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Tips to Help Your Preschooler Increase Attention Span

June 30, 2016
By Tate's School

by Jane Cowan

Many times as I am going over the results of a preschool screening, the parents will
ask if their preschooler's seemingly short attention span is normal. One father recently
stated that he thought it would be easier to get the family cat to focus on a given activity!

While it certainly seems that our youngest students have a brief attention span at
best, in fact, they are typically right on target for their developmental stage. A good rule
of thumb to calculate how long your child should be able to focus on an activity, without
adult interaction or direction, is to add the chronological year + 1 minute. (For example a 2
year old would be 2 + 1 minute = 3 minutes. Remember, a chosen activity, one the child
picks out, is much more likely to be attended to longer than one chosen for him by a parent
or other adult!

Good news! Just because this may be the "typical" length of time a youngster can
focus, it certainly doesn't mean that one cannot increase their attention span! Our
teachers often have the children in our preschool attending to a given task for 10 to 15
minutes or more. Many factors come into play, and there are many things you can do to
help this development along.

  • Present your child with fewer items and choices. Too many toys to play with and choices to make are extremely distracting to this age group.
  • Don't hover. Get your child stated by getting him excited about the activity or toy, and then back off. Too many times, adults interact too much and try to lead the child's play. Allow your child to play and explore on their own and thus increase not only their attention span, but also their creativity.
  • Busy yourself close by while your little one is playing. Often they just want to be near you, they don't necessarily want your input into their play. Children of this age will usually be much more content to play for longer stretches if they are not expected to play away from you - such as in a playroom or their bedroom while you work in the kitchen or home off ice.
  • This applies to clean up time too! Often the child simply doesn't know where to begin. You can help by asking them to pick up all of one item and then come and get you. (''It's time to tidy up. Start by putting all of the super heroes in this bin, and then come and get me, and we will figure out what to do next!") Offer plenty of praise for their effort.
  • Read to your child daily. If she gets tired of the book before it's finished, say "Let's keep reading another couple of pages to see what happens to ",or "What do you think is going to happen next?, Let's find out!" Ask questions along the way and talk about the pictures with your child as you go.
  • Limit screen time. Yes, little ones are naturally drawn to computers, phones, iPads, etc., but realize that these wonderful items of technology teach not only educational content, but also the need for instant gratification and feedback. They can be fantastic teaching tools, but they should be utilized in very short spans, and always with adult interaction.
  • Take note of the environment. Children are easily distracted and overstimulated by excess visuals and sounds. Turn the TV off and allow the child to play in a calm environment when possible. While complete quiet isn't necessary, neither is a constant party atmosphere!
  • Refrain from over programming your child's day. Quite simply, let your child have time in their day where they are looking for something to do. If we constantly provide a new activity as soon as another ends, it is no wonder that they are always rushing from one activity to the next and constantly looking for the next best thing. Remember a child can always come up with something to hold their attention if no one fills the void. Sit back and observe from a distance, and you may just be surprised at what they will come up with! And, as stated before, if it is a chosen activity - one they have come up with- they will attend MUCH longer!
  • And remember, young toddlers and preschoolers often lose interest when they become frustrated with an activity because it is too challenging. If this seems to be the case, step in and help them figure out the part that is difficult. Often, with just a tiny bit of direction and teaching - not to be confused with doing it for them - they will pick it up and continue doing it repeatedly until mastery!
  • Above all, remember that all children develop at their own pace. Not all will walk, talk, tie their shoes, or read at the same age; and you can rest assured that they won't develop their attention spans at the same pace either! Whether your child attends for great lengths of time or flits from one activity to another, they can all increase the attention span they currently possess. Enjoy them at whatever stage they are in - it won't last long!