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Early Childhood

Short Attention Span

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Lawrence Herrera Lawrence Herrera 180 Points

Hello, new teacher here, I find that older students have a better attention span than the younger ones. I have tried many things to get the younger students attention to a lesson, I mean I have tried "attention grabbers" at the start of a lesson to rewards for paying attention with little success. As soon as I get to the lesson or "explain" part, I only get like 1-minute attention, then they lose it, and I have to redirect their attention back to me, its a constant battle. I am looking for some strategies or methods to help me keep the little ones' attention. Thank you!

Melanie Biddinger Melanie Biddinger 495 Points

Hi Lawrence,

I am a preservice teacher, and based on my own personal experiences/observations and what I have learned throughout my coursework, your statement that younger students have a shorter attention span is very accurate.  Therefore, how teachers educate older students will be different from the way they educate younger ones.  

Firstly, I feel that your current “attention grabber” opening is a great way to begin any lesson.   You want your students to get excited about the topic because without this initial excitement, students will not feel motivated to continue on with the lesson.  I feel that it is effective to start a lesson by invoking a sense of mystery, so maybe you could hide objects that you are going to be talking about in your hand or under a blanket/bag or you could also start the lesson with a riddle.

Once you are in the “explanation” part of the lesson, incorporate as many games, songs/finger plays, and interactive activities as possible.   Many young students are naturally curious and want to be able to move and explore their environment; therefore, try to always think of at least one interactive component in every lesson.  For instance, if you were going to teach your students about spiders, you could sing the song The Itsy Bitsy Spider with the accompanying finger play, bring in spider stuffed animals or models for the students to touch and pass around, and make spiders out of food.  You could also show them videos and pictures of spiders and make their own spider webs out of string.   These ideas were ones that I learned from a workshop that I completed called “Growing Up Wild” that was given by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. 

I also suggest incorporating several brain/stretch breaks.  You should preplan these breaks; however, you also need to gauge your students and determine if you may need to initiate the break sooner. 

Finally, if you have any students who are particularly antsy, you could give him/her specific classroom jobs, such as passing out materials.

Unfortunately, there is no-one size fits all answer to your question, but I hope some of these suggestions help.


Victoria Wang Victoria Wang 630 Points

Hi Lawrence!

I work with children who have Autism at an early intervention center and most of our kiddos are very young and also have small attention spans. I have learned that finding a motivational operant that can get their attention and hold it because they want to earn/get more of the motivator. To find the MO for most children, it is usually different for each student, but it can produce an easier way to hold and gain thei rattention if you find out what they want and to gain. 

Katlyn Alexander Katlyn Alexander 3080 Points


I am a preservice teacher at the University of Northern Iowa and one thing that we learned is that everything with students needs to be hands on. So I would definitely suggest that there be some hands-on activities even in the explain phase of the lesson. It might be a little difficult but I think the major way to keep the students engaged is to include these activities. Even if you get them up and moving during the engage phase. For example you could do a gallery walk or jigsaw learning. This will encourage the students to stay engaged.

Monica Malila Monica Malila 2810 Points

Hi Lawrence, 

Children at a young age are of course going to have a short attention span, so it is up to you make make sure you keep the children constantly engaged. I have noticed for younger kids if they are up and moving or have hands on materials to work with they will stay engaged much longer than just sitting in one spot listening. You could find science videos that get students up and moving that they can dance to while they learn, create learning stations that students move to after 4-5 minutes, or take them outside on a field trip! 

Anne Lowry Anne Lowry 8543 Points

Hi Lawrence


I teach PreK.  In my experience, if the materials is hands on, personally relevant,  and the students can work out the explanations themselves (with some assistance), they can stay focused for a very long time.  As an example, last week several students stayed engaged in building a structure (with muliptle failures) for about 1 hour and ten minutes.  Might have gone even longer, but we had to clean up for outside.  I have had similar experiences in other classes, no matter the level of background, identified disability, etc.

If you can't create a hands on experience with the materials, try writing a story mentionging the students by nane.  That's another technique I have used successfully

Good luck!  it will come together with persistence!

Teresha Sutton Teresha Sutton 325 Points

Hi Lawerence,


Is is possible to seperate the children into smaller groups in order to cut down on the distractions?  Another concept might be trying to change your environment.  For example, instead of teaching in the traditional classroom setting most of the time, maybe you could try to take the lesson outdoors, in the library, or sometimes even in the hallway.  As a daycare provider, I find that different locations help them to focus longer.


Good Luck!

Shenay Damirgi Shenay Damirgi 3310 Points


I am an Early Childhood Major at University of Northern Iowa.  I've had the opportunity to work and do field experience in different levels of early childhood classes.  I think the big thing to keep in mind is that young children at 4-5 years old can only sit still in large group time for approximatley 10 miniutes at most.  So if you are doing the 'explain' part in a science lesson it might be better to make it interactive and hands on.  Young children learn more and are engaged better if they are able to move around and interact with objects and peers.  An example I can think of would be 'turn and talk to your neighbor' or make it into a a game so they are up and moving.  Just having them sit and discuss something can get children to be a little wiggly and not be able to sit through that time fully focused.  Another suggestion would be to have a brain break and get them to move before starting the 'explain' portion of you lesson.

Hope those ideas help!

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