Grab their attention. Some preschool teachers turn the classroom lights off and on, especially when there's a lot of activity and noise. You can also ring a bell, clap hands, or sing a song -- anything besides yell. Or you can exaggerate a whisper to get attention, as Gloria Cartee, a special ed teacher in Dallas, GA, does.
Make eye contact. Barking out commands from another room isn't always the best way to get children to listen up. Get down to the child's level to help him focus on your words, especially if he's seemingly ignoring you, suggests Stephanie Leeds, Ph.D., former director of childhood education programs at Cazenovia College, in New York. "Ask him to look you in the eyes," she says. "If he won't look, gently tilt his head toward you and say, 'I need you to listen to me right now.'"
Repetition rules. Ask young children to repeat your instructions aloud to reinforce their listening skills, says Katrina Hall, Ph.D., an associate professor of early-childhood education at the University of North Florida. If you've told your 4-year-old to get dressed, ask her, "Would you remind me what you need to do next?" When she responds, "Put on my pants, and then my top," you'll know she heard and understood your instructions.
Use positive peer pressure. Tammy Markert's trick to get restless, out-of-sorts children back into line during circle time? The preschool teacher from Acworth, GA, says, "I start pointing out the children who are following directions -- for example, 'Look at Becky sitting criss-cross applesauce, and Tommy and Anna...' -- and the children who are antsy follow their lead. They settle right down and even call out, 'Look at me! I'm sitting still, too!'" Praise what siblings or playmates are doing right, and soon your listless listener will follow suit.