Friday, June 17, 2011

Questioon about leading/teaching children

Question:   I lead the children's choir. I am new to the position, and wanted to know a top ten list of things people should stop doing when instructing/teaching kids. I've probably picked up some bad habits through the years, and I'd like to be able to eliminate those first before I start adding the "To-Do" things to my list.

In no particular order:
1.  Stop putting "Okay", "Aren't you", or other things at the end of statements which turns them into question.  "We are going to sing ______, okay?"  Often this is thought of as a softening or to not be seen as bossy but it is interpreted as giving a choice.
2.  Avoid having a sing-songy voice.  Those who work with children, especially young children tend to raise their voices an active or two and they start talking in more of a falsetto tone.  This is annoying and inhibits communication.
3.  Your voice and your facial expressions should match.  If they don't then young children ignore the voice and go with what the face it telling them.  I have teachers practice in front of a mirror to be sure that they are not smiling when they say, "It really upset me when you pulled her hair."
4.  Saying you are sorry is not equal to restitution.  Many adults force children to say they are sorry and the children learn that the words do not need to mean anything.  They become "get out of jail free" cards.  Children are concrete learners and need to do something physical to make up for things. To make it right.
5.  Consider the environment.  Children are asked to do a lot of waiting.  Sometimes it is while an adult is focusing on someone else.  You as the leader and the other children are just not that interesting.  Be sure there are visual things around to hold a child's attention during waiting periods.  Think of the collages that most dental offices have on ceilings when you get your teeth cleaned.  They really help.
6.  Avoid focusing on the negative.  Children will stop listening if most of what they hear is negative.  research shows that 80% of what children hear from adults is neutral or negative.  That is how they develop selective listening.  If they assume there is a significant chance that what you are telling them is something they don't want to hear they will tune you out.  You counterbalance that by building up the positive.  Then the corrections are more likely to be effective.
7.  Smile.  Don't take yourself so seriously.  Many people who work with young children and youth seem to be in pain or constipated.  Enjoy them for what they are.  Usually they are doing the best they can.  One of my favorite ages is two-year-olds and they never disappoint me.  In know what to expect and I understand that being two is hard.  Look for the great things.
8.  When talking about the children you work with, tell the good things and not the bad.  Everyone has a bad story and you will not only hear theirs but you will begin having a mindset that tells you about the things you fear.  If you look for and share the great things then that is what you will find and children will give you more.
9.  Change pace every 12 - 15 minutes for children 5 - 10 and more often for younger children.  Be mostly predictable but keep some surprises.  Don't hesitate to reward good efforts and teamwork.
10.  Respect children.  Treat them honestly and fairly.  Remember that what is fair is not always equal and what is equal is not always fair.  Basic principle of life.  Life isn't fair.  Get over it.  Handle it with grace.


  1. I an grateful for this list. I was going to pick some favorites, but they are all really great. Handle it with grace is great advice. I like the empathy of remembering that two is hard. I'm sure I was a pill at that age.

    Thanks for the list. I enjoy your blog.

  2. I love that you love two year olds!! For many people, that is such a challenging age. Great list!