How to Improve Focus, Memory Power, and Concentration in a Child with Play!

Poor concentration skills in children aren't necessarily a long-term problem you can help children to improve their concentration over time.  

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Firstly, it is imperative that concentration and intelligence are in no way linked. Poor concentration skills do not mean low intelligence and in many cases, the opposite can be true. 

Secondly, concentration can improve over time and also improves with age naturally. 

Possibly the best way you can improve your children’s attention span is through play.  If that sounds counter-intuitive then follow me, I’ll teach you all about concentration and how you can help your child grow their concentration through play. 

Signs Of Poor Concentration In Children

Children who have a poor attention span can exhibit it in many ways. Some of the ways you might think of as typical and other ways you may not even consider. 

Also a child who appears focused could actually be struggling with their concentration. 

Let’s break down some signs of poor concentration in children. 

Fidgeting and cannot sit still

When I said poor concentration this might have been the first thing that popped in your mind.  Many children who are struggling with concentration may fidget when they should be still. 

But for some children (especially children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD) fidgeting can actually help them to focus. For these children forcing them to sit still would draw all their focus to how much their body wants to move.  

Asking your child a simple comprehension question can be a good way to see if their fidgeting is detracting from their ability to focus. 

Easily Distracted 

How do you tell if your child is easily distracted?  There are some obvious signs like your child jumping from one activity to the next in short periods of time.  When playing their play seems scattered and often are playing with all the things at one time or in quick succession. 

Yet for other children easily distracted can be daydreaming. They may be sitting still and looking like they are concentrating but their minds are in an entirely different world. 

Doesn’t Follow Instructions Well

Part of concentration is working memory. Working memory is what a waitress uses to remember your order to give it to the cook.  

It’s being able to hold a few items in your mind for a short amount of time then recalling them within a short time frame. 

If your child can’t seem to follow two or three instructions they may be struggling with working memory which would be part of their concentration. 

Often these children either follow the first step or the last step perfectly. Everything in the middle is gone.  

Lack of Organization (Loses Items)

Children with poor concentration levels will also look like they cannot organize themselves. In reality, most of this is working memory issues and the child is forgetting the steps of organizing. 

Of course, organizing is a skill that for most children needs to be taught, so you may need to break it down for them into easy steps before considering this a sign of poor concentration. 

They may also lose things. We all misplace things from time to time, but a child with a poor concentration level will lose things very frequently and cannot retrace their steps. 

Again this comes under working memory for most children, but also has to do with attention. 

Causes For Lack Of Concentration & Focus In Kids

There are many reasons a child may have a lack of concentration and struggle with focusing. 

Environmental factors that play into a child’s lack of concentration can be poor sleep, diet, water intake, not enough exercise, being over-stimulated or under-stimulated, and emotions.  

For some children, it may truly be a neurological difference like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, anxiety, autism, or depression.  


A lack of hours of sleep is one of the biggest impacts on concentration.

Your child requires much more sleep than you might realize. In today’s world, it can be so difficult for children to get the right amount of sleep.

Children’s Sleep Needs by Age 

This chart is based on recommendations from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine

This is the amount of sleep a child needs every day, so don’t forget to add in any naps your child normally takes. 

AgeHow much Sleep is Needed
4 to 12 months old12-16 hours
1 to 2 years old11-14 hours 
3 to 5 years old10-13 hours
6-12 years old 9-12 hours 
13-18 years old8-10 hours

Not only is getting enough sleep going to help your child to concentrate better but it will also help them with better emotional regulation and behavior, completing their daily tasks, improvements in learning and memory, and even can improve their immune systems. 

If your child is getting enough sleep but still is having symptoms of poor sleep, they may need a sleep study. For some children, sleep apnea can be the culprit and you would need to discuss it with your child’s doctor. 

If your child is not getting enough sleep try to move their bedtime back half an hour and their wake up time half an hour.  Even if your child is sluggish in the morning now and you struggle to get them out the door, the extra hour of sleep might help you with your morning woes. 

Diet and Water Intake

For some children, their diet and the amount of water they are drinking is the issue with their concentration. 

Meals and snacks need to be at regular intervals.  Also, protein at each meal can help your children sustain their blood sugar levels before the next meal or snack time. 

If your child struggles to eat first thing in the morning, protein popsicles, protein shakes, and energy balls might be the answer to their problem. Some children with slow digestive tracts struggle to eat early in the morning, but a small, protein-filled snack at breakfast and mid-morning bigger snack could be the answer. 

Not only is regular meal times and snack times important but a diet with a variety of foods is also important for children. Different vitamins, amino acids, and essential fats help your child’s brain to be fully supported through the day. 

Water consumption is also important. Children need to be well hydrated to focus.  When children are in a state of water conservation (basically when their body is not well hydrated) it can lessen their concentration. 

It is essential to start at a young age by offering children water frequently and teaching them to understand what it means to be hydrated including the color of their urine and feeling thirsty. 

Another way to help your child get better about staying hydrated is to include drinking several times a day as part of their routine. For example with meals and snacks, when they wake, before they take their bath in the evening, and several times throughout the day. 


