Concentration exercises for primary school children

Child colouring
Getting your child to concentrate can be a tricky task, so try these fun tasks to help improve their attention and focus.

Isn’t it funny how your child can focus on their favourite video game or TV programme for hours at a time, but when you ask them to tackle their homework, their attention starts to wander within minutes?

Learning to concentrate can be a difficult task for primary-school children. Experts believe that typically, a child can concentrate hard for three to five minutes for every year of their life: so a five-year-old may be able to focus for around 15 minutes, while a 10-year-old can stay on task for the best part of an hour.

However, many children find it hard to concentrate for even short spaces of time, particularly if the activity they’re working on doesn’t engage them, or if there are lots of distractions. But it is possible to improve their attention and focus without it feeling like a chore for you or your child. Try these fun learning ideas for size.

The coin game

This is a fast-paced game that improves memory and sequencing skills as well as concentration.

Take a pile of assorted coins, then choose five and arrange them into a sequence: for example 2p, 10p, £1, 50p, £2. Get your child to look at them closely for 15 seconds or so, then cover them with a sheet of paper.

Ask your child to make the same pattern using the coins in front of them, timing them with a stopwatch. When they’ve finished, note down the time they took and whether or not they got the pattern right; if they didn’t, get them to try again until they’re correct.

The more you play this game, the faster and more accurate your child should get – and you can increase the difficulty by using more coin denominations or longer sequences.

Spot the difference

Spot the difference and odd one out games are brilliant for getting children to pay attention to small details. You can tailor them to your child’s age and ability, and they also have the benefit of being portable and readily available online, which makes them perfect for travel or waiting rooms.

Puzzles where your child has to spot a hidden object in a picture, such as Where’s Wally? or the panda picture that recently went viral, are also good for developing concentration.

Picture copying

This exercise will help your child get better at sitting still and focusing on the work in front of them. Give them a picture – a simple illustration from a colouring book is ideal – and a sheet of blank paper for them to copy it onto.

Ask them to concentrate on copying the picture for a short period – as little as 30 seconds at first – then give their arms a good shake to get rid of energy and tension, then do another 30 seconds’ copying, and so on. As they get better at focusing, you can increase the time they spend copying, and reduce the number of breaks they get.

Teach them the signs that will show you that they’re concentrating – bottom on seat, head down, pencil moving – to remind them to stay on task.

Kim’s Game

This old-fashioned party game is a great way for helping children develop their concentration skills.

Take a selection of small household objects, such as a teaspoon, a key, a hair clip, an egg cup – you’ll need about 20 in total – and arrange them on a tray. Give your child 30 seconds to study the objects, then cover them up with a tea towel.

There are then two ways to play the game: either you can ask your child to recall as many objects as possible within a set time, or you can sneakily remove one item then uncover the tray and ask them to identify what’s missing.

I went to the supermarket…

This traditional game is a good group exercise that you can play with your child and their siblings or friends, and that often ends with much hilarity.

Sitting in a circle or around a table, the first person says, ‘I went to the supermarket and I bought…’ and then names an item starting with A: for example, an avocado. The next person then repeats the sentence and names an object starting with B, but also has to recall the first person’s answer: so, ‘I went to the supermarket and I bought a balloon and an avocado.’

Carry on through the alphabet, seeing how many objects you can remember before it all falls apart!

Backwards counting

Counting may be second nature to your child, but counting backwards – especially in numbers other than one – requires them to really apply themselves to the task, and helps boost concentration skills.

Try giving them a random number – say, 147 – and then ask them to count backwards in threes. It’s more challenging than it sounds and forces them to engage their brain and shut out distractions.

Colouring circles

Mindful colouring and doodling is big news amongst adults at the moment, helping to take our minds off everyday distractions and focus on the task in front of us, and it’s just as beneficial for kids, too.

Start by drawing a series of small circles on a sheet of paper for your child to colour, as neatly as possible, staying within the lines – because the circles are small, this should only take them a minute or so. The next day, draw slightly larger circles that will take a little longer to colour.

As your child’s ability to focus improves, you can introduce bigger shapes and more complex patterns that will take them longer to complete, helping to extend the amount of time they can concentrate for.

Counting words

This is a good exercise for KS2 children who struggle with concentration. Take a book and choose a paragraph of text for your child to look at. The aim is not for them to read it, but to count every word in the paragraph.

Once they’ve counted each word, get them to go back and count again. Did they get the same answer? If not, get them to count again; if they did, next time, you can give them a different or longer paragraph to work through. It’s impossible to let your mind wander when you’re paying such close attention to detail.

Dancing games

If you have a Wii, Xbox or other console, games where you child has to copy a dance sequence shown on screen are brilliant for boosting concentration skills for kids who find it hard to sit still and focus on table top exercises.

They also help develop processing speed and motor skills, and will help a fidgety child burn off excess energy too.

Is their concentration a problem?

Although it’s common for primary school children to have trouble focusing, for some children, it’s a more significant issue. About three per cent of children in the UK have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and an inability to concentrate is a key feature of the condition.

If you’re concerned that your child may have ADHD, speak to their teacher; they will be able to tell you if they share your worries, and if so, advise you on next steps, such as talking to the school special educational needs coordinator (SENCO).