Keeping children quiet in the classroom

Two of my adult classes are at elementary schools. Some of the moms bring their pre-schoolers to class. It is always a challenge to keep them quiet enough to have an effective class. If the moms aren’t watching them, they disturb the class. If the moms are watching them, they keep the moms from paying attention to the lesson. In spite of the challenges, my students are quite motivated and they persevere.

I have been told I can not be responsible and the parents must be responsible for the children, yet, I seem to be the only one who is capable and willing to decide that a particular activity–like one child bonking another over the head with a plastic bottle–must be stopped, or that the noise threshold has been exceeded and must be scaled back before I lose my voice. Not having children of my own makes it harder, I imagine, to make judgments. Still, I have discovered some of the things that work or don’t work.

Doesn’t work:

  • Stickers. If children have access to stickers, you will be cleaning them off of chairs, tables, the floor, and places you didn’t know your classroom had places.
  • Foods with sugar. Show me a kid with Froot Loops in front of them and I’ll show you a kid bouncing off the ceiling.
  • Play Dough. One day I brought four colors of play dough. By the end of the class there was one color–gray. They also managed to get play dough in the caps of the colored markers.
  • Coloring books. This actually worked for a while. I bought four coloring books at the dollar store. Then one day all the coloring books disappeared during the class and never turned up again. Pages can be torn out one by one so each child can have one to color. They can take it home, or give it to teacher to staple to the bulletin board at the end of class.
  • Toys that beep. Do I need to explain this one? Yes, parents bring toys that beep into the classroom. Don’t get me started on the subject of cellphones.


  • Crayons. One classroom has a bucket of crayons (ice cream size bucket) that the kids are pretty good at sharing. Some other crayons from the dollar store (made in China) didn’t color and weren’t worth the money.
  • Individually xeroxed pictures to color. The coloring book doesn’t disappear because it’s at home so you can make more copies. The kids don’t have a lot of choices, they can choose one picture or two or both to color. The adults don’t have to spend time helping them choose and tearing a page out of a book.
  • Cards. I had some with Care Bears and the alphabet. They got colored on a bit but were still a big favorite. Maybe good for a half hour.
  • Videos. If you have access to a VCR you can play a cartoon with the volume off. Requires someone to bring the tapes and someone to take time away from the class to play it. This one didn’t last too long.
  • Food without obvious sugar. Parents in one school have access to the kitchen and sometimes bring fresh milk and snacks. It’s hard for kids to sit for so long without eating.
  • A small table in the back of the room for activities. Sometimes two or three kids can play quietly for a long time at the table. It helps if the table is positioned so the children sit facing away from the class.

If you can only do one thing, get a bucket of crayons and some scratch paper, or several xeroxed copies of two or three pages from a coloring book.

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