Attention span: have you thought about it lately?

I learned so much from taking the RIE foundations course. There were so many things I did not know before the course or did not think about that much. One piece of information I didn’t think enough about before was an infant’s attention span. Magda Gerber states “It’s a misconception that babies have short attention spans” (Your self-confident baby, 68). I have to say, I didn’t really have an opinion about attention span before the foundations course, now I strongly believe that children have longer attention spans than we think.

“If infants are well cared for, if they can do what they happen to be interested in at that time, and if nobody interrupts, they have much longer attention spans than we give them credit for” (Gerber, Dear parent, 67)

There are a few keys things I have discovered about attention spans. First, the child has to select their own task to work on. “Children become involved in what interests them” (Gerber, Your self-confident baby, 68). If a child is able to select what they would like to work on or play with, the experience is more likely to hold their attention. I’m sure we can all relate to this; we spend more time doing things that we find interesting. Would we have any enjoyment at all if we had to do things we were not interested in or forced to do? Solomon states (referring to an infant and her parent) “She’ll follow her own curiosities to whatever interests and pleases her, rather than what may interest and please you” (161). We have to ask ourselves: are we supporting children in engaging in tasks that interest them?

Secondly, we have to provide uninterrupted time for children to play. “Giving your baby time for uninterrupted play every day helps to preserve a long attention span that many babies are born with” (Solomon, 22). Image this, you are working so hard on a task that you really enjoy and a friend comes up and says “I really need you to come with me”, grabs your hand and pulls you away from your work. How frustrating would that be?! I wonder what it feels like for a baby (or toddler) when we take them away from a task they are really focused on? Will the child be able to return to their task with as much focus and attention as they started with? “The less we interrupt, the more easily infants develop a long attention span” (Gerber, Dear Parent, 67). What can we do to provide less interruptions to a child’s play?

Finally (I think this is most important) we have to believe that children have long attention spans. I think that if we believe this we will be more aware of letting children choose their own tasks or materials to engage in and become more thoughtful about when we choose to interrupt a child. Have you thought about infant’s and toddler’s attention span lately? What’s your opinion on it and how do you think your view affects the children around you?

P.S. Check out this post by Janet Lansbury’s: baby, interrupted – 7 ways to build your child’s focus and attention span.


Gerber, Magda, edited by