in fun and engaging ways in a preschool setting. 

I once conducted a classroom observation in which the children were being asked to go, one by one, up to the front of the class and point out and identify all their shapes, colors and letters of the alphabet. While 16 other students were expected to sit quietly and observe. It took fifty (yes, 50!) minutes of the hour long observation!! There is NOTHING more boring to a three or four year old than sitting and watching others around them while being expected to quietly pay attention. 

Young children are not made to sit still for that length of time, and quite frankly, neither was I! I kid you not, two children were nodding off at their desks and I was sure I was going to fall in line right behind them!

Here are some ideas for keeping their attention and re-engaging them when they go astray!

  • Try a little game of “If you can hear me!”  In your average talking voice state “If you can hear me touch your nose” There is going to be one or two children who are paying attention and are going to join in. Give these ones a thumbs up after each command for positive reinforcement and continue on until you have everyone engaged. End with “If you can hear me, eyes on me, hands quietly in your lap.” You can then continue on with your lesson.
  • Keep your students involved: Children are more apt to stay on track if they are involved in the lesson. Assign helper tasks such as the pointer person during letter identification, the page turner during a story, weather helpers, etc.
  • Keep it short: Keep your activities, especially those like circle time, to no more than 15 minutes tops. You can use a visual timer such as a sand timer or bell timer to help children see how much time is remaining.
  • Be prepared: Review your daily plans in advance and be sure you have all of your materials out and ready to go. Scrambling around at the last minute to try to locate brushes, paints, play doh tools, etc. is a sure way to lose their attention. Be sure you have a backup plan or activity in place. There will always be those one or two children who will race through the activity then be looking to you for something else to do! Coloring pages are excellent time fillers!
  • Use that acting degree: What? You didn’t go to school to be an actor? Well, you’d better be able to improvise then!  You’ll gain and hold your students’ attention much better when you are animated and exaggerate your movements. Move around the room, sing, dance (they don’t care if you can sing well or not!) and learn with them!
  • Know when to surrender: Even the most exciting activities you think you planned are going to bomb out at  some point or another. Your class may not be in the mood, the timing of your activity may not be the best…whatever it is; it’s OK to abandon your plan and come back to it another time. Get them up and moving- they are going to learn best when you have their full attention. You are modeling flexibility for them as well if you can handle these change ups with ease.


Katerie Breuer, MSW, LCSW, LISW-CP



 Becoming part of the Behavior Corner is easy! We welcome your comments! Join Now!


(membership is free)

Add Comment

Start here for...

Subscribe to the show

Signup for the newsletter

Follow me on