Sunday, January 15, 2012

Attention Span

Sorry for the long delay in posting!  My Macbook took a turn for the worst and trying to get into the Apple store Genius Bar after the holidays was no fun.  Anyway, I am thankfully up and running again!!

As a first time mom, I think I sometimes over strive to involve my child in enriching and fun activities. I know, as soon as I have a second, my time will be limited, but for now it's so much fun taking her out to explore the world!  Our activities range from storytime at the local book store to Kindermusik to playtime at a friend's house.  And what is the common denominator in all of her play?  A super short attention span. I always joke that she has the attention span of a gnat.

Attention spans at the toddler age are super short.  She moves so fast these days, that it's hard to keep up.  My husband had a "Dad and child" night at our Mother's Day Out last week and he said he was barely able to talk to the other dads because our child was going to activity to activity.  Her attention span is about, oh, 2 minutes in length or so.

Is this realistic? Most definitely.  In fact, it brings me to a good point that I have touched on before- that as parents adults, it's hard sometimes to remember that children can't sit still.  It doesn't mean they are all hyperactive, unruling little monsters.  As a parent, do you remember life before kids and how you would go to the mall or a restaurant and wonder why the kids were running all over the place? Or wonder why the toddler was tossing things off a table? Did you ever wonder why they couldn't just sit still?

I used to hear from many non-parents, "when I have kids, they most certainly will not act like that!" Only to have them all have kids that did act exactly like that :)  Why? That's because they are supposed to be jittery in their chairs. Yes, you can teach your child manners and how to act in public, but for an adult to expect a 3 year old to sit perfectly still at a restaurant for an hour is not very realistic.

Children are supposed to get bored.  Remember, their little brains are not cognitively able to process and comprehend what ours are able to do.

What is normal then?  Typically attention spans are anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes per year of a child's age.  Here are a few guidelines of what is in the normal range (source from

Ages 8 months - 15 months: They can usually attend for one minute or a little longer to a single toy or activity.

Ages 16 months - 19 months: Your child might be restless, but is able to sustain attention to one structured activity for 2-3 minutes. Your child might not be able to tolerate verbal or visual interference.

Ages 20 month - 24 months: Your child is still easily distracted by sounds, but can stay attentive to an activity either with or without an adult for 3-6 minutes.

Age 25 - 36 months: Your child can generally pay attention to a toy or other activity for 5-8 minutes. In addition, they can shift attention from an adult speaking to him and then back to what he was doing if he is prompted to focus her attention.

Ages 3 - 4 years: Your child can usually attend to an activity for 8-10 minutes, and then alternate his total attention between the adult talking to her and the activity she is doing independently.

Ages 4-5 years: Alone, the 4-year-old may spend 7-8 minutes on a single activity, or as much as 15 minutes if the activity is new and especially interesting

Ages 6-7 years: Alone, they will focus on a single interesting activity for 10 or 15 minutes and on an assigned task for 4-6 minutes if it's easy and interesting. A small group of children can work or play together without interruption for 10-25 minutes.

Ages 8-12 years: At this age, attention spans may vary.  They can be anywhere from 30-50 minutes depending on the task.

How can you improve their attention span?

If you feel your child may have a shorter than average attention, you can get them involved in something that really peaks their interest like a project in the creative or expressive arts.  A fun activity such as drawing, painting or sketching. This requires them to sit and focus for an extended time as they work on them. Other activities that could increase their focus are putting together model cars or airplanes, woodworking, stringing beads or cross-stitching.

I know one fast way to increase attention span, limiting “technology time." I've read a lot of studies that have shown cause and effect of video games, and other techy play devices decreasing attention span.  But I'll save my tech soapbox for another post :)



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