We all know kids can sometimes find it a bit trickier to pay attention and we know what it’s like when they don’t remember to pick up their socks!
Sometimes it could be they’ve had an average sleep, they’re hungry, there’s a basketball game happening outside or at other times there could be a neurological reason.
The good news is you can actually help your little ones get better at paying attention with games.
Attention is actually a process made up of different skills working together.
Selective attention, sustained attention and attentional control are all examples of attention skills which allow kids to do tasks like listen to their teacher, play games, read books, write a story, ride a bike and play instruments.
Different tasks require different attention skills at different times, but a lot of the more complicated tasks like driving a car require a lot of these skills working together.
This is what great attention looks like
Selecting one object from many in the environment while suppressing unimportant details.
Example: listening to a teacher’s instructions amongst classmates whispering closeby.
Concentrating on a task for longer periods of time (also often referred to as attention span).
Example: reading a few chapters of a book.
Being able to make the best decisions in the face of having conflicting instructions/demands.
Example: A bilingual person decides on the correct language to speak based on their environment while suppressing the desire to speak the language which wouldn’t be useful in that country.
The ability to inhibit impulses, habitual, or dominant behaviours, in order to select a more appropriate behaviour that is consistent with completing the goals.
Example: not pressing the big red button!!!
Games and programs improving attention are building and strengthening these skills so kids can engage in different types of tasks, eventually allowing them to work to to more complex ones.
When we’re looking at helping our little ones pay attention, there are a lot of things we can do. You can read more on why attention is important and how it works in our “Attention: The brain’s boss” article.
It’s no secret kids love to play. As well as being fun, games can teach kids a lot about the world around them and they’re a great opportunity to practice and build essential attention skills.
Attention boosting games to play with your little one(s).
Simon Says — An oldie but a goodie!
Choose one person as ‘Simon’ and the rest are players. Simon gets to tell the players what to do but players are only supposed to follow a command if it starts with “Simon says”.
E.g. “Simon says, jump and down.”
Simon can try and trick the players by saying a command without the words “Simon says” in front of it.
E.g. “Jump up and down.”
If a player does the action without Simon saying “Simon says”, they are out of the game.
One person focuses on a task and the other plays “Distractor” and tries to disrupt the task. To win, a player must finish the task without stopping.
The person in the role of “Radar” has to focus on the person speaking and maintain radar focus until they finish.
A good job by the radar is rewarded with praise or a prize.
When something distracts your little one like a humming fan or the video game console across the room, they point their finger at it like a wand and say “zap!”, where imagination blows the distraction away.
Have your little one make silly, fun poses until you shout, “Freeze!”. They hold that position until you count to 5 or 10. If they remain motionless the entire time, the roles reverse and they get to freeze you!
An alternate to this game (especially if you’re playing with more kids) is Frozen Statues, where you play music and kids dance along until the music stops and they have to freeze. Anyone who moves while the music has stopped is out.
1, 2, 3
Alternate counting to three between you and your little one. E.g. Person A says “1”, person B says “2”, person A says “3”, then player B starts back at “1”.
Once you are comfortable with this, you can slowly introduce actions to replace the numbers. The aim is to replace all the numbers with actions. E.g. Replace the number 2 with a clap.
Person A says “1”, person B claps, person A says “3”.
Get comfortable with this one and you can start replacing numbers 1 and 3 with an action like patting your head or bending your knees. You can get creative with these ones. E.g. Person A pats their head, person B claps, person A bends their knees.
This game requires sustained attention and gets harder the faster you go!
Another musical game and one that’s also great for impulse control.
Set up some chairs in a line, putting out less chair than there are people. Have kids walk in a clockwise or anticlockwise circle around the line of chairs while playing music. When the music stops, they have to sit on a chair and whoever doesn’t find a chair is out.
Remove chair each round until there are only 2 players with 1 chair and whoever sits on the chair when the music stops, wins!
Throwing a soft, weighted ball to your little one can improve their fine motor skills, hand eye coordination, focus, impulse control and sustained attention. You can start off with 5 minutes and eventually building up to more time and have them throw back to you.
Show and tell/Storytelling
Have your little ones make up a story or talk about their favourite food/toy/activity for 2 minutes. This gets kids practicing focus, sustained attention and utilising their short and long term memory.
Jump in the kitchen!
Getting your kids in the kitchen with you is a great way to help practice attention control and motor skills. Have them follow a recipe for something simple, like muesli bars or making a trail mix, to even decorating cakes or cookies (healthy of course!).
Other ways to strengthen their attention
Great ways to to practice attention skills are picture books like ‘Where’s Wally?’ or ‘spot the difference?’ where selective attention is key.
Crafts are also a great way of building up kids attention whilst practicing fine motor skills. Making cards for birthdays, drawing a picture of the family or their school, creating characters out of colourful objects are examples of how you can help your little one whilst having fun!
If your little ones find it hard to concentrate initially, you can cap the time they spend in one sitting and slowly build up. E.g. drawing for 1 minute at a time, have a break, and go again for another minute.
LEGO! Hands up if you’ve stepped on these tiny little pieces more times than you can count? 🙋🏻♀️
If you haven’t, we applaud you. Give your little one a task to create a house/tower/bridge etc. It will not only practice their attention but their fine motor skills as well. This task is especially helpful for building attention when they have a clear set of instructions (what they’re building) and they know there’s a time limit.