Have you ever been here…. you get out a floor puzzle for a child that requests it and as you and the child are working together to assemble the puzzle, the child abruptly leaves, moving onto to something else. The child lost interest in putting together the puzzle, their attention spans were up!
It happens quite often in preschool classrooms because of the smaller attention spans that young children have. If circle time is too long- they roll on the floor. If a board game is taking too long- they quit. If something else catches their eye- they leave the activity and go to it (squirrel!). If you work in a preschool classroom, you know exactly what I’m talking about!
It is important for us to help our children build up their attention to task. We want our students to be able to focus on an age-appropriate task and complete it. Completing a task from start to finish helps children feel accomplishment. It also helps build independent little people!
So, how can we, as educators, help our student’s build their attention spans?
10 Ways to Boost Attention Spans
- Give Kids a Reason to Pay Attention – make activities engaging by using play-based components, make reading engaging by using voices, make circle time engaging by adding puppets or props.
- Include Movement – children weren’t built to sit still, they were built to explore! So, get those bodies moving often. Try breaking up circle time with a movement song, scheduling outdoor movement time before group time or take lots of quick movement breaks throughout the day.
- Teach What Paying Attention Looks Like – if you ask a preschooler to pay attention, chances are they have no idea what you are talking about. Be specific and show what paying attention looks like (eyes looking, brain on, try my hardest). ALSO- consider that paying attention doesn’t look the same for all children. Just because a child isn’t focused 100% on you and what you are saying, doesn’t mean they aren’t picking it up. Observe and reflect on what ‘paying attention’ looks like to all your students.
- Eliminate Distractions – we all get distracted sometimes. Preschoolers especially. They were made to explore and discover, so naturally they get distracted. Try to eliminate distractions in the areas of your classroom that you want to encourage attention to task.
- Limit Directions – when young children are given too many directions at once, they get frustrated. Limit the steps in your directions down to 1 or 2 at a time. If the task is to go get their coat and put it on- say only those two things. Don’t add zip it up and get in line until the first two tasks are complete. Consider offering visuals to help children following directions for task completion.
- Practice Mindfulness – by sitting quietly and focusing on breathing in and out for a short time. Not only will mindfulness help calm children, it will help them build attention spans.
- Adjust Your Expectations – Some children are able to attend to a task longer than others. Some children can sit with a toy and play with only that toy for 30+ minutes. Other children move quickly from activity to activity. Some of your expectations for attention will have to be different based on the child.
- Provide Choices – have a child struggling a group time? Offer sitting choices on how they can sit or provide flexible seating. If the child needs something to do with their hands offer safe, quiet fidget toys.
- Break Tasks Down – asking a child to clean up the block center is a task that takes their attention. But, the idea of cleaning up the whole block center might be too much. Break down the task by asking the child to only pick up the cars or only picking up 10 blocks. These tasks are more manageable and children are more likely to be successful.
- Practice and Time – building attention to task takes practice and time. It will not happen overnight (nor should it). Attention should be built over time. The best way to build attention is to practice. Try playing simple and quick games – games that hold student attention, but don’t take forever to play (lookin’ at you Monopoly). Begin the year with short group learning times and slowly build them throughout the year. Play with a child (with a toy of their interest) to try and extend the amount of time they can stay attentive to the play.
Also, consider having a flexible mindset. You generally aren’t aware of everything the children in your class experience before they come into your care. Therefore, you aren’t aware of what might have attributed to their attention to task. Just like everything else we do, boosting attention spans has as much to do with our classroom environment and how we approach learning as it does with a child’s behavior.