Exercise is essential to everyone but if your child is having difficulty focusing, exercise can be a part of the solution. 

Exercise releases neurotransmitters like dopamine that help the brain to focus and follow through.   The prefrontal cortex is strengthened during exercise which can improve executive functioning that plays a major part in focus.  

Another area of the brain that is improved through exercise is the hippocampus which plays a big part in memory and learning.  

Remember working memory is also another area of focus that children can struggle with, the hippocampus plays a big part in working memory functioning. 


Your child’s emotions also matter when it comes to focusing. A child who feels calm is better able to focus than a child who is distressed.  If your child is struggling with emotional regulation, they will also likely struggle with focus. 

Helping your child learn how to regulate their emotions and helping them feel safe and calm can improve their ability to focus. One of the best concentration tips is to practice deep breaths. This will help calm the mind and body and improve brain function.

Overstimulated or under-stimulated

Children who are overstimulated or understimulated can struggle to focus. This is even bigger in children with neurological differences like autism or ADHD.  

Children who are overstimulated can look stressed or shut down, while children who are under-stimulated are likely to be fidgety, noisy, and off task.  

There is a happy middle or Goldie Locks Zone for stimulation for each child. For some children, quiet time or a designated area for study time will help them focus, and yet others need some background noise or sensory input to focus.  

Ideas for overstimulated children: minimalistic areas, muted colors, less sound, silence, noise-canceling ear protection, remove scented candles

Ideas for under-stimulated children: fidget toys, bright colors, background noise like music or white noise, lighting scented candles. 

Neurological Difference

Difficulties with attention are caused by a neurological difference. Things like depression, ADHD, and autism can all affect focus. If your child’s focusing issues are persistent and their struggles do not improve enough with changes, it may be time to discuss with your child’s doctor an evaluation for a neurological difference. 

Having a child with a neurological difference is not a reflection of your parenting or your love for your child. 

Why can't my child concentrate at school?

Many of the above reasons can contribute to your child’s attention in class.  If there is not a neurological difference like ADHD or autism, things like the quality of their sleep, diet, lack of physical activities, and emotions all play into a child having concentration difficulties.

But on top of those reasons, there are a few more things to consider like poor routines, how challenging their classwork is, and learning differences. 

Poor Routines

We have all done the before-school hustle and shuffle with our children occasionally, but if you are feeling rushed and unprepared more often than not, the before-school routine might be a contributing factor to your child’s ability to focus at school. Especially if your child is struggling in the first part of their day but does well the rest of the day. 

Some tips to make your morning routine easier: 

  • Prep as much as possible the night before. Find shoes, set out clothes, make lunches and even consider a crockpot breakfast. 
  • Get up at least 15-30 minutes before your child so that you are not feeling rushed and have time to wake up
  • Set alarms on your phone to keep your morning moving if you tend to get stuck in one point of your morning routine frequently 

School Work at Appropriate Level of Challenging 

Sometimes the issue with your child’s ability to concentrate at school is with the school work. If your child is struggling with the work and it’s too difficult, your child may need accommodations while they catch up.  

On the opposite side of the spectrum, if the school work is too easy then your child may also be constantly distracted because they are bored. Your child may need a change of curriculum or even be moved to another grade level. 

Learning Differences or Disabilities 

Some children may slide under the radar and be struggling with a learning disability.  Sometimes children with learning disabilities seem distracted or unfocused when the reality is they have a learning difference. 

Dyslexia is a common learning difference that can affect 1 in 5 children and range from mild to severe. 

Children with milder dyslexia may be able to read on grade level when tested but struggle with it. 

Reading can make them more and more tired throughout the day as they use more energy than their peers to get through the same material. By lunchtime, they are exhausted and seem to be zoning out and not paying attention. 

You can request the school test your child for dyslexia or other learning disabilities that may be affecting your child’s ability to focus at school. 

Once your child is properly diagnosed and accommodated you may see their focusing issues dissipate. 

How can play help my child concentrate and increase memory?

Play and especially open-ended play with open-ended toys can improve your child’s memory and ability to concentrate.  Play is a fundamental way children learn about their world and assimilate new knowledge into their brains. 

You can actually use open-ended play to allow children to learn what it feels like to be focused. When they are playing with open-ended toys they can focus on their play. The more they flex that focus the easier it will come to them in other areas of their life. 

What are open-ended toys?

Open-ended toys are any toys that can be played in a multitude of ways. There are no defined rules about how to play with the toys.  

For example, electronic toys are often toy-led play and the child has to follow the prompts of the electronic toy, this is not an open-ended toy.  But a play kitchen set where they can be chefs or play doctor or playhouse is an open-ended toy. There is no right or wrong way to play with it and all the play is valid.

What is open-ended play?

Open-ended play has no right or wrong way of playing. Children get to use their imaginations in any way they decide. If a child is playing with cars and decides all the cars can fly, then they can play that way without someone telling them “cars don’t fly.” 

It is giving them no limits to how they play.

