Attention Span

Concentration and Focus

Attention span involves the amount of time your child is able to concentrate and focus on a single activity.


Sam and Mom are sitting at the table. Mom pulls out one of Sam’s favorite memory games. “Are you ready to play Animal Memory?” says Mom. “Yes, I am!” Sam takes out the 12 game tiles, f lips them all over face down, scrambles them up, and arranges them into a grid. Sam goes first, by flipping over two tiles at a time. “Aw, I got a zebra and an elephant,” Sam says. “It’s your turn, Mom!” Her eyes wander to her electronic tablet. Mom takes her turn and gets a zebra and a goat. “Sam, over here, it’s your turn!” says Mom. Sam proceeds to turn over a tile; the first one she gets is a lion. She pauses for a moment, then turns over another tile, getting a giraffe. “Sam, did you notice what my tiles were?” says Mom. Sam says, “Zebra and ... elephant?”


During this game Sam is not paying close attention to what tiles are being revealed and placed back down by Mom. Mom even has to remind Sam that it is now her turn to play. It is actually not unusual for Sam to lose attention at her age. She is still learning to focus her attention on a task for longer periods of time. Memory games are a great way for Sam to exercise her brain by improving her concentration, focus, and visual memory skills while increasing her attention span. As Sam grows older and the two of them play more memory games, she will become better and better at using her new skills in other areas of his development, such as in math.

If your child fails to develop strong attention skills, she will have problems with everything from math to social relationships.

Your child now has the ability to focus her attention more accurately and will be less influenced by distractions going on around her, which is important because this will enable her to engage in and complete more challenging tasks later on.

Left brain activities to do with your child to develop attention skills:

1. This is the first and most important activity to do. Change your child’s diet by reducing sugar, increasing raw vegetables and fruit, using fewer processed foods, and increasing the amount of water your child drinks. A simple change of the diet makes a tremendous difference in your child’s attention span.
2. Take five to 10 minutes each day to listen to music such as Mozart and Putumayo’s World Sing Along. Talk about one instrument in the music (for example, piano or drums); this will require your child to pay attention and listen for the instrument. You may ask, “Did you hear the drums play fast or slowly?”
3. Play a game once a week of stacking blocks, then build in another day the following week, and continue till you are doing building projects a bunch of times a week. You would start this game by gathering six blocks, stack them any way you like, and then have your child copy you. This will require focus and attention to stack the blocks like yours.

Attention is a very sophisticated skill; the average attention span for your child is five to 15 minutes. This seems like a short time by adult standards; however, it is a perfect amount of time for your child to focus on one concept or activity without distraction or loss of concentration. Five minutes is long enough to listen to a story, and 15 minutes is long enough to do an art activity, such as cooking something together. Typically the more hands-on an activity is the longer your child will pay attention.

Take a moment and reflect on an activity you have observed your child engaging in, something simple like coloring in a coloring book. Was he able to stay focused and color the entire picture without stopping for a period of time? Or did he constantly stop after each stroke of a color placed on the paper? When your child has to use too much energy to stay focused on his work, then this is a learning block for him.

You may say to yourself, “It is just a coloring page, he can sit without moving around when he watches TV.” TV and videos require little energy for your child because he finds these to be interesting but largely undemanding. A coloring page requires effort as your child has to think and focus on staying near the lines, using different colors, and trying to color in one direction. A short attention span will cause task avoidance, meaning that your child will not want to do it no matter how interesting you think it is.

We discussed earlier that your child has about a five to 15 minute attention span; however, one must understand that this does not hold true for all four year olds, because every child develops differently. When this is the case, parents play a key role in helping their children develop their attention skills.

Instead of getting frustrated or labeling your child as having an “attention problem,” there are strategies parents should do to increase attention span.

Avoid flooding your child with a lot of options, as this will create distractions and disrupt your child from paying attention.

Following strategies like those on the next page gives a child brain balance and thus supports the development of his attention span, which will serve him throughout his life in all areas of development and interaction.

Strategies to increase your child’s attention skills:

1. Help your child pay longer attention to an activity using toys he likes. If he likes his figurines or stuffed animals, line them up in a row, and ask him to point out certain details in the stuffed animal or figurine (e.g. size, shape, and color).

2. Use daily routines to build attention span. When going to the grocery store talk about the process as you are driving. “We will drive to the store, get a shopping cart, go over to the fresh fruit area, and pick out strawberries. After we have our fruit, we will go to check out, pay, load the car, and then drive back home.” Have your child repeat the process back to you to see how well he was paying attention.

3. Help your child slow down. At this age he wants to move around quickly from one activity to another and sometimes without completing what he was working on in the first place. Do a game of Slow Motion. Ask your child to slowly walk to an object on the floor, pick it up, and bring it to you. Ask your child to count the steps as he goes along; this will increase the complexity of the task.