Home icon


Children demonstrate the ability to remain engaged in experiences and develop a sense of purpose and follow-through.

Children use sensory exploration and social interaction to learn about their world. While young children do not have the capacity to attend to objects or people for very long periods of time, they are building this skill with early experiences. Children demonstrate an initial interest in their world by simply observing. They focus on faces, high-contrast patterns, sounds, and eventually, specific objects. As they get older, children start to physically explore their environment. They use their hands to twist, shake, and move objects. They find delight in repeating actions that they enjoy, such as shaking a rattle or banging a toy drum. Engagement in these experiences promotes the development of persistence, effort, and attentiveness.

After 12 months of age, children become increasingly focused on completing simple tasks. For example, they may sit for brief periods of time, drop objects into a bucket, dump them out, and then repeat the entire process over and over again. Children also start to become very persistent when trying to accomplish a goal. They do not have the language or the regulatory capacity to control their emotions and will act out in frustration when they encounter challenges. Caregivers are there to support children through this process and encourage them to keep trying, while helping them problem-solve along the way. While children’s ability to remain focused is increasing, they are still easily distracted. Caregivers can support children’s learning by setting up an enriching learning environment that promotes interaction and minimizes disruptions.

Birth to 9 months

Children observe, explore, attend and interact with the world around them.

Indicators for children include:

  • Establishes and sustains eye contact with caregiver(s)
  • Focuses attention on sounds, people, and objects
  • Repeats interesting actions over and over
  • Indicates preferences by using nonverbal cues, e.g., turning head, kicking feet

Strategies for interaction

  • Engage and play with the child often
  • Provide interesting and age-appropriate toys and objects for exploration without overstimulating the child; limit the number of toys, colors, and sounds found in the environment
  • Acknowledge and respond thoughtfully to the child’s communication efforts

7 months to 18 months

Children begin to become more persistent in interacting with people, exploring objects, and accomplishing tasks. While their ability to sustain attention increases, they are still easily distracted by other objects and events in the environment.

Indicators for children include:

  • Participates in back-and-forth interactions, e.g., plays peek-a-boo with an adult
  • Repeats activities over and over, e.g., successfully inserts all the shape sorter’s pieces, dumps them out, and starts again
  • Begins to attempt assisting in self-help activities, e.g., feeding, grooming
  • Demonstrates preferences, e.g., gestures to the bean bag and says “no” when presented with something else

Strategies for interaction

  • Share in the accomplishments of the child; encourage him or her throughout the process of working through tasks
  • Engage and play with the child on a daily basis
  • Follow the child’s lead when engaging in activities
  • Allow the child to help in self-help activities when he or she demonstrates an interest
  • Acknowledge when the child demonstrates a preference, e.g., “You want the blue cup, here it is.” Or “I can see that you want to read a book, but now it is time to eat.”

16 months to 24 months

Children increase their ability to remain focused on goal-oriented tasks. At this stage, persistence is evidenced by the process the child engages in to discover how to accomplish the goal, instead of by the end result.

Indicators for children include:

  • Focuses for longer periods of time on activities
  • Engages for longer periods of time when trying to work through tasks, e.g., fits puzzle pieces together
  • Repeats experiences he or she enjoys, e.g., says “more” after reading his or her favorite book
  • Demonstrates preferences for activities, e.g., reads with a caregiver, plays at the sand table, prefers to sit by certain caregivers

Strategies for interaction

  • Provide the child with different manipulatives that he or she can explore independently, e.g., puzzles, peg boards, books
  • Celebrate the child’s accomplishment in a genuine manner
  • Offer support and guidance if the child becomes frustrated when playing; respond promptly if the child calls for assistance
  • Recognize the child’s favorite activities and use them to identify other toys and materials that he or she will be interested in

21 months to 36 months

Children can attend to tasks for longer periods of time, and their ability to persist in increasingly difficult tasks increases. In addition, children are now able to attend to more than one event in their environment; this skill enables them to stay focused even when there are distractions.

Indicators for children include:

  • Makes choices based on preferences, and at times, in opposition to adult choices, e.g., “No milk, want juice”
  • Attempts to try a difficult task for an increasing amount of time
  • Practices an activity many times in order to master it, even if setbacks occur
  • Shows interest in completing routine tasks independently, e.g., zips up coat, puts on shoes

Strategies for interaction

  • Allow the child to make certain choices throughout the day
  • Provide the child with blocks of uninterrupted time to work on activities
  • Support the child in building attention by extending interactions, e.g., adding a new experience to the current interaction
  • Assess how to best support the child in completing complex tasks; take into account varying abilities of each child
  • Provide the child with a small amount of responsibility, e.g., setting the cups out for snack time or holding the door for peers

Real World Story

Ava is 13 months old. She is sitting in her play room, placing blocks, one by one, back into a basket. She remains engaged in this particular activity until she puts all of the blocks back in where they belong. After she is done, she walks over to the corner of the playroom and attempts to move her push toy away from the wall. Her mom, Liz, is sitting on the floor, observing her. Ava pushes the cart forward; unfortunately, this action just moves the cart into the wall. She tries the same action and gets the same result. Ava stops, kneels down, and looks at the buttons on the cart. She stands up and again attempts to move the cart by pushing it forward.

After hitting the wall once again, Ava shakes the cart and grunts. She looks at her mom and points at the cart. Liz moves close to Ava and says, “Let’s try moving it this way.” Liz places her hands over Ava’s and guides her in moving the cart backward. Ava is not yet steady on her feet, so walking backward is extremely challenging. Ava falls. Liz stops and says, “Mommy is going to turn it around for you.” Liz turns the cart around, and Ava stands up. Ava walks behind the cart and places herself in the correct position to push the cart forward. She moves the cart and smiles. Liz claps her hands and says, “You did it, my big girl!” Ava continues to walk forward, successfully pushing the cart as she moves.

IN THIS EXAMPLE, Ava demonstrates her ability to accomplish two tasks. As Ava places all the blocks back in the basket, she shows how she is able to attend for a brief period of time by putting all of the blocks away. Ava demonstrates the beginning of number concept and quantity as she reaches back each time for another block until there are no more. The second task that Ava engages in highlights how she attempts to solve a challenge repeatedly to achieve her goal. While she is not able to turn the push cart on her own, she tries a few times before communicating for help. Liz supports Ava’s emerging abilities by placing her hands over Ava’s to guide her. However, she recognizes that Ava is not quite ready, and moves the cart around so Ava can push it successfully. Once Ava is successful, Liz shares in her accomplishment.

Discover how this Real World Story is related to:

View more…

Reviewed: 2012