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Do children really have short attention spans?

Some people think that children have short attention spans. Children’s media is usually created around this principle as if it were an inviolable fact, with ADD-like programs, songs and books, and toys with flashing lights and sounds. Parents are encouraged to get involved and lavish praise on a child who is doing something worth rewarding. The children may get bored at any moment! Let’s make this moment really amazing!


However, it’s been my experience that kids actually have longer attention spans than many adults do, provided that they are given enough time to get into what they are doing and enough freedom to feel comfortable following through with their ideas. Sometimes a little structure or a germ of an idea helps them get started.

girl playing with playdough

It doesn’t have to be complicated. It could be something simple, like playdough.

I put out the playdough at 9:30am. I then left to go for a run (while Tom was working downstairs, with one ear out for any possible distress upstairs). I came back, had a shower, read emails on my phone, helped the girls make a instructional video on how to make playdough candy, puttered about cleaning the kitchen and making a snack, took some pictures. The whole time, hours of it, the girls worked with the playdough. Who had the longer attention span here?

girl playing with playdough

Children don’t really have short attention spans. I think we create short attention spans in our children by accident. We teach them to expect constantly changing entertainment with TV and computer games. We interrupt them to go places and do things we think are important. We want to be helpful and get involved, but we end up micro-managing and controlling their play.

What they (and we) really need to develop longer attention spans is time and space to focus. Uninterrupted.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Emily van Lidth de Jeude February 1, 2014, 6:00 pm

    I completely agree. I think we create short attention spans by not honouring their own desires and inspirations; by telling instead of asking; by giving them tasks and activities instead of allowing them to create and find their own. And in doing these things we take away their responsibility and ability to get engaged with their activities.

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