Attention Span


Attention span involves your child being able to focus on an activity or learning experience for an average length of time consisting of two to six minutes.


It is a beautiful sunny day, and Jack’s parents want to take him to the zoo to see the new giraffe exhibit and watch feeding time. Jack is very excited, so off to the zoo they go! Upon arriving at the zoo, Jack wants to go straight to see the giraffes. Jack says, “Hurry, Mommy!” At the exhibit, Jack points to the baby and mommy giraffes and then walks back and forth between the left and right side of the exhibit to see the other giraffes that are standing under the trees. After a few minutes Jack decides it is time to go and begins to pull on his dad’s hand to see a different animal. Jack’s parents are very surprised that he wants to go so soon and before watching feeding time. They are also surprised to see Jack lose interest in the giraffes so quickly.


In this example, Jack’s parents think he has quickly lost his attention regarding the giraffes; however, for his age, Jack has stayed just the right amount of time.

While it is hard to gather a child’s sustained attention at this age, your child will be able to pay attention in a structured activity lead by you. Make sure there are no verbal or visual interferences in your play space, and if your child gets restless, it’s time to move on to some other activity.

This area of cognitive development is getting stronger every day as your child moves closer to two years of age. You will see your little one grow a great deal during the toddler years. It is important to understand that the change in your child’s attention span will not occur overnight.

When your child was an infant, his attention span was only a few seconds at most. Now that he is a toddler, your child’s attention span has expanded and lengthened. This now enables him to do more activities and engage in learning experiences for longer periods of time, thus maximizing learning potential; however, for a parent, the attention span will still feel very short. An excellent way to build your child’s attention span is to teach a new skill a little bit at a time.

Think back to the zoo experience with Jack. Imagine that this time the family visits the giraffes for a brief period. While at the giraffe exhibit Jack mentions that he sees a mommy and a baby giraffe and wants to move on to see something else. Next time when the family visits the zoo, they can extend the time and talk about how the mommy giraffe is bigger than the baby giraffe. By actively building on the experience, Jack’s attention span will be extended, giving the opportunity for a new learning experience to take place.

Also, remember to have clear expectations and consider your child’s emotional state before engaging in a learning activity that requires attention. Your child will be able to better focus if he is not tired or upset or hungry. With these things in mind, you can create a supportive environment for your child to learn.

Some ways that you can support focused attention include:

- Have your child repeat words after you. For example, when you say giraffe, baby, mommy, or zoo, have your child repeat the word. This will let you know how much attention your child pays to the conversation or activity.
- Read books with your child and point to pictures. Ask your child to look for certain pictures on the page.


As your child grows older, he will be able to retain information for longer periods of time.

Your child has the capacity to remember familiar faces, songs, words (more, please, Mommy, Daddy, eat, and other words that relate to his everyday world), and objects (e.g. pictures or toys) in his environment.

You will hear your child say the word cat when he sees one on an afternoon walk, or you will hear him sing the entire song of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” because he remembers all the words.

During memory development, your child is using what is called “working memory,” which is your child’s ability to keep immediate information in his mind to complete a task. You can see this when you give your toddler verbal instructions such as asking him to get his blanket and take it to his bed, an activity he has participated in time and again. You will also see working memory when your toddler can participate in routines and imitate an action or activity previously observed.

At times, you will notice that your toddler may not remember something. This is perfectly normal since your toddler has not completely mastered the ability to access all the information that is in his memory bank. As your toddler has more practice talking about and piecing together all the experiences he has in a day, his ability to remember and tell you things will increase. Keeping predictable routines for your child supports his memory development.

Each time toddlers practice basic skills, they are drawing from memory. Everyday experiences around the home develop children’s cognitive skills.