Tag: parenting

6 Simple Tips to Improve Attention Spans for Kids

6 Simple Tips to Improve Attention Spans for Kids

Imagine this:

Your four-year-old wakes up in the morning, cheerful and ready to start the day. He eats his breakfast in a reasonable amount of time. Then he gets dressed and puts on his shoes without reminders from you! You leave the house five minutes earlier than you had planned and have time to drive-through your favorite coffee place for a little treat.

When you get home in the afternoon, he joins you at the table for a fun learning activity or craft project. He listens well, follows directions, and excitedly engages with you for 20 minutes. Once you’ve cleaned up together, he runs off to his room to play with his LEGOs for another 40 minutes while you get dinner started.

Sound impossible?

While I certainly can’t promise it’ll happen every day, I can give you some simple tips to improve attention spans at your house and make life a little more peaceful!

6 Simple Tips to Improve Attention Spans for Kids | Former classroom teacher Melissa Droegemueller shares easy, practical solutions for parents of toddlers and preschoolers.

Improving attention spans in young children is not hard, but it does require intentional parenting choices.

  • Model it Ourselves

Let’s get real with each other. When was the last time you focused on any one thing for more than 20 minutes without your mind wandering? I’ll be honest! I am very easily distracted, especially with my phone nearby. It’s so easy to click on that new notification or scroll Instagram!

And yet, we get frustrated with our children when they bounce from activity to activity! If we’re going to help our kids improve their attention spans, we need to be more mindful of our multi-tasking when they are in the room.

Commit to one 15-minute block each hour where you put the phone down (or whatever distracts you) and do just one thing. Take a walk, read a chapter of a book, or play a game with your kids!

  • Simplify the Environment

In order to improve attention spans, we need to remove unnecessary distractions. If your child is struggling, set up a “quiet space”: maybe the kitchen table or a desk in the living room. Make sure this workstation doesn’t have extra noise, screens, or toys that might draw attention. You can add a privacy screen or noise-cancelling headphones for children who are very easily distracted.  

(Note: some children actually find it easier to pay attention with background noise, a chair that moves, or some type of fidget tool. Try different things to see what works best for your child!)

For young children, set out a blanket or sheet in the middle of the room with the one activity you want them to focus on. We used to do “tot trays” right after nap time, and our little one knew that a fun new learning activity would be waiting in the same place for her each day.


Simple learning activities from Rolling Prairie Readers.

Click here for simple learning activities for toddlers and preschoolers.


  • Make it Easier

When I polled our online community about this topic, the most common concern was children who couldn’t sit still for homework or meals. Too often, we put young children in adult-size chairs at home, which is neither comfortable nor age-appropriate. Consider investing in a child-size table & chair set or setting up a footrest (or empty box) for your children so their legs don’t dangle uncomfortably.

Be sure to prepare for wiggles by allowing your children to MOVE their bodies before and after sitting. Jumping jacks, dance parties, and tickle fights are all fun ways to expel some energy!  

  • Build Stamina Slowly

Keep in mind that attention spans can be strengthened with just a little bit of practice every day. Just like we don’t expect our children to hop on a two-wheeler and ride a mile without any experience, neither should we expect focus and persistence to come naturally. Start small, and watch your child soar with a little bit of hard work and positive reinforcement!

  • Set Boundaries and Routines for Screen Time

There are so many fun and educational things to see and do on the T.V., tablet, or computer! I am a big fan of screen time, but in healthy moderation. In our house, we often start our day with outside time, followed by free play and quiet time/reading. Most of our screen time happens in the late afternoon, when we all need a little break.

Set a time during the day when your kids CAN watch screens (if you allow that sort of thing), and declare the rest of the day screen-free! After a while, your kids might not even ask for screen time because they are having such a fun time doing something else.

These six tips should give you lots of simple activities to improve attention spans in your family. I would love to hear (in the comments) which of these tips you’ll be trying first!


Interested in learning MORE about age-appropriate expectations for our young children? Be sure to check out our best-selling parent workshop: Age-Appropriate Learning!

