Many people have rightly observed that getting preschool-aged children to focus can be a daunting task. Children this age are notoriously active, curious, and antsy. The mistake people often make is to assume that story time with kids under five is impossible because they don’t have a long attention span. Truth is, small children have a much longer attention span than one might think—you just have to earn it. For preschoolers, that means we can’t just sit down with a random story and expect little ones to gather around and stay there until the end. Whether you are reading to children face-to-face or online, here are a few tips that just might help get their attention . . . and keep it, too:
- Plan ahead:
The secret to keeping attention during story time, either onscreen or in-person, begins way before the children arrive. A little careful planning can go a long, long way. First, make sure you choose a book or story that is age appropriate. Read the story over and over before you sit down with kiddos. This will enable you to make eye (or camera) contact throughout the story. If you’re having to keep your eyes glued to the page or your notes, you will lose their attention early. Knowing your story well is key to connection.
- Start well:
Small children (and adults, for that matter) can sit way longer for a story if they know that there’s something in it for them. This means it’s easier to wait to hear what happens in a story once you’re invested. Begin by showing them the cover of the book or a few of the props you have prepared. Once you’ve drawn them in, they’re much more likely to stay ’til the end!
As you begin to tell/read the story, take care to engage with your audience. One of the best ways to do this is to ask a lot of questions. Some teachers use sticky notes in their books with reminders to ask things like: “What do you think will happen next?” or “Why do you think she made that choice?” or “What would you do?” Plan your questions ahead until it becomes second nature, and be careful not to quiz the children so much that it feels like a test. Your questions should be more conversational and encourage thinking.
- Take a cue from Jesus:
Jesus was a masterful storyteller. Studying Biblical examples of storytelling can be super helpful. Watch how Jesus relates current events and cultures to stories—parables of seeds to farmers, fishing to fishers, sheep to shepherds, etc. It’s good to know about the lives of your preschoolers so you can help them relate to the story in a real way. Also, notice how Jesus moves locations or changes direction to meet the needs of the audience. You can do this, too—watch to see if your littles need to get up and wiggle a bit before continuing.
Bonus tip: Record yourself and watch! This may not be completely comfortable, but it will help you notice the best ways to improve your skills. As you grow in confidence and skill, the children in your audience will be engaged and excited to hear what you have to say!