Your Child’s Attention Span

Are you worried your child’s attention span lasts only a few seconds or minutes at most? Well that’s probably an accurate observation. Some parents often come in and report, “My child’s attention is so short—he moves from one toy to another all the time.” Well, what is the normal attention span of a three or five year old? This blog post is intended to provide parents and/or professionals with a better understanding of a child’s attention span.

Children between three and five years of age indeed have limited attention spans. A three-year old has the most difficulty with activities that involve sitting and listening. They need engaging and motivating activities to keep their interest. On the other hand, a four or five year-old child can sit and listen to a story or be completing a hands-on activity for 10-15 minutes. If the activity exceeds 10-15 minutes, four and five year-old children will also get fidgety and want to move on to something else. Four and five year-old children need to be actively engaged in their learning.

Here is a general idea of a child’s attention span:



How Can We Help?

3 years old A preschooler working alone may spend 3-8 minutes on an interesting activity and may finish it if it’s easy. Look for ways to keep preschoolers interested in the activities they start. Encourage and follow their interests. Avoid distracting them or taking over the activities.
3½ years old Working alone, a preschooler can stay busy for 15 minutes if there are a variety of interesting choices.
4 years old By 4, a child engrossed in an activity may ignore distractions such as the call to dinner.Alone, the 4-year-old may spend 7-8 minutes on a single activity, or as much as 15 minutes if the activity is new and especially interesting (an eye exam, for example).With a small group, a 4-year-old may spend 5-10 minutes playing without interruption. Four-year-olds understand it is harder to pay attention to uninteresting tasks, or when distracted by noise or their own thoughts. They are more likely to stay interested when they’re comfortable with the task or project and feel successful. They may need help to meet their standards. Adults can also keep children interested in projects with impromptu games and humor.
4½ years old Working alone, the pre-kindergartener may spend 2-3 minutes on a task chosen by an adult such as getting dressed or picking up toys.
5 years old By 5, most children can ignore minor distractions. Alone, they will focus on a single interesting activity for 10 or 15 minutes and on an assigned task for 4-6 minutes if it’s easy and interesting. A small group of children can work or play together without interruption for 10-25 minutes. Recognize that personal interest remains the most important motivation for 5-year-olds. It will double the length of their attention span.

Compiled from multiple sources by Helen F. Neville

I hope this article gives you a better understanding of a child’s attention span–whether he/she is three, four or five years old. The next time you’re wondering about why your child moves from one toy to another, think about his age and what his attention span should be. Talk to a Speech-Language Pathologist if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s attention span and for more suggestions or strategies if you feel issues are arising.

By: Bhavi Sirpal, M.Cl.Sc., S-LP, Reg. CASLPO


Adapted from Is This A Phase: Child Development & Parent Strategies, Birth to 6 Years, by Helen Fowler Neville, B.S., R.N., (Parenting Press, Fall 2007), ISBN 978-1-884734-63-2

Excerpt from Early Education: Three, Four, and Five Year Olds Go to School, by C. Seefeldt, B.A. Wasik, 2006 edition, p. 56-58.