Great New Ways to Keep Children Engaged During Therapy

If you want to make the skills you’re teaching stick, you need your students to pay attention. Depending on the age of the student, the time of day, and the activity you’re working on, that’s not always easy. The average child can concentrate on one task for two to five minutes per year of age. In other words, a six year old can focus for anywhere from 12 to 30 minutes—a big range, so you must be prepared. Here are great ways to keep OT fun and keep your students engaged.

child w spy glassUse a Timer

Students like it when they know the plan ahead of time. Use a visual timer—there are several smartphone apps for this, but you can also use something as simple as an hourglass—that the student can refer to and gauge their output. Give reminders: “Look, we only have 2 minutes left!” Or, count down to show them the remaining time, like “three more times with this toy.” When they know how long they need to focus or how many chances they have to participate, they stay motivated for that short burst of time, and they know they’ll get a break.

Play ‘Simon Says’

A simple way to recapture the attention of any student or classroom, Simon Says is a perfect remedy to address a variety of skills in a surprising way. Just when you think you’ve totally lost their focus and attention, throw in a series of Simon Says commands that correlate to your session and your student will immediately engage in a little fun competition.

Play ‘I Spy’

Another fun game to shift your student’s focus is the ‘I Spy Game.’ Look around the room and say “I spy with my little eye something __” and then describe the item. The non sequitur will catch them off guard and snap them to attention as they try to guess the item. Then they can take a turn spying an item while you guess. It’s a good way to break up your session before you return to the daily living skill you’re working on. That little break might be the perfect thing to refresh and reenergize their brain.

Work in Smaller Chunks

If you spend too much time on one activity, a child won’t be able to concentrate. Break up your tasks into smaller chunks of time, or, if you have the space, move to a different part of the room every few minutes. Physically moving across the room can get their blood flowing and stimulate brain activity.

Let Them Choose

Everyone, regardless of age, feels empowered when they have the chance to make a decision. Let them choose between activities or the order of activities you run through. When they have ownership over their session, they’ll be more motivated and be able to sustain their attention. At the end of each session, allow them to rate your lessons and activities on a scale of one to ten. This will help you plan your next session, and it makes students feel valued and respected.

Reward With a Game

Block off a few minutes at the end and let your student choose a game to play if they meet your objectives within the given amount of time. Announce that incentive at the beginning of your session to keep them motivated. Try Scrabble, a matching card game, or Go Fish—not only are these good for developing fine motor skills, they draw out language, critical thinking and reasoning skills as well.

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