What to expect when your child is learning/playing with you

Children of this age rarely sit still and are unlikely to stay seated with you at a desk/table for very long. When working and interacting with children under 5, remember their age and allow them a degree of freedom to explore and play. Sometimes the best learning occurs informally, where you are together with your child on the sofa, the bed or on the carpet – do not feel you always have to be seated at a table or desk.

Most children of this age, have small attention spans and you may find they engage in some or all of the following behaviours when working/playing with you. It is entirely normal for their age & stage of development!

  • Fidget, get up or move around the room
  • Decide to start up a conversation or ask unrelated questions
  • Start playing with the materials in their own way
  • Fiddle with something
  • Get distracted by outside noises or other external distractions

Tactics to help young children learn despite short attention spans

  • Children love to do – Give your child more control or a role in the activity (letting them choose which activity to do first, rolling dice, rubbing the wipe-board).
  • Children enjoy praise and being rewarded – Keep them motivated by having the reward mechanism in-front of them and using it! (sticker card, building a reward tower with cubes, marble jar, bag collecting counters as points).
  • Children like to feel they have some power – Try to give some element of control to your child. Give in a little (by this we mean answer their question, acknowledge what they are trying to ask of you, switch to doing what they might want to do for a while or adapt the activity to their wishes/preferences)
  • Be patient and be prepared to wait briefly for your child’s attention If your child was concentrating and now has got up or seems distracted, there is likely to be a good reason. Ask yourself:
  • Has he/she worked for 15 minutes or longer already and might want to do something else?
  • Does he/she need more physical action threaded into the activity or more fun factor?
  • Is the pace too slow or too fast?
  • Does he/she need a change of activity, materials or a different role?
  • Is he/she feeling successful at the task or game? Do I need to make the activity/game a bit easier or perhaps more challenging?

The more able your child, the more snappy the pace will need to be. Children can get bored easily so try to keep them engaged by getting them involved (the more passive a role you assign your child, the more likely you will be to lose their interest and enthusiasm).