I've been very lucky to work in some really amazing early childhood classrooms over the past 9 years! The little cuties returned to class this week and everybody is learning the new routines for the day. Our class is an integrated classroom that consists of 6 typically developing children and 6 children with special needs that can range from speech delays to developmental delays to cognitive impairment to autism....and everything in between. I've learned A TON from working in these classrooms with outstanding team members.
We work hard to help our kiddos increase their attention span so that they can maximize their learning. Sometimes our goal is to help a child attend for even 1-2 minutes with a specific task such as cutting with scissors or coloring. One or two minutes might not sound like a whole lot of learning time but it can be a real challenge for some kiddos.
My own baby girl started high school last week and she attended an assembly this week where the speaker talked to the freshman class about how to be "successful learners". One of the ideas she brought home to share is a tidbit that is good for all of us to remember when working with children. She was taught that a person's optimal attention span is equal to their age + 2. That would mean that a 3 year old has an optimal attention span of 5 minutes. Obviously this is a general equation and some folks will have longer attention spans and others will have less. The key word here is "optimal" and I think that's pretty important when it comes to educational tasks. If you take time to work on a targeted skill such as learning letters or writing activities, consider that you can expect the best learning to occur within that "optimal range". In other words, planning three 5 minute tasks will likely be more successful than one 15 minute task when working with a young child.
I don't know about you but I think this equation idea takes a turn at some point! My attention span seems to diminish with every birthday :-)
Jen Dermody, OTR/L