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How to Encourage Independent Play

How to Encourage Independent Play

As a homeschooling family, one thing my girls are REALLY good at is playing independently. Over the last six years, they have learned to entertain themselves while I teach the other child. We’ve also spent many hours playing at our Classical Conversations community, my husband’s choir practice, and the girls’ gymnastics class. Some children are natural learners when it comes to independent play, while others need direct instruction and practice.

How to Encourage Independent Play | child development, independent play tips for kids, life skills, early childhood, parenting tips

When is my child ready for independent play?

I recently had a mom ask, “How early do you think kids are able to do this?”

The easy answer, of course, is that all children are different. I believe independent play is an important life skill that needs to be taught in early childhood and practiced over time until it becomes a way of life.

I would venture to say that some babies can learn to play independently for small amounts of time, maybe 5-10 minutes max. Our oldest daughter loved to look at herself in a mirror during tummy time, even if I was sitting right next to her!

Even our second baby, who much preferred being held or worn, would often have her independent play time in the kitchen while I prepared dinner. I would sit her in the high chair with a special toy and she was free to explore near me (but not exactly WITH me).

As our girls grew into toddlers and preschoolers, their time for independent play grew longer and more frequent. As a homeschooling family, each girl would have a turn for lessons while the other would listen to her personalized playlist and play in the other room.

There is a myth that all children need to be “entertained” all the time, and it’s just not true. As parents, it is important to build in time for independent play–not in a neglectful way, of course. (It should go without saying that parents and caregivers should ensure their children are safe and happy during independent play sessions.)


Grab our FREE independent play learning ideas!


 4 Ways to Encourage Independent Play

  • Environment

All too often, parents send their children “off to play” in a room filled with toys. Immediately, overwhelmed with choices and decision fatigue, children will make a mess or be destructive. The first and most important step for teaching kids to play independently is preparing the environment. You can either set up a toy rotation system or perhaps easier for this purpose, bring just one or two toys to an uncluttered play area, like a rug or blanket on the floor. If your child has a small table, you can also set up an independent play activity on it.

  • Equipment

I am a self-proclaimed lover of toys. There are some amazing learning products on the market these days! When it comes to teaching your child how to play independently, however, you are looking for a certain type of toy. You are looking for something open-ended, that can be played with in a variety of ways.

(Reminder: Rolling Prairie Readers uses affiliate links at no additional cost to you. You can see our full disclosure policy here.)

Off the top of my head, I might consider Mental Blox or a train set to start. As your child becomes more adept at independent play, you can bring in the sensory bins or playdough invitations.  (You can click here to see the entire list of our 13 favorite indoor toys.)

  • Educate

As I mentioned in the introduction, some children are naturals when it comes to independent play. Others need to be taught (shown AND told) what it means to play independently. It may take a few weeks, but with good instructions, clear expectations, and lots of practice, you can set up good play habits that will last for years.

If you have a toddler or preschooler (or even an older child!), try this process:

  1. Explain that you are going to try a NEW activity! I think we first called it “room time,” but since we often switched from room to room, I started calling it “invitations to play.” (Now, our six-year-old just asks me to set up “an activity.”) Find a name that works for you both and signals something new and exciting.
  2. Show your child WHERE they are going to be doing the activity. As you lay out a blanket or set up a child-sized table, they will likely be intrigued without you doing too much. Remember to keep it fun–independent play is not a punishment.
  3. Bring out a toy (just one!) that they haven’t played with in a long time or something new you’ve picked up at a consignment store. Choose something they will WANT to play with at first (no screen time, of course). Make sure to keep it open-ended!
  4. Turn on music or an audiobook while your child plays. Stay close by, but don’t get involved in the play unless you want to. (Definitely don’t grab your phone/tablet, or your child will want what YOU have.)
  5. Mark down what time they start playing and when they lose interest/walk away. Hopefully you can get 5-10 minutes the first time! When they are done, ask them to clean up with you before they move on to another task.
  6. Repeat the process tomorrow. And the day after. Keep practicing until your child can stay focused on ONE activity for 30 minutes.

