H: Hi I am Haidee.

S: Hi I am Sarah

H: Welcome to teacher talk, where Sarah and I do our best to answer your question on teaching, kids, and everything else that you may want to talk about. Sarah, what’s our topic for today?

S: (Holding a cue card): Today’s question comes from several different people who are all wondering the same general question “How long is it “reasonable” to expect kids to focus?”

H: Thanks, Sarah. There really are two answers to this question.

 The short answer: “It depends upon the learners”. And

The long answer takes into consideration that research tells us that the sustained attention span is somewhere between 2-5 minutes per year. So a two-year-old could be realistically expected to focus for between 4 to 10 minutes. 5 year-olds, 10 to 25 minutes, 10 year-olds, 20 – 50 minutes, 18 year-olds, 36 to 90 minutes, and it really stops about there for most of us.

We also know that the number of minutes your child/students should be able to focus doesn’t tell the “whole picture”. So many other things can impact a child’s ability to focus, from physical needs like hunger and sleep, boredom, anxiety, mental fatigue, inactivity, learning disabilities, other medical/educational challenges, etc. 

With these factors in mind, many teachers and parents find it helpful to establish a predictable, routine for school, homework, time with friends, activities, and so on. Blending time to take care of our children’s physical, social-emotional and educational needs into a predictable and hopefully fun predictable pattern. 

Sarah: That sounds about right. I remember helping out in my son’s class when he was in early elementary school. The kids would spend about 15-20 minutes at a learning station. As I recall, the real challenge didn’t begin until upper elementary when classes began to be 50 or more minutes long that things got really challenging. 

Haidee: Yes, when you think about it the sustained attention gap gets much more pronounced, from about 3rd grade on…Just imagine a 5th grade class of 10 years old, some are doing well if they can hang in there for 20 minutes, while others are good to go for up to 50 minutes! And that is if everything is going well -the children aren’t hungry, tired, upset, or bored. Skilled educators, delivering highly engaging differentiated lessons are worth their weight in gold. 

Sarah: So the real key to success is to design your day or instructional times into short repeatable blocks of meeting students physical needs (food/drink, bathroom breaks, physical exercise), social-emotional needs (playing/interacting with peers, checking in with a caring adult, etc), and instruction? Right?

Haidee: Absolutely! That and a douse of kindness for your students and yourself, because no one is perfect every day…but with support, we can all do our best! Well, that’s all we have time for today…please do check back in with us next time, and don’t forget!

Haidee & Sarah: Together, we all make a difference!