toddler learningIf you ever chased a laughing two-year-old around the house trying to get her jacket on, or told your three-year-old (for the 50th time) to pick up his toys, then “toddler” and “attention span” may sound like a contradiction in terms.

But toddler skills like paying attention can actually pay off later in life. According to a two-decade study conducted by Oregon State University, toddlers who develop skills in concentration and persistence are 50 percent more likely to earn a college degree.

The study suggests that the ability to focus attention is a larger indicator of academic success than other widely practiced efforts like playing classical music to tots or exposing babies to flashcards. Instead, “the important factor was being able to focus and persist,” said OSU researcher Megan McClelland. “Someone can be brilliant, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can focus when they need to and finish a task or job.”

How can you help?

While you can’t expect your lively toddler to buckle down and focus on one task for very long periods, you can start building her attention span now.

  • Set a timer for two minutes, and give her an easy task to complete – like finding toys scattered around the house, collecting them, and putting them into a basket. When she shows proficiency, up the ante by adding another, related task, like moving the toys from the first basket to a second – and increase the time to three or four minutes.
  • You can stay nearby, but limit your interaction; this helps your toddler learn to rely on her own faculties to complete a task.
  • Your child’s TV-watching or computer habits may also contribute to his attention span. High-energy shows and games can lead to diminished toddler skills like paying attention. Experiment with quieter, slower-paced media.