It may not always seem obvious, but your two-year-old does have an attention span 😉 Exactly how long it is depends on a wide range of factors, but generally speaking, a two-and-a-half-year-old child can focus on a specific toy or activity for around four minutes. By the age of five, children are expected to have an attention span of at least 15 minutes to be successful when they start school.
Focus is a skill that needs to be taught and practised. Here’s how to help build your two-year-old’s focus:
Reframe what focus looks like
Focus may look different as your child develops, and can even seem to fluctuate from day to day. Sometimes, for example, your child might be able to calmly listen to a story while sitting on your lap. Other times they may bounce around, play, and fiddle with their toys. The good news is, they are receiving the same level of language exposure either way; they benefit just as much from squirming and listening as they do from sitting still and listening.
Do look for cues during moments of restlessness (like whining or clinginess) that can tell you when your child is actually in need of your support or a break. A child who moves between different activities during their play could be communicating that they are overstimulated, bored, or looking for connection with you.
Not too easy, not too hard
Offering toys that meet the current developmental needs and interests of your two-year-old can develop your child’s ability to focus.
The Drop & Match Dot Catcher is a good example of an activity that offers just the appropriate amount of challenge. You may need to help your child with the colour-matching element, but they are more likely to stay engaged because they can experiment with dropping in the dots and sliding the tab to release them on their own.
A pretend sink combines water play (always a favourite 🙂) with your child’s interest in mimicking a practical life activity they see you doing every day. It may also lead to some intriguing questions about how things work: “where is the water coming from?”
There’s a sweet spot for “focus coaching”
A study by the National Institutes of Health found that young children developed a greater capacity for focus when they had gentle and limited support from their adult caregivers. Think about it as “focus coaching”—focus has to be taught and practised.
Tasks requiring too much adult control, however, were counterproductive to the child’s ability to focus. Finding the right balance can be tricky, and may require some trial and error to determine how much support your child truly needs.
When you are playing with your two-year-old and notice them struggling with something, wait before stepping in to see if they can find a solution on their own first. If they’re disengaging from a challenging puzzle, for example, you can point and say “I see a yellow, round piece that I bet would fit where the sun is.” If they still seem lost, you can put the piece right next to its slot on the puzzle board and let your child slide it into place. Then say, “can you try doing the next piece?”
Consider a minimalist approach
In the Montessori philosophy, less is more. Two-year-olds are in a developmental stage Montessori experts refer to as the “sensitive period for order.” Having too many toys to choose from can overwhelm your two-year-old and make it harder for them to focus.
Consider incorporating toy rotation into your routine. By limiting the number of toys your child has access to, you can tailor what is available to meet their current interests and abilities, allowing them to deepen their focus without environmental distractions.
- Teach Your Child to Focus (Parents)
- What is ADHD? (Summit Medical Group)
- Focused Attention in Toddlers (NCBI)
- Measurement, Stability, and Relations to Negative Emotion and Parenting (NCBI)
The Helper Play Kit
The Helper Play Kit was designed, tested, and perfected so you and your family can explore counting, separating, understanding routines, planning ahead, rhyming, building spatial awareness, and more.Learn more
The Enthusiast Play Kit
The Enthusiast Play Kit will help lead the way through purposeful play. Each of the playthings will help your child understand shapes, practise balance, play pretend, and develop fine motor skills.Learn more
The Investigator Play Kit
The Investigator Play Kit encourage your two-year old child’s persistence, focus, and trail-and-error exploration as they develop STEM skills supporting their executive functioning.Learn more
The Free Spirit Play Kit
The Free Spirit Play Kit celebrates this stage with playthings that empower independence, encourage curiosity, and strengthen executive functioning. See what’s inside The Free Spirit Play Kit!Learn more
19 - 21 Months
22 - 24 Months
25 - 27 Months
28 - 30 Months
31 - 33 Months
34 - 36 Months
What kind of chores are right for my child?
Children as young as 18 months can start taking on regular household responsibilities. These will be simple and straightforward, like wiping up spills or helping set the table, and will require modeling and patience from you.
25 - 27 Months
DIY spice paints, nature soup, and more ways to explore smell
Many sensory activities focus on texture, temperature and other tactile properties. Try these ways to incorporate smell into your two-year-old’s sensory play.
25 - 27 Months
How long should my two-year-old be able to focus?
Supporting your child’s ability to focus and concentrate helps them get deeper into play and lays a foundation for the mental stamina they’ll need later on.