Keeping kids engaged can be a difficult thing to do. This is especially true when you have a bunch of different personalities to cater to. So what are some of the best ways to keep them engaged? Getting to know your kids on a deeper level and learning what makes them tick is the key to keeping them engaged on their level.
A History and Comparison
Every child is different. I have eight children, and only two of them, both daughters, 10 years apart, had virtually the same personality. They liked the same things, hated the same things, reacted the same way, exhibited the same body language. Almost everything was the same. But then, as they got older (one is now 28 and the other is 18), their personalities became more their own. They are still very similar in some aspects, but now world apart in others.
The other six kids are drastically different, both from them and from each other.
Seeing the similarities and differences in my children has been one of my favorite things about having so many of them. I remembered with each pregnancy wondering what that child would be like. There really wasn't any curiosity as to what they would look like. My kids are all carbon copies of each other! What would their mannerisms be like? Or what would they love about life? What would their struggles look like? These were the questions I had about each of them as I patiently waited their arrival.
As it turned out, our life at home, especially in our home school setting, looked a lot like the Sunday School classes and kids' clubs that I taught at church, as well as the regular schools that I taught part-time in.
In all of the different settings, I was working with large groups of kids. And those kids had vastly different ideas and interests. So, the question is, how is a teacher supposed to keep all of those differences satisfied? How do we keep all of those kids engaged and wanting to come back next week? In a regular school setting, they are coming back daily regardless of their desire. But in the kids clubs and classes at school, if they didn't like the program, they didn't have to return.
The Answer to Keeping Kids Engaged
My answer for this dilemma became a matter of finding something during the time I had with them that specifically interested each one of them.
In our current kids' club at church, I have two hours on Sunday evenings to engage with these kids. The primary objective is to give these kids something to take away from the evening that they can translate into their lives at home, in their community, in their school, and in their future. That is most likely not what the majority of the students are looking forward to every week. But we do work very hard on talking openly about these things during their lesson/application time and the responses from all of them are phenomenal.
But even though it isn't primarily what they are coming to club for, it can be something that will affect them for the rest of their lives. And generally, none of them even realize the importance of it at the time. And that is where the next component of keeping kids engaged comes in.
If sitting down to learn their lessons and apply them to life is not the primary reason that they are going to want to show up every week, then what do we do to get them excited and engaged?
And since learning is the primary reason they are there, how do I make those things tie into their education? Random entertainment might make them come back every week. But what is it doing to drive home the message that we want them to learn?
Because They're Worth It!
My answer to that quickly became theming in many different types of activities. During the two hours I have with the kids I have a snack time, game time, lesson, discussion, worksheet, and craft time. These are all opportunities to drive home the point of the lesson. And these widely varying activities use all of their senses. They also manage to hit on everybody's preferences somewhere in the evening. And usually that happens for each of them on multiple activities!
For some of the kids, every part of the evening is magical. For others, there is one particular thing that they are looking forward to even if they don't love the rest of the activities. And that is okay.
You can't be everything to everybody. But it is important that they know there is something there that night that you have planned knowing that they would enjoy it and that you were thinking about them. They will show their appreciation to you in spades because they realize you are LISTENING to them.
Once they realize that everything in the evening fits into the theme, they start to come back every week. They will be running in the door to see what the food is, what the prepared craft looks like, and then they start yelling over each other to find out what the game is so that they can figure out the theme of the lesson is for that day. And then you know that you have their attention.
So this is what keeping kids engaged looks like in my classes. But what does it look like in yours? I would guess that in whatever way you are doing it, the underlying message is that you are listening to them with more than your ears.
Please feel free to share how you are keeping the kids in your life engaged. They can be your own kids, the neighborhood kids, kids in organizations you are working with, or students in your classes! Many of us are engaging with kids on some level in our daily lives even if we aren't teachers.
If you would like more information on differentiating your class to engage with your students, check out my article here.