How To Improve Concentration In Kids through play

A great way to help your child improve their concentration is through open-ended play.  Not only do children get to see what being focused feels like, but they also start building skills that support focus like self-initiation, resilience, independence, and problem-solving.   

Through open-ended play, your children can gain the ability to focus. 

Another way to help your child improve their concentration when you are playing together is to play memory games that strengthen their working memory. The obvious choice would be a matching game.  But to incorporate it naturally into play you can play restaurant server, where your child is the server and needs to remember your order. Start small with one or two items and slowly grow it until you reach 4 or 5 items. These concentration exercises can become fun activities that help in the long run.

In another example, my kids played recently were pretend pet vet and I was surprised how much working memory was needed in their game. The kids needed to remember the names of their pet patients, what they were being seen for, and all the made-up diagnoses, tests, and medications. 

Ways to help your child focus and pay attention through play

Play is such a great way to help your child with focus and concentration that I honestly can’t cover every way you could use play to help them. But we are going to hit some of my favorites and ones that have worked well with my own children 

Give them Time for Meaningful Play

In today’s world, we are often rushed. Every day is jam-packed with activities and events and things to do and places to be, and the first thing that gets cut is playtime.   

Just carving out time for your child to have meaningful play.  Giving your child 40 minutes a day for uninterrupted play will help you see a major change in your child’s ability to focus. 

Learn More about Open-Ended Play

Provide open-ended toys that encourage imagination

Having the time to play is just part of the equation, your child also needs to have open-ended toys that allow them to use their imaginations to direct their play.  

Some examples of open-ended toys are: 

  • Blocks and other building toys (LEGO, MagnaTiles, Blocks) 
  • Dolls and doll furniture 
  • Small World Toys (like small animals, people, landscape pieces, and buildings) 
  • Pikler Triangle
  • Wobble Boards 
  • Dress up 
  • Kitchen, Play Food, small pots, pans, and dishes

Providing your child with open-ended play and an opportunity to explore and play whatever they want can help them to be more focused in other areas of their lives. 

Open-ended toys help your child grow skills that support their ability to focus like follow-through, resiliency, and problem-solving. Children who are resilient and are used to following through can push through doing things that do not interest them with concentration. 

Independent Play

Whether your child is an only child or has a busload of siblings, having time to play independently is an important part of their mental well-being and can help them improve their ability to focus. 

During independent play often children work through experiences and thoughts much like adults use meditation or exercise to work through their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. 

Think back to the last time you had an overloaded mind and how well you focused. Now let’s think about how easy it is to focus once you work through those heavy thoughts and feelings.  It works the same way with children and independent play. 

Independent play offers children the opportunity to work through their worries and it can help them build their focus-related skills like problem-solving and follow through. 

Allowing your child to have time to play independently uninterrupted can help them to become more focused in other areas of their lives. 

Cooperative Play with Friends or Siblings 

Children who get cooperative play with friends and siblings are doing more than building social skills. 

More people, more challenges. 

Your child when playing with others learns things like conflict resolution and problem-solving that can help them to better develop their own emotional regulation (meaning the meltdowns and blow-ups over big emotions become less).

Cooperative play also improves focus by improving distress tolerance. Distress tolerance helps your child to have follow-through which is often described as a focus in a child.  

The ability to tolerate and keep working on things that are stressful to your child, helps them to stay with a class or assignment that they are bored by. 

Constructive Play 

Building play helps children build resilience, project planning, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and cognitive skills.  When a child builds with blocks, LEGO  or Magnatiles, they have to think about their build and plan what they want to do in their minds. 

Then they need to problem solve if their plan doesn’t go the way they want. There is always the possibility that it could all come crashing down or break to pieces, then your child has to work on their emotional regulation and distress tolerance. 

All of these things help support your child in building their ability to focus. 

Dramatic Play

Dramatic play is pretend play where the child takes on different roles and tries different things.  Things like playing house, doctor, airline, hospital, restaurant, and school are all types of dramatic play. 

Dramatic play helps a child strengthen their working memory through remembering their character and working through the systems that character would do. 

Working memory is a large part of focus and helping your child to concentrate better. When your child can hold items in their working memory (like temporary storage) then they can continue with one task even if an idea for something else pops up. 

Family Games 

Family game nights are one of the best traditions you can build with your children.  There is so much to learn when it comes to playing games for children. 

Games help children practice rule-following, patience, turn-taking, and follow-through, all of which support concentration and the ability to focus. 

Some games can also help specific areas of executive functioning like working memory. 

Games like picture puzzles, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, and memory games are all fun activities that are also concentration workouts.

By teaching your child to play, you are handing them the skills they need to focus, concentrate and build a better memory for adulthood.

To help your child improve their focus and concentration, you need to: 

  • Understand the signs of poor concentration
  • Eliminate any environmental causes like poor routine, poor sleep and diet
  • Provide open-ended toys and time for uninterrupted, open-ended play
  • Provide opportunities for cooperative play with friends

If you are still confused about open-ended play and open-ended toys then make sure to grab The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Play and join our email list so that I can help you support your child through play. 

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