Ask the Horizons Team: If a child isn’t attending, is it best to use a non-verbal prompt to get them to re-engage?
I’ve heard you speak about different levels of prompts and have a question about that. If a child isn’t attending, is it best to use a non-verbal prompt to get them to re-engage?
-Gary in Indiana
This is an important question and I appreciate you asking it. When a child is not attending, often the adult’s first response is to somehow prompt the child to attend to the task at hand. Prompting can take many different forms, and it is important to use prompts that help facilitate the child’s development of independent attention shifting. Typically adults use direct verbal prompts first – saying the child’s name, stating what they need to do, repeating the instructions, etc. While this can be effective, it also requires no work on the child’s part to recognize where his attention should be and shift appropriately.
It is my preference that adults start by using less direct prompts to help a child recognize where his attention needs to be. There are a variety of indirect prompts that can be used, and I detail those in my seminars and in the Learning as We Grow book. Making a statement such as, “I’m looking at this book” provide a cue as to the most important thing happening at that moment, and allow the child to use that information to redirect his attention. You asked about nonverbal prompts, and those can also be very effective. Moving the materials closer to the child, pointing to the task, and moving your own body closer to the child are all effective nonverbal prompts that provide information about where he should be attending but do not directly tell the child what to do. The key is to provide the child with some information about where his attention should be, without directly telling him where to look or what to do. This allows for the development of awareness and independent attention shifting that is critical for success in life.