Use Play to Stretch Your Child’s Attention Span

Some children can home in on an activity and be at it for hours, while others seem to flit from one thing to the next without the ability to settle. Of course, personality and brain makeup contribute to a child’s ability to focus, but did you know there are ways to increase your child’s attention span?

Even if your little one has ADD or ADHD, as my youngest does, there are tips and tricks to increase their ability to complete tasks in one sitting!

Play is critical to a child’s development. Play develops a child’s problem-solving ability, thinking critically, and learning new skills. In addition, play promotes language and social development and develops gross and fine motor skills. 

However, a child needs the ability to focus on their play to make it meaningful. In addition, attention span naturally increases with age, so don’t expect your 18-month-old to sit and play with blocks for 15 minutes. 

Your child’s attention will also vary based on their interest in an activity. For example, give a preschooler who loves books a pile of new picture books from the library, and you may not see them for an hour. Or, give a kid who loves building a new LEGO set, and you have 45 minutes to make dinner!

Conversely, if you give that same LEGO set to a child who struggles with math concepts and spatial awareness, they’ll likely give up after five minutes.

Ways to Use Play to Increase Attention Span

Engage in a task with your child. When parents spend time playing with their children, it increases the child’s level of interest and learning. Parent-child bonding is the most beneficial aspect of homework in elementary school

Offer a structured task with a clear end. Typically, I’m a massive advocate of open-ended activities. But for children who struggle with attention span or have ADHD, open-ended activities may seem daunting. So instead, pick something like a puzzle, LEGO set, or coloring page you can do together with a clear ending. 

Pick something your child enjoys. This may seem like a no-brainer, and yes, we all have to do things we don’t like. But if you’re working on building a skill, make the work enjoyable by engaging them in something they like!

Make the activity sensory-friendly. Some children struggle with attention span because their body does not receive the sensory stimuli needed. They may need to move about or stand or use a wobble chair. Think of your needs when completing a task and what helps you focus. For example, when attending long meetings or training sessions, I prefer to stand in the back where I can move about – I’m a horrible sitter!

Limit distractions. Whether you’re playing a board game, going for a walk, or completing homework, limit the number of distractions. For example, put phones away (yes, you too!), turn off background noise like the TV or radio, and put younger siblings in another room for a nap or their playpen. 

Change the Scenery. Some children are understimulated by their environment and need a change of scenery. Take a homework assignment to the park or take their building blocks and dramatic play toys outside. The outside environment will spark their creativity and the way they play.

Use one-step directions. Children who struggle with attention span also find it challenging to follow multistep directions. Instead, use clear directions with verbal and non-verbal clues such as pointing, pictures, and eye contact. 

May 30th, 2023, by L. Elizabeth Forry

written by

L. Elizabeth Forry 

L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with fifteen years of classroom teaching experience. She earned a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education from The University of North Dakota and has a Bachelor of Arts in English and one in Music from Lebanon Valley College. She has taught children in Japan, Washington D.C., Chicago, and suburban Maryland. She is trained as a reading therapist, has a TEFL certification, and has done extensive work with children regarding mental health, social-emotional development, gender development. She has written curriculum for children and educators and has led training sessions for parents and educators on various topics on early childhood development. She is the mother of two boys and resides outside of Annapolis, Maryland.

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