1. Good public speakers have to listen as much as they talk. Be alert to your audience's attention span, pick up on any extra fidget, any increased coughing, and adjust. Quickly.
Two-year-olds are easy audiences: You know immediately when you need to jazz things up. As soon as they start playing with the pebbles on the ground, you have to move fast. The instant their minds wander, their bodies are up and gone, too, so you have mere seconds to recapture their attention.
2. The three rules of holding attention are participation, participation, and participation. And what isn't participation is repetition.
3. When in doubt, try multi-sensory material.
- Try sound effects. If there's a frog on the page, I ask, "What do frogs say?" The children answer with "Ribbits." Same with growls, snarls, and quacks. (I'd still like to find the author of Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do you Hear? and have him mimic the sound of a flamingo "fluting" or a peacock "yelping.") Then there are pigs: fourteen little kids oink, and one little girl snurfs and snorts.
- Get physical: One night, after lining the kids up to spray them with bug dope, I needed a little participation later on. When I told them to pretend they were cats, they licked their bodies. Yuck!
4. Learn everyone's name. We all wear name tags (in the shape of leaves) and we always start with the same song: "Sophie is wearing her blue shorts, blue shorts, blue shorts... all day long." I won over one member of the group right from the name tag ritual in the beginning. She approached, and spelled "S-a-r-a-h." I said, "That's terrific, Sarah. Here's your tag." Eyes huge, she asked, "How did you know my name was Sarah?"
5. Unless the story ends with everyone tucked into bed, preschoolers have a hard time knowing it's over. This was disheartening to me in the beginning, but I quickly learned to announce, "The End."