We have learned that with the help of some simple principles, we can quickly establish a well-functioning, spacious ("rummelig") and developing environment. And once the children's group works, it's something close to the best experience you can get.
Here are the most important practical principles we apply.
Perhaps the most important prerequisite for having the group of children to function is that you as an adult succeed in creating a relationship with the individual child. What does it mean? This means that you, together with the child, establish a mutual habit of listening to and understanding each other. It should for instance not be necessary to say things more than once - if you do need to, something is not working. This could for instance be that you are unable to read the readiness of the child.
The relationship thus constitutes trust in and mutual recognition of each other, underpinned by a high degree of mutual predictability because you know each other and strengthened by the fact that you have aligned expectations. The trust aspect of the relationship makes the relationship psychologically safe ("tryg").
One simple practical technique to build a relationship with the individual child is to sit at the child's eye level, establish eye contact, and then gently maintain contact during the whole conversation. It may take some time and require some patience at the beginning, but it is worth the investment.
Another simple technique is to ask a summarizing question to ensure that the child has listened and understood.
Take advantage of the time when there isn't too much activity to get to know each child. It can often just be showing some interest, asking a question, having a talk ...
When you are new, learn the names of the children as the first thing.
Another important concept to introduce to the children's group is the concept of an agreement. It allows the children to match expectations, anticipate conflicts - and in the event of conflict, it gives the adults an indispensable tool for solving the conflict fairly.
A particularly useful agreement is "I listen to you - you Listen to me", which is fundamental to the good communication and good relationship. In the same vein, one does not interrupt and it may be necessary to control the word by show of hands when the group is large. In this case it is especially important that the moderator, usually an adult, is very careful to give the word to those who have raised their hand.
Make agreements in terms of goals, and keep the children aligned on these.
More generally, one can say that having formulated some rules - some kind of standing set of agreements - for the group removes much insecurity. Such a set of rules may be formulated jointly, for instance by adopting the rules by voting / show of hands. It gives the individual group member a co-ownership, partly because the individual has the opportunity to propose rules, on the same terms as everyone else, partly because they have agreed to adopt them.
Once you have established the rules, you should take them very seriously. It is here the role of the adult to ensure that justice is maintained. As an adult, you must recognize the small details that may be important to the individual child and solve conflicts so that the children (too) consider it fair.
On the other hand, the adult does not have the mandate to impose his/her own rules - avoid e.g. as far as possible arguments such as "Because I say so!".
A rule that is especially beneficial to the social and professional environment is that there should be peace in the room, at least indoors. Children can easily be quiet - often they feel much better when there is not too much noise around them. In terms of work environment, it is also clearly preferable for all, children as well as adults.
When the noise levels are under control, keeping the feeling with the group is much easier. For instance, crying and other emerging crises signals are very clear. In the quiet environment, when you can sense the subtle signals, you can very early anticipate conflicts and crises before they actually arise.
A high level of noise in the group can be a symptom that group members are not used to listening to each other and fighting for the speaking time by speaking loudly. Note that this constitutes a vicious circle.
In general, strive to achieve the desired contact with as little energy as possible. Once the communication is well in place, an eye contact or hand sign can often suffice.
Try to keep explanations as simple as possible. The simple explanation is a kind of information reduction, that the human psyche (and living creatures in general) is fundamentally dependent on and is amazingly constructive for the relations.
Remember to motivate why a given topic is worth (the effort of) an explanation.
To give short and concise explanations is also a way to respect other peoples' time.
Make use of narratives - they are a sort of chains of connected information that human beings cognitively are very receptive to.
Having high expectations is known to be a prerequisite for good teaching (Rosenthal effect). In general, people will do what you expect from them, so you might as well expect something good and developing. That all expectations are not necessarily realistic is not that important, as long as the children are aware that one occasionally puts up such "bonus expectations".
In summary, one can say that the individual has the right and duty to realize the potential they have been given - and it is the responsibility of the adult to ensure that the framework supports this.
Another structuring mechanism is to get the children to help each other. It in practice relieves a part of the adult's attention pressure, but more importantly it builds relationships between the children, which in turn helps the group to function well.
Helping others gives a feeling of being useful and confirms the importance of the individual towards the group, which in turn strengthens the feeling of self-esteem and psychological safety.
When you have achieved to have a well-functioning group of children, you can use their energy to guide the individual child. Here it is important to keep track of what the individual child is doing, give feedback on it, and propose possible next steps. Here you can use a project management system (eg Trac), but a booklet or folder can also do the trick. If the group is managed by several adults, the booklet can serve as a kind of relay. A practical tool in this context is to get the children to do presentations. In this way, the children themselves clearly express what they are doing and can subsequently receive feedback from children and adults.
A very structuring principle for the childrens' activity is to demand that they finish the tasks embark on. It gives some long autonomous project for the individual child - and some solid success experiences that are all the more satisfying.
Be aware that children often need to test. It is a completely natural and healthy behavior to explore the space you around you. It is here the adult's responsibility to make sure that the space is clearly defined and clearly express when a limit is exceeded.
With smaller children, the test can evolve into a game about who is most patient. If you have won the patience game a few times, it becomes significantly easier afterwards. The patience game can often be shortened by using a diversion, but beware that the diversion doesn't become a reward.
The brain processes enormous amounts of information every day - and throws away most of it. One of the simple and effective ways it differentiates significant from insignificant is to only remember patterns that repeat themselves. If something does not appear again, it probably wasn't that important. The mechanism can be used when teaching - repeat the important aspects and they will be remembered.
The same technique applies when you want to build habits. The habit is practiced - repeated - for 1-3 weeks, and once it is acquired, you do not have to wonder more about it.
Prefer that the children take responsibility to solve a task, rather than sitting still for three quarters of an hour. When they first find out that it's worth working fast, the pace will increase and everything will be much more exciting. You can then subsequently calibrate the tasks, so that they approx. take 20-40 minutes.
In general, neither children nor adults like to be told what to do. Therefore, generally give the child several options, for instance when choosing tasks. Do in general avoid the completely free "what should we do today", unless you are sure it can actually be honored.
Note and acknowledge that certain children - and adults - prefer to follow instructions rather than to choose by themselves, at least in some periods.
Do not let the children be exposed to errors for too long. Avoid interrupting a good flow, but correct the mistakes - in adults and in children - at the first opportunity given.
After a complete session you cab the children to do a (quick) evaluation. The evaluation can for instance be on a scale from 0 to 5 where you about how motivating/fun the process was, as well as how instructive it was, whether anything needs to be improved for the next time and if there was any particular aspect that was worth preserving. If you are working with a slightly larger group, the quantitative (0-5) evaluation can be done by double show of hands (left hand - how fun, right hand - how instructive) and then ask about the particularly negative or positive scores.
Never criticize the person, just the action.
Try and explain what to do rather than what not to do, if possible by asking a leading question.
Instead of playing with the kids yourself, try as much as possible to make them play with each other. It creates relationships and independence in the children's group. If appropriate, good advice on how their game can be better of course may be appropriate.
Saying "Shh!" to achieve silence is surprisingly ineffective. It works as a kind of shared group message to all, that no one ultimately feels is relevant. If you want to dampen the children's noise level, it is much more effective to take hold of the noisiest children individually, from one end of, and ask them to quiet down.
Another trick is to ask a question to the group. It captures the attention and creates instant calm.
Consider allocating a daily window for a relaxation pass, eg. in the form of meditation. This has the secondary effect that the children get tools to control their excitement level.
It is usually a good idea to have only one adult in charge of the group at a time. If there are more adults (teachers, educators, parents, etc.), the distribution of responsibilities becomes unclear. It tends to lead to turmoil and confusion.
Be aware that the children are highly sensitive to whether the leader acts authentically.
If you are having trouble getting the group to work, it may be tempting - but nevertheless a bad idea - to increase the number of adults in charge. The problem usually has one or more specific reasons, which are not addressed through a staff increase. On the contrary, you risk camouflaging or at least removing the focus from the actual problem.
Be honest and completely avoid lying - it builds credibility and strengthens trust relations. Avoid sarcasm; It is an empty form of communication for the children, which they can not act upon and causes insecurity.
Support criticism, negative as well as positive, with concrete examples and facts.
Note that absence of punishment is a prerequisite for building honesty in a culture.