Keep Your Preschooler Engaged: 5 Strategies that Work

keeping your preschooler engaged

After a year of navigating a pandemic, many families continue to be at home more than ever. For parents of preschoolers, activities that promote learning are everywhere on social media and blogs. They showcase fun activities to keep children happy, engaged, and learning. However, putting those activities into action and holding a young preschooler’s attention can be more challenging than it looks.

Here are five easy ways to help you keep your preschooler engaged with learning activities at home:

1. Focus your activities around your child's interests

While the cool Lego activity online looks like fun to you, if your child’s favorite toy is cars, pick the cars! Just like adults, children learn the most when they are engaging with toys they are interested in. This will help grab and keep their attention for more extended periods. Even when introducing new activities, keep one preferred item in the activity to help spark their interest. For example, if you are introducing play with a toy kitchen, and your child loves cars, start with a drive-through so the favorite car can still be part of the game while exploring the new activity. This website gives you ten different ways to play cars- check it out!

2. Create clear areas for learning to occur.

Children love structure and will be more successful when they know what is expected of them. Boundaries can include where they can play with a specific toy, where they should sit, what tools they should use, and where to put items when they are done.

Here are some examples of outlining the expectations in different activities:

  • If the learning activity is coloring, give clear boundaries about where they can color and what markers to use. I like to use bright-colored painting tape to tape the paper down, so it is clear where the piece ends. 
  • Quiet book reading might require a child to sit in a specific area. Mark the spot, wherever it is, to give your child a visual of where they are expected to sit. This is also helpful if you need to guide them to sit back down, you can do so quickly and without confusion. Again, removable tape works well for putting an X on the spot to sit. Placemats on the floor can also be a great visual for where to sit. 
  • For Playdoh, have a designated area where the Playdoh can be played with and a bin of tools. Don’t want colors mixed? Use construction paper as the designated areas so that blue Playdoh stays on blue and green stays on the green!

3. Play, rather than direct.

Whether you are playing with cars or commenting on your drawing project, play along with your child. Nothing will cut a learning activity short faster than dictating the play or asking too many questions. Instead, turn your questions into statements and comments. For example, instead of asking, “What is your baby doing?” say, “My baby is hungry. I am going to feed her”. Watch what your child is doing and build upon his/her ideas by commenting and modeling play. An excellent resource for learning more about playing with your child can be found here.

4. Involve the senses.

I am sure you have heard it said before, but kids learn by doing. The more senses they can engage while playing, the more they will learn. When thinking about your activities, think about what senses they use and what other senses you can add. For example, if you are coloring, could you use scented markers? Or maybe color on different textures (cardboard, fabric, etc.). If you are doing Playdoh, can you add in beads? Add a scent to the Playdoh? Make edible Playdoh? Just remember, adding one or two senses is great, but adding all five might make the activity overwhelming.

5. Set reasonable time expectations.

While all parents of toddlers would love them to engage with a toy or activity for a solid hour, that expectation is not necessarily appropriate. According to childhood experts, the average attention span of a toddler is typically their age times 2. That means three and four-year-old children should attend to one task for an average of 6-8 minutes. While this can be different for every child, it is a starting point for what to expect for your child. When you pick activities, pick ones that are quick to set up and takedown because the playtime may not be hours on end. A fantastic blog for activities that promote excellent learning and are quick to set up is Days With Grey.

Written by Kristin Wilfon

Kristin Wilfon, M.A. CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist in California. She received her master's in Speech-Language and Hearing Sciences at San Diego State University.

References

Brain Balance Achievement Centers. (2019, July 08). Brain Balance Achievement Centers. Retrieved from Normal Attention Span Expectations By Age: https://www.brainbalancecenters.com/blog/normal-attention-span-expectations-by-age

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