Remember that this should be FUN and light-hearted. If you are having any struggles at all, just reach out and we can troubleshoot together. 

  • Engage

If your child is struggling to play independently, the most likely problem (sorry to say) are the toys. We all know that kids gravitate towards the things that interest them, right? Start setting aside the toys your child no longer seems interested in playing with until you find the “sweet spot.” You can certainly try re-introducing the toy to your child at a later date to see if their interest has returned. (If not, you can resell that toy or donate it to charity.)

Another likely culprit is too much screentime. In our house, we definitely notice a negative effect on our children’s attitudes and attention spans when they’ve had unlimited freedom with either the TV or tablet. You may need to institute a “fast”or strong boundaries around screentime while your child is learning to play independently. We have found that audiobooks are a good substitute–low tech, but still engaging and fresh.

How to Encourage Independent Play | child development, independent play tips for kids, life skills, early childhood, parenting tips

YOUR TURN: How do you encourage independent play for your kids?


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Best Books About Kindness and Friendship

Best Books About Kindness and Friendship

Books about kindness and friendship give children the opportunity to learn about empathy in a safe environment. Taking time to talk about the characters and their choices is the most important part of the family read-aloud experience. Read on for our five favorite kindness books for kids!

Best Books About Kindness and Friendship | kindness books for kids, intentional bookshelf, teaching with books, recommended picture books

Best Books About Kindness & Friendship

(Rolling Prairie Readers does use affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission if you purchase any items we recommend. For the full disclosure policy, you can click here.) 

Chrysanthemum
by Kevin Henkes

I’ve talked about our love for Chrysanthemum in our favorite books for new readers post, but I really do recommend this book to everyone! It’s a great story for back to school or when a child is feeling anxious about a new experience. It’s also the perfect introduction to what bullying can look like in a classroom. Why don’t Chrysanthemum’s classmates stand up for her? Are they afraid they’ll be bullied next? Use this book to talk about what YOU would have done if you were in the book.

Bonus: You can also watch this one on DVD (narrated by Meryl Streep)!

Corduroy
by Don Freeman

Corduroy is one of those “classic” books that really has endured through many generations. It’s a sweet and simple story that any toddler will love, especially if there is a special lovey in the family. Use this book to talk about taking care of others. What does it look like to be a friend?

Officer Buckle & Gloria
by Peggy Rathmann

This is one of my favorite picture books because it’s just ridiculous from begining to end. Children will love looking at all the details in the illustrations! But the best part of this Caldecott-winning book is the true friendship between Gloria the dog and her human, Officer Buckle. It’s a great invitation to discuss how our friends can (and should!) bring out the best in us.

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother
by Patricia Polacco

Growing up, I always wanted an older brother. My husband tells me of his many adventures and mischief-filled days with his older brother, much like Patricia and Richie in this autobiographical book by my very favorite author. Don’t be turned off by the title; this relatable book ends with a very sweet moment between two siblings, showing our kids that family can be friends, too.

Chicken Sunday
by Patricia Polacco

As I mentioned, Ms. Polacco is my favorite children’s author, and I probably could list every book she’s ever written in this kindness category. But I am choosing Chicken Sunday as our family’s “book of the month” because it has so many rich characters and moments of kindness. Set a few years after the story above, Tricia is now living in California with her mom and brother. She has added new family members, neighbor Miss Eula and her grandsons Winston and Stewart, and builds a true friendship with hat shop owner Mr. Kodinski. This book features so many rich cultural and religious moments, showing our children what a life of diversity and respect can look like.

We’ll be taking the lessons found in Chicken Sunday and using them as a jumping off point for our “theme of the month” discussions in The Intentional Book Club.

You can learn more about The Intentional Book Club here, or click on the image below to join us!

Join other intentional families in The Intentional Book Club!

Before you go, I would love to hear YOUR favorite kindness books for kids!