Tag: raising children

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!

Join us for our Age-Appropriate Learning Parent Workshop!

Keeping Kids Busy at Home

Keeping Kids Busy at Home

For the past six years, I have been a work-at-home mom with my kids home full-times. I won’t lie and say it’s easy balancing a business and family time (while keeping up with housework). I can say it’s gotten easier as my kids have gotten older.

When it comes to keeping kids busy at home, it’s best to start as young as possible. Teaching kids to play independently for small chunks of time during the toddler years will make life easier once the napping years are gone forever.

My older daughter inherited my Type A tendencies. From a young age, she would ask me what our schedule looked like for the day. I ended up re-using one of my pocket charts from my classroom years. I made cards listing the major components of our day: meals, rest time, playdates, errands, read-aloud time, etc.

Each morning, I would arrange our daily calendar for her, leaving room for independent play. She had “choice time” in the morning and in the afternoon. I would choose three free time activities for her (for example, puzzles, blocks, and dress-up), and she would pick from the choices. Before long, Addie was quite good at keeping busy during my working hours, no screen time required!

By the time our younger daughter entered the toddler years, I was not only working at home, I was now homeschooling her older sister for Kindergarten. Suddenly, I needed to fill twice as much time for her!

Thankfully, Katie is a tactile learner. Sensory bins have always kept her busy for hours at a time–and pairing sensory play with our educational playlists meant she was listening and learning through play.

How to Keep Young Kids Busy at Home | Indoor activities for summer, rainy days, and work-at-home moms! Keep toddlers and parents happy with fun and simple learning activities using simple materials.

Keeping Kids Busy at Home | Fun ideas for your little ones to keep busy during summer or rainy days! Simple play ideas using pom poms, pipe cleaners, and popsicle sticks.

Keeping Kids Busy: Simple Play Ideas

I also discovered the idea of “invitations to play” when Katie was nearing the end of the napping years. {You can download all of our seasonal invitations to play FREE here.} She had this little table in her room, and each afternoon, I would set a tray with a new activity on it for her to see when she first woke up.

Her activities ranged from adding pony beads to playdough (and then pulling them all back out again) to building structures for her Little People animals with popsicle sticks. She loved sorting pom poms by color and making bracelets out of pipe cleaners.  

Now that my girls are 6 and 9, they love their free time. They work hard to finish their school work so they can get back to their projects!

Just this week, they put together a play for their stuffed animals! My youngest dictated the entire script for her older sister to write down. They rehearsed, made out invitations, and put on the entire show without any interference from me.

My oldest loves to write books, while my youngest still prefers sensory play. When they start to bicker, it’s time to spread out to different spaces for an hour of quiet time.

Keeping Kids Busy: Screen Time

A lot of moms I know struggle with guilt when it comes to screen time. In my opinion, it’s all about balance. If our kids are getting plenty of time outside, what’s the harm? The trick is finding shows and apps that YOU feel good about!

In our house, we’re big fans of Signing Time (sign language + music), PBS Kids (especially Peg + Cat), and School House Rock. My girls also love to listen to books on Audible, play Stack the States, and practice their math facts on the iPad.

They also love riding their bikes, going to the library, and fishing with their Daddy. Everything in moderation!

When it comes to keeping kids busy at home, during summer or on rainy days, the key is being flexible.

I love helping busy parents connect with their kids through play. Come join our FREE Facebook group for lots of activity ideas and encouragement from other moms!


Grab our FREE Flexible Family Schedule Guide for summer!

You can also download our FREE Flexible Family Schedule Guide, which includes our printable calendar template and activity menu with 20 ideas for when your kids are feeling bored.

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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