Preschoolers can go through activities at record speed, and every parent knows just how challenging it can be to hold their interest for an extended period of time.
And while it’s not always easy, finding ways to boost your toddler’s attention span will set them up for success as they navigate school and friendships and explore different interests at every stage of their life. Like all skills, attention and focus improve with practice, and the earlier you start building these abilities with your toddler, the better.
Of course, this might feel impossible at times. Research shows that a preschooler’s attention span only lasts about two to three minutes for each year of their age—that’s only four to six minutes for a 2-year-old, and eight to 12 minutes for a 6-year-old. So, how do we foster their focus and concentration when we’re working with such a short window?
Activities to Foster Your Toddler’s Attention Span and Concentration Skills
The key is to leverage games and activities that stimulate their senses and tap into their interests. And luckily, there are opportunities all around us. From playing I-Spy and board games, to doing activities like a puzzle or a scavenger hunt, there are countless ways to encourage concentration and build your toddler’s attention span while having a ton of fun. These tips and tricks can help you out.
Try Fun & Games
When in doubt, games are a great way to get and hold kids’ attention. Your child will build a skill without even realizing it and you’ll get to spend quality time together in the process. From strategy to rules to orders of operation and objectives, the simple act of playing a game requires everyone involved to focus. Of course, different games engage different types of mental agility, so keep that in mind when you choose what to play.
For example, board games are great for reinforcing rule following in tandem with learning and remembering directions. Plus, they teach kids the value of following something through until the end. Thinking games like Tic-Tac-Toe require players to strategize their next move, which motivates easily distracted children to stay engaged. You can also opt for something like the Catch & Count Magnetic Fishing Rod Set, which not only engages kids with solo or friendly one-on-one competition, but also helps them develop number recognition, counting, hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills. For little ones who have a hard time concentrating on longer, more detailed games, try a classic memory game. It’s fun, easy and builds concentration in small bursts, which makes it more approachable for kids who struggle to focus.
Choose Activities with a Clear Goal
Preschoolers have short attention spans, which means they tend to go through activities at lightning speed. This can feel frustrating when you’re trying to find something to keep your little one engaged and occupied, but a strategic approach can help. Sometimes, children simply lose interest because the task at hand satisfies a specific need and they feel like it no longer serves their purpose in that moment. Take drawing, for example—it’s a fun and healthy outlet, but your child might decide they are happy with their creative expression at any point, even if their picture isn’t “done.” Activities with a visually distinct end goal can help combat loss of interest and motivate wandering minds to stay on task.
Puzzles are a great way to hold your child’s attention because missing pieces are a concrete indication that there’s still work to be done. Plus, there are no shortage of options for all ages. For example, this Farm Animals Sound Puzzle - 8 Pieces and Vehicles Sound Puzzle integrate audio with visuals to create a satisfying sensory experience that is sure to hold your preschooler’s attention. When a puzzle piece is placed in the correct slot, the boards play a correlating sound, so your child knows they’ve gotten it right.
For 3-6-year-olds, age-appropriate strategy and problem-solving games such as this Wooden Latches Board or the See & Spell Learning Toy are great ways to appeal to short attention spans. They provide kids with an easy task that can be set aside for a quick break and then easily resumed, which is perfect a child struggles to focus on one activity for more than 10-15 minutes at a time.
It might sound counterintuitive, but if your child is struggling to sit still and pay attention, sometimes the most effective way to help them get back on track is to get them moving. Exercise is proven to boost brain power in so many ways. It builds concentration skills and improves memory, mental sharpness, attention and energy levels—which is why getting your child’s blood flowing with a fun physical activity can work wonders. Plus, your options are endless.
Oftentimes, a quick stretch break is all it takes to do the trick, but you can also go for an active game like Giddy Buggy Bowling Set. Or try taking a quick walk around the neighborhood or hitting the playground for 10 minutes to help them work off their pent-up energy and reset. Even something as simple as 10 jumping jacks, running in place for 60 seconds, or practicing yoga poses can give them mini-boosts throughout the day. Active breaks in between tasks or periodically during one long task are an easy and effective way for children to build attention skills in a productive and healthy way.
Tap Into the Power of Reading
Another time-tested way to engage your little one’s attention is reading. In fact, it’s one of the most beneficial activities for increasing attention span in preschoolers. Focusing on the pictures, storyline and characters keeps them interested—and like goal-driven activities, reading has a clear start and end point, making it easier for them to push themselves to stay engaged until the last page. Plus, it’s a great way to spend time together and make happy memories.
You can even take the creativity a step further by asking your child to come up with new storylines or a new ending for their favorite books. This layers on another quick and fun activity that builds concentration skills. And be sure to pick age-appropriate books that follow your child’s interests to ensure reading is something they look forward to and enjoy. The more they love the activity, the more time and attention they will give it.
Learning to Pay Attention Can Be a Blast
Our little ones are constantly learning, growing and pushing themselves to do more, which is why building your preschooler’s attention span doesn’t have to be a chore. The key is to tap into things they are interested in and enjoy. When your child is having fun playing a game or doing an activity, they have the motivation they need to stay on task. Encourage them to take the lead and lean into topics and themes that get them excited. This will inspire them to pay attention longer while naturally building their ability to concentrate and focus. Fun is the most important ingredient!