Top Picks by Age
The developmental focus for 2 year-olds (and younger) is joint attention, imitation, and gaining increased control of their bodies whether through books, toys/games/physical play or apps. Sharing information with a significant other helps confirm what they are learning, how to interact with others, and about the phenomenal world all around them. Pointing at objects or gesturing is a significant milestone and is the motor representation of sharing. It is learned through imitation. "Look, Mommy Here is an apple - it's just like the one in my book!" Many times, children are delayed in their development because they are unable to look at or view another to learn from imitation. The etiology can be from a number of reasons, and that is what is addressed in therapy. In addition, children are also learning to see themselves as separate beings, and managing this is a complex feat. Repetition is reinforcing and calming.
The attention span for a 3-4-year-old is typically 3-8 minutes. Of course if truly motivated by an activity kids may focus and engage for longer, but respect a child’s right to say "All Done". All done may be after finishing or cleaning up, but then end the activity. Picking up an activity later is always an option, and many times may happen 5 minutes later! Presenting kids with choices and decisions helps them recall directions and rules. It also empowers them to repeat play and to experiment with their behaviors and responses. In addition, providing choices supports a child to be an independent and lifelong learner. Children at the age of 3-4 love challenges and testing out their new-found abilities. 3-4-year-olds base what they know on information obtained through direct experience. Asking a child to help you with practical life tasks encourages them to recall the steps of an activity, and therefore they begin to rehearse the steps needed to memory. Simple turn-taking games teach waiting, flexibility, and the ability to retain directives. 3-4-year-olds also need to win most of the time when playing games, as they have difficulty shifting between concepts and ideas.
5-6 Year Olds
5-6-year-olds have clear preferences for activities. Building on those preferences by slowly expanding them out and exploring other related areas will gradually broaden both attention and motivation. Emphasis should be on process rather than the product as they are still refining gross and fine motor movements. Building and sustaining attention can be learned through simple games, especially ones that incorporate taking turns. Making sure that tasks are developmentally appropriate is also a big factor when looking at task completion. They can sequence daily routines and enjoy reciting and following rules. Using visual aids such as a visual schedule or timer as well as how one sets up a learning environment to be free of extraneous distractions or clutter are invaluable. Kids respond well to promise rewards, praise, and other incentives also empower the child into completing non-preferred tasks. The memory of 5-6-year-olds is quite simply amazing. They can be a contributing member in their classrooms and at home. They can follow multi-step directives with minimal prompts, and usually remember directives that were just given. They love to have “jobs” and feel pride in their contributions. Grasp on a writing utensil is usually set, and being able to copy shapes and writing strokes quickly progresses to writing their names and words. Scissor skills become more accurate and children begin to visualize and problem-solve solutions in their mind. Taking pictures, recording sounds, and inventing stories is a way to incorporate the body as a whole. In addition, it provides kids with active movement play to help refine their intentions.
School-age children need independence and freedom to explore and make things as well as learn from their mistakes. They are independent in self-care and take pride in their abilities. By 7 years of age, they have the ability to self-regulate with occasional cues but lack full executive functioning skills. Motor skills are in place and they move in a smooth coordinated fashion. They continue to need ample time for pretend and fantasy play, as it gives rise to creative and "out of the box" thinking. Unstructured play and opportunities to play in spaces that welcome discoveries are essential as well as participating in social group play. Creating activities that children enjoy helps to foster intrinsic motivation and in turn, this facilitates attention and learning about task completion. School-age children have opinions and want to be heard. Listen as well as provide jobs that match their new skills. Everyone needs to feel useful.