Children need guided practice to increase attention span.

Activities to Use With Kids to Focus and Pay Attention

by Karen LoBello

You couldn’t unclench your little angel’s fist in the store, so she came home with a shiny new toy, guaranteed to intrigue any child. You open the package, but she takes a quick look and tosses it aside. Never fear. Your child’s attention span will gradually increase when you engage her in activities that are high interest and require a certain degree of problem-solving, says Dr. Kimberly Renk, associate professor of clinical training at the University of Central Florida.

1. Interests

Parents have a difficult task in front of them: selecting activities that compete with today’s fast-paced video games and TV programs. Society emphasizes multi-tasking and consuming a lot of information in a short time. Moving against these forces can be difficult, warns Renk. Children pay greater attention to a task when they are genuinely interested, so this is a good starting point. Perhaps your child likes to draw, paint or sculpt with Play-Doh. Choose one of these enticing activities to engage her attention. Ensure that she doesn’t go on automatic pilot; the activity should require a concentrated effort. Begin with high-interest topics, and your child will transfer this skill to less appealing activities that require her attention.

2. Problem Solving

The activities you choose should involve a certain degree of problem-solving. Put together a puzzle or paint a picture of a house. You need to make adjustments as your child matures. A new interest might capture her attention as she develops. Add complex activity components. If there is an applied component to an activity -- doing rather than just talking about something -- your child will more likely engage. Ask her questions about the correct approach to a task: “What do you think we should do first? How about…?” Help her shape the plan of attack. If you move toward activities in this fashion, you will strengthen her problem-solving skills and help expand her base of knowledge.

3. Involvement

Model an appropriate interaction style and encourage persistence in a task, particularly if your child has a low tolerance for frustration. Encourage and engage her. Rather than setting a child up with a recorded book, you should read the book to your child, prompting her with questions about what has happened in the story and what will happen next. This activity allows you to discuss the story with her when you finish reading. Begin with a nursery rhyme. Read short stories and gradually increase the length. Keep in mind that your child may need instruction to complete a task.

4. Games

Games provide an effective means of strengthening attention span. Your child needs practice to improve her focus. Active games such as Simon Says or Musical Chairs necessitate a degree of focus, especially for younger children. Put together puzzles that require patience. Play a matching or sorting game. Engage in conversations that encourage your child to sit still and talk about a given subject.

5. Pets

When a child has a pet, she not only develops a sense of responsibility but also concentrates on the pet regularly. For example, she could brush the dog each day. If your home is not set up for that type of pet, consider getting a hamster or a turtle. Toddlers enjoy watching hamsters move and observing their patterns. Engage in conversations that help your child stay focused: “Why is the turtle hiding? Do you think he ate all of his food?"

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