Make “Make Believe” Work

Hi and welcome back to Attention-ology for K – 5 Teachers!

A few years ago I had the good fortune to win a contest for creative ideas in the care of puppies.  My win netted my family a year’s worth of dog food but it also set the stage for the application of a creative attention-getting trick that I’ve used successfully with young children.

Stuff that Stuffed Animal into your Teacher’s School Bag on the way to class! 

Anyone who’s ever doubted that a picture (in print or live and in-person, or should I say, in stuffed version) of an adorable puppy (or insert your favorite animal here) can melt hearts and capture minds – read “get attention” – hasn’t ever owned and loved a puppy. My winning entry into the national puppy chow contest was a brief description, accompanied by a photo, of my brand new yellow lab being “comforted” by a big yellow lab stuffed animal next to her in a large basket. Julianna, my puppy, thought that the life-like stuffed dog was her mother! She napped for hours in the comfort of “Make-Believe.”

Why not put the same principle to work in teaching young children, I thought to myself. And, sure enough, the results have been fantastic. The key is to ACT like the stuffed animal is real. Make “Make Believe” work for teaching. Talk to the stuffed animal as if it is real; ask the children to be quiet so that the animal can “nap.”  Tuck the critter into a cozy blanket and pat it with loving care. The children will “eat up” your dramatic performance. Early childhood educators know the power of “Make Believe.”

Need proof? I recently took a life-like stuffed hamster to teach a summer arts program for young children that meets on a bi-weekly basis. I introduced “Scamper, the Hamster” to the group and showed the children how he makes a noise when you press his nose. I advised the students that if  they heard “Scamper” make a sound, it was a cue, a clue, for them to hush for a moment.

“Scamper” worked like a charm, so much so, that on my following visit as a teacher in this art program, returning children asked if I had brought “Scamper” back with me. Now, that’s an effective attention-getting tool and trick!

I’ve seen other teachers and librarians who work with grades K – 2 use stuffed animals and dolls based on storybook characters to encourage reading. Some educators allow young students to “borrow” a storybook animal or doll to sit with while reading, an effective motivation to borrow books. But, I bought “Scamper” with the specific goal of using this engaging soft stuffed animal as a tool to catch and keep students’ attention. One of the benefits of “assigning” a tool like “Scamper” to be used as a trick to help children key in on you, the teacher, is that you can use it during any class activity.

Scamper will go on a field trip! In addition to using little “Scamper, the Hamster” as an attention-getting tool in school, I plan to take “Scamper” on an upcoming field trip with this young class. I’ll ask the children as we board the Activity Bus to stay close enough to me and “Scamper” so that he “doesn’t get scared about missing kids.” Bet the children will watch out for “Scamper’s” interests and in doing so, watch out for themselves.

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in instructional settings!

Talk with you next week,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet

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