What You Need to Know About Your Toddler or Preschooler's Attention Span

I do not believe that kids should be told to sit still and be quiet. In fact, not sitting still in class helps kids to learn. However, sitting and paying attention is an important skill for kids to develop and it’s a skill your toddler or preschooler should start working on sooner rather than later, at an age-appropriate level, of course.

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What is the average attention span of a toddler or preschooler?

Younger toddlers at 16-19 months can typically pay attention to a structured activity for 2-3 minutes. At 20-24 months toddlers can pay attention 3-6 minutes. 25-36 months can generally pay attention to an activity for 6-8 minutes and by 3-4 years old, they can handle 8-10 minutes! (Source)

Obviously, all kids are different, so don’t stress out over it if you child is a minute off but implementing the activities and tips below can definitely help move your child toward a longer attention span.

How long should a Kindergartner be able to sit and pay attention?

Kindergarten aged children typically should be able to sit and pay attention to an activity for 10-15 minutes. So, don’t expect that your toddler or preschooler will be able to sit this long (or longer)!

Here are some ways you can help your child learn to sit still and be (moderately) quiet:

Color

Some kids love coloring, others do not. My son is a “do not”. Of course, I don’t force him to color but it is an activity I offer on a regular basis because as simple as coloring is, it is really valuable for toddlers and preschoolers. One of the benefits is that it promotes sitting and focus.

Introduce circle time

I started doing circle time with my son when he was around a year old. Of course, it wasn’t much of a circle with just two of us but the idea was that we sat in a specific area for a story or music. When he was a baby I had taken him to a play group an they would clap their hands on their legs when it was time to sing. Since he was already familiar with this, I would do it to get his attention to come site down with me.

Participate in story time or play groups

As mentioned above, I started taking my son to a play group when he was a baby (four months old). It was set up so that there was “free play” for the moms and kids for about 30 minutes, then we sang for about 10 and ended with a snack.

Play groups like this are a great way to get your child use to sitting through an activity. If you don’t have one, you can start one with friends!

Story time is also another great way to introduce your child to the art of sitting and paying attention. Most libraries and even some bookstores offer story time. We have gone to the one at Barnes and Noble since my son was a baby.

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Go to church or church activities

I personally believe there are many benefits to taking children to church but I understand that not everyone agrees. However, if you are comfortable taking your child to church, take him! This is a great, free way to prepare for school. Also, churches frequently offer activities for children that aren’t actual church services. (If you do plan on taking your child to church, check out this post on how to choose a church for your child.)

Enroll your child in a music class

There are many different music classes available for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. I love this one because music is helpful for language development and other skills that are important for learning but, also, there tends to be little actual sitting but it still teaches your child to pay attention.

More tips for helping your child learn to sit still

Offer a variety of activities

Variety is important because it’s hard for toddlers and preschoolers to focus on just one activity for an extended period of time. It’s also important to offer both quiet activities and not-so-quiet activities because children will need to know how to sit and pay attention in both environments.

Don’t expect too much

It’s important to remember that the goal is to introduce your child to sitting still. Don’t expect your child to sit for a long period of time.

Let your child take the lead

Particularly, in the beginning, follow your child’s cues. If she will only color for thirty seconds, then great, move on to something else. The point is not to make your child sit and color, it is to give her the opportunity an over time the attention span will increase.

It has only been in pretty recent months that I’ve started to encourage my son to color “one more thing” before getting up. And it’s only been in the past few weeks that he has started to show some actual concentration on what he is coloring, finishes a page, asks for more and even asks to color without being offered.

Again, there is no reason to pressure your child to sit still and be quiet but helping him to increase his attention span will be a helpful skill for future!

This post is a part of the 31 Days of Kindergarten Readiness series; new posts are up published daily in October.

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About the Author

Hi! I'm Inez, the owner and content creator of For the Love of Mom, a website dedicated to helping moms thrive in motherhood by offering helpful advice, tips and resources.