Short Attention Span

What is short attention span?  There seems to be at least one child in every class, who has a short attention span. (“Only one?” you say!)

This child is never settled at the same task for long and often has loads of energy and won’t sit still. 


This child is often trying to move about to where he is not supposed to be.

This child can be extremely disruptive within the classroom and to individual children whom he constantly and regularly disturbs.

Of all the different types of Special Educational Needs in a mainstream school, the short attention span difficulty is one of the most demanding on the teacher. In fact some teachers will feel the child with short attention span needs a teacher completely to himself!

BUT…some children who have a short attention span, can amaze people by the long term attention span they can give to things they are really interested in! Maybe it is not a short term attention span that is the problem, but more likely the activities he is being given to do that make him bored and dismissive of the task in hand! Maybe he is being offered the wrong and inappropriate-for-him teaching style! Now there’s a challenge!

What can be done to compensate a child with short attention span? 1) Check that there is no physiological problem causing his short term attention, from a serious medical condition to the possibility that he cannot sit still and settle because he has a fear of asking to go to the toilet!


2) Be aware that he might have emotional difficulties that stop him from being settled and from concentrating on his work. If this is the case, he will need lots of patience, understanding and praise for good efforts to build his confidence and trust.


3) Cash in on the interests that he does have where his attention span is longer than usual and use this interest to involve him in developing his literacy skills.


4) Set up a reward system to help encourage him to lengthen his attention span. Make sure this presents him with short term achievable goals that are rewarded almost instantly.There is no good in saying, “If you can sit still for an hour you will get a drum set at the end of the month!” He cannot sit still for long…and why should he just be sitting still anyway..and the end of the month could seem ten years away to him so why should he bother if he has to wait so long? The reward system should inspire him to achieve. Explain the difficulty to the other children and, every time you pass the child on task, put a bottle top on his desk. When he has a good number of bottle tops, give him lots of praise and invite the other children to do similarly. (They’ll be pleased he has not disrupted them!) Record how many bottle tops and try to beat the record another day. I have tried this and it worked!


5) Regularly give praise for extending his attention span even if by only a short time..and avoid giving him negative comments when he is not achieving. He needs and feeds on attention and should learn that he will get it for achievement but not for failure.

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