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Persistence, Effort, and Attentiveness

About this Video

This Early Learning Moment provides an overview of the Persistence, Effort, & Attentiveness section of the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines for Children Birth to Age 3. This section describes how infants and toddlers use their early experiences to develop the ability to focus on and complete simple tasks. As children develop new skills, they build understanding about the world around them. These skills allow them to remain focused on tasks without becoming distracted, an important attribute for lifelong learning.


Explanation of the Persistence, Effort, and Attentiveness subsection

As children grow, they learn about their world. Infants, by nature, have short attention spans. They can only focus on people or objects for a short time. As they mature, they are able to attempt tasks over and over. They observe and explore the space around them. Toddlers will become more focused on simple tasks, but they are still easily distracted.

In the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines for Children Birth to Age 3, the terms persistence, effort, and attentiveness are used to describe a child’s growing ability to maintain her interest and stick with a plan during play and routines.

Persistence tells us that a child continues an activity even when encountering distractions or difficulties. For an infant, you might see a child touch an adult’s face to begin an interaction and keep touching the adult to continue the interaction.

Effort is what a child puts forth when trying an activity. For a toddler, you might see her attempt to stack blocks. She might try placing a larger block on top of a smaller one but soon figure out that the larger block gives a more solid base.

Attentiveness is a child’s ability to look at or focus on an activity when there are distractions around him. You might see a toddler playing with a shape sorter and then briefly engaging with a nearby music toy. He then may return his focus to the shape sorter toy to complete the task of placing all of the shapes into the sorter.

The Illinois Early Learning Guidelines for Children Birth to Age 3 present the following indicators for children in the area of persistence, effort, and attentiveness, which is part of the Approaches to Learning section of the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines. These indicators describe skills, behaviors, and knowledge that children exhibit in persistence, effort, and attentiveness during the age ranges listed.

Indicators for Children

Birth to 9 months

  • 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

7 to 18 months

  • 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

16 to 24 months

  • 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

21 to 36 months

  • 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

Setting Up for Success

There are many ways caregivers can set up the environment so a child can be successful. Caregivers can also interact with children in ways that will support their development.

Caregivers can set the stage for interaction by:

  • Sitting close to the child so interactions are possible
  • Providing objects that are appropriate to the child’s age and development
  • Physically supporting the child to allow interaction

Caregivers can maintain the child’s interest and attention by:

  • Showing interest in the child
  • Encouraging the child
  • Responding to and being sensitive to the child’s emotions
  • Introducing new activities when needed

Caregivers can take turns by:

  • Responding to the child’s initiations
  • Establishing routines
  • Letting the child know that a response is expected and waiting for a response
  • Imitating the child and waiting for a response

Caregivers can match and follow by:

  • Observing the child and joining in the activity/interaction
  • Following the child’s lead
  • Commenting on the child’s activities

Caregivers can support learning by:

  • Elaborating on communication attempts
  • Adding new actions or elements to known routines
  • Balancing support with expectations
  • Presenting “dilemmas” for the child to solve

Self-Assessment and Reflection

We have watched Hudson’s play. We have considered the ways that his teacher supported his learning and set up an environment that promotes his interest in play and persistence in carrying out his plan for a tea party. Now, consider your own interactions with children.

Does your space have:

  • Materials children can choose and reach independently?
  • Enough materials for children to share?
  • Pictures to help children find things and put them away?
  • Cozy spaces for quiet play and access to spaces that allow energetic movement, such as the outdoors or a gym?
  • Spaces for children to be together and places to be alone?

Are you ready to:

  • Observe and consider the reasons behind children’s behavior?
  • Watch and wait, but provide help and encouragement if needed?
  • Take turns in play and conversation with children?
  • Follow children’s ideas in play?

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers
  • Faculty / Trainer

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related IEL Birth to Three Guidelines:
Reviewed: 2021