Say you’ve chosen to supplement your income by substitute teaching. Perhaps you’re left in charge of the nursery at church. Maybe you drew the short straw at the family reunion, and instead of shotgunning Budweisers with Uncle Frank, you’re in charge of everyone else’s offspring while they’re shotgunning Budweisers with Uncle Frank. Persephone has your back.
The first rule of keeping a large group of children alive and relatively unharmed is to know where they are and what they’re doing at all times. While this isn’t an easy thing to accomplish, all of the following tips and tricks will make it easier. This guide is written with young children in mind; it was inspired by one of our editors being trapped at work in a room full of four-year-old girls. We’re hoping to hear from her soon, and that the following advice made it to her on time. The war can turn at any time.
Step One: Divide and Conquer
Split the little crumbsnatchers into groups, preferably the same size. Depending on how old/capable they are, you can use lots of tricks to get them to sort themselves into smaller, more manageable units. Group them by birthday month (everyone with a January, February or March birthday over here, etc.), shirt color, cake or pie preference, anything will do. Now that you have groups, send the groups to different corners of the room. Stay in the middle.
Step Two: Achieve and Maintain Order
Repeat after me. Yelling will make it worse. Ask any teacher worth her salt, or that mom you know who never seems to want to send her kids to Siberia for summer camp. You can get a kid’s attention with yelling, but you’re not going to keep it. The solution is simple. The solution is jazz hands. When you’ve broken your charges into groups, teach them how to make the jazziest jazz hands that ever were. Explain that when you want to say something, and you need everyone to listen, you’ll do jazz hands. When you do jazz hands, that means you want your wee friends to do jazz hands too, to show they’re ready to listen. Boom! You’ve now gotten their attention, shown that you’re cool enough to act silly in front of them and given yourself a tool for crowdsourcing the rules. Plus, it’s adorable to see little children make jazz hands.
Step Three: Take Your Troops to War
Mentally inventory your assets. What have you got on hand? Balls, books, blocks, jump rope, glue, anything? The more tools in your tool box, the easier it can be, but it’s possible to keep a large group of kids completely entertained with no outside help at all. Duck, duck, goose seems boring and useless because you’re a boring old adult. Duck, duck, goose can be fun for days, if you’re five. Find something for each group to do, and try to make each activity different, so you can rotate each group through each activity. This keeps everyone’s interest up, no matter what each group is doing. When it’s time to switch activities, or if the groups get overly rowdy, use the jazz hands trick to keep things controlled.
Step Four: Lead from the Front
Stay moving. Bounce from group to group, keeping an eye out for kids who need a little guidance, or a minute walking around as your please-for-the-love-of-god-settle-down helper. Use names, unless you forget them easily, then play it off with ridiculous guesses. “Lady Kordelia Antoinette PeppyPepperPants, come on back to the group.” or “Sir Georgery Motorcar Hoppinwimple III, I’d love to see you play, too! Oh! That’s not your name? Silly me.” Even the most stoic six-year-old will giggle if you sell it right. This is a hard sell to the eight and older set, so use at your own risk.
Keep circling between groups, with the idea that a crisis prevented is a crisis solved. Small children in large groups can be as dangerous and unpredictable as unstable uranium. Up until around twelve or so, they’ve got more curiosity than sense, and that’s a dangerous combination. They’ve all got visions of chaos you can’t control, all you can do is prepare the environment and sniff out problems before they start. Keep ’em busy, and where you can see ’em all.
Step Five: Stay Calm
They can smell your fear. They will try to lull you with their cute little giggles, adorably chubby fingers and tiny, sweet faces. Let your guard down and risk the mutinous wrath of a small army’s worth of inherently self-absorbed miniature humans who aren’t afraid to cry and/or soil themselves to win.
Stick to your training and you’ll be fine. And for the sake of Bert and Ernie and all that is sacred to childhood, don’t forget the jazz hands.