All parents are concerned with their child’s attention span. As therapists, we always hear “His attention is so short!” “She bounces from toy to toy all day long!” “He is just so busy!”So, what really is a typical attention span?
Below is a loose guide to think about when considering attention in small children when they’re playing independently. They should be expected to attend for a bit longer when engaging with an adult, as we help keep their attention!
0-12 months: The littlest of babies should be able to play with a single toy for at least a minute or two (if you’re lucky!). Remember, they’re soaking in their new environment, so they’ll have the shortest of attention spans!
12-24 months: These exploring toddlers should be able to attend to a toy or activity for at least two minutes. As these new walkers start to explore and get into EVERYTHING, this may be a bit shorter, but two minutes can be expected once they’re sturdy on their feet.
24-36 months: These older toddlers should be able to attend for three to four minutes. Again, this should be longer when playing with peers or an adult.
3-5 years: These kiddos should be able to attend and play for about five to ten minutes without adult supervision.
Tips on increasing attention:
- Encourage structured activities* at least once a day…after some movement!
Get those wiggles out before a structured activity! The best time to complete a learning activity would be when the child is well regulated. Being expected to sit all day and focus is difficult for an adult – it’s even harder for a child wanting to explore this whole new world!
*A structured activity is something that has a clear beginning and end: reading a book, completing a puzzle, or simple board games.
- Limit distractions
No wonder these kids bounce around the room – many children’s toys tend to take over the ENTIRE room! Help your child clean up and put things away to limit distractions of other toys. You may need to hide away highly preferred toys, as needed, while completing your structured activities.
- Turn off the TV and limit use of tablets and phones!
Screens aren’t the enemy- however many tv shows and videos on YouTube are so fast moving, the children don’t want to slow down for toys. Not only do screens impact children’s language development (see Jessie’s blog from last week!) but it also impacts their attention span.
For more information on attention and TV exposure: https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/educate/college/healthscience/articles/20040411.htm
- Is a task too hard?
Is the activity at hand too difficult? While it is up to us as caregivers and your child’s first teachers to introduce new activities and skills, we need to build upon the skills they already possess. A child can’t be expected to sort objects by color if they are unable to match colors! Take skills they already have mastered and just push a little more, providing modeling, as well as visual and verbal cues.
- Children should want to get up and explore!
It’s perfectly normal for small children to not want to stay in one place for a long time – period. They are curious, want to explore, and move – this is how they start to learn about the world! Just like anything else in life, balance is key. Get out there and explore with them!
Kimberly Shlaes, MAT, DT
Director of Developmental Therapy Services