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Attention Span

Attention span is the degree to which a child demonstrates sustained focus on designated tasks and activities, especially in school. During the preschool and early elementary school ages, attention span varies with age, gender, and type of activity. A longer attention span is generally found in older children than in younger children, and in girls more often than in boys. Children are usually able to maintain a longer attention span when performing tasks that match their abilities and interests.

An adequate attention span is an important part of learning in a classroom setting, enabling children to organize and consolidate important features of the subjects being studied. Most children develop the expected level of concentration in the course of ordinary school experience. But for those with short attention spans, learning problems sometimes develop, including over-attention to irrelevant details of tasks and general restlessness and overactive movements that distract them from their focus. Attention span problems are frequently reported in children with learning disabilities, such as those diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).


Guevremont, David, and Russell Barkley. "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children." In Stephen Hooper, George Hynd, and Robert Mattison eds., Child Psychopathology: Diagnostic Criteria and Clinical Assessment. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1992.

Hunt, Earl. "Verbal Ability." In Robert Sternberg ed., Human Abilities. New York: Freeman, 1985.

Thompson, Ross. "The Individual Child: Temperament, Emotion, Self, and Personality." In Marc Bornstein and Michael Lamb eds., Developmental Psychology: An Advanced Textbook, Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 1999.

Nathan W. Gottfried

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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 1