Overview: Help! My child won’t pay attention! Sound familiar? I’m sharing my best kept secret to the toddler attention span. It’s not what you think!
Have you ever found an awesome activity on Pinterest, spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing for the activity, only to have your toddler spend 2 minutes on it?
I use to do this all the time. I’d get carried away by all the pretty pictures of toddlers playing on Pinterest. To be honest, even some of the pictures on my blog are of an activity that Sicily literally spent 2 minutes on. She sat their long enough for a picture then walked away to do something else.
We can chalk this up to being a toddler, but there really is a secret to getting your toddlers to spend more than 5 minutes on an activity.
Let’s switch gears for a minute. Now I want you to imagine spending 10 minutes preparing for an activity. You get it set up just right and are super excited for your toddler to discover it the next morning.
When your toddler walks into your learning area, she spots the activity and asks to play with it right away. She spends 45 minutes doing the activity without being distracted by anything else. That sounds amazing right?
This can be you if you follow this one super simple secret. I will mention that this won’t always happen. Sometimes we miss the mark, but 8 times out of 10 this trick really does work.
Are you ready for it?
Follow your toddler’s interests!
Yes, it really is that simple. I think sometimes we get carried away with all the pretty pictures, our own interests, and the fancy blog posts that make the activity seem amazing. When I first started with Tot School, I was more focused on activities that looked fun to me on Pinterest.
I wasn’t thinking about Sicily at all. This is what I did when I taught a class of 20 preschoolers. I found fun looking activities that went along with our curriculum, but now that I only have one child (or even if you have a few) it’s easier to plan around their interests.
Related: The Toddler Experience: A Hands-On Toddler Curriculum
A toddler needs to feel connected to what they are learning. The activities need to be authentic and seem important to them for it to really be interesting.
Right now it’s fall where I live. We spend a lot of time talking about the leaves changing colors and exploring the signs of fall.
Sicily is interested in what’s happening around her. A fall theme is authentic right now because it’s happening in her world. When I plan activities that relate to fall her little toddler attention span increases.
Sicily spent 30 minutes today painting a fall tree because she could connect the activity to what was going on outside in her world. It was an interest of hers.
How Do We Follow Interests to Increase the Toddler Attention Span?
First we need to observe. Following interests takes a bit more effort on our part. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through Pinterest for activities, we need to be involved in their play time and observe what they do.
I try to look for one of these three things:
-Lots of questions (if they are old enough)
-Spends a lot of free time on a certain activity
-Reads the same book over and over again
Identifying interests in a toddler can be harder because their communication skills are still developing. They don’t have the ability to ask a million questions right now (Which can be a blessing at times, right?).
But when it comes to planning activities that are meaningful, the lack of questions makes it really hard. When they ask questions, we will know exactly what they are interested in and what they want to know about that interest.
Related: Child-Led Learning: How to Stay Organized with a Wonder Journal
So instead, we look for activities or topics they spend a lot of time on. An example I use a lot is of Sicily watching caterpillars. She can spent 10-15 minutes just observing a caterpillar. She rolls it around in her hands and watches it crawl on the sidewalk.
The fact that she spent more than 5 minutes on an activity that she chose to do tells me she is interested in caterpillars. Now it’s time to take action.
I start by planning one or two activities to make sure it’s a solid interest. If she is focused on those two activities, then I will plan a two week theme for that interest.
When I’m planning activities I ask myself:
-What does she spend a lot of time doing?
-What is it about ________ that she loves?
-What does she want to know about _________?
These questions give me all the answers I need to plan activities that she will spend more than 5 minutes on. Your goal is to plan activities that will help your toddler answer their questions and develop a deeper understanding of their interest. You do not want to just walk up to a toddler playing with a caterpillar and tell them all about it. Seriously, what’s the fun in that?
Your toddler is thinking the same thing. Right now, learning is fun to them. It’s what they crave and seek on a daily basis.
Create activities that will help them answer their questions and learn more about their interests instead of just telling them. Let them discover it on their own, and increase that toddler attention span by doing so.
The secret to a longer toddler attention span is activities that follow their unique interests. A one size fits all curriculum that has only one set of themes is not going to work for most toddlers because every toddler is different. You need something that allows you to be flexible with what themes you teach.
Related: The Toddler Experience Curriculum
Following a toddler’s interest deepens their learning, strengthens their curiosity, and provides a way for them to answer their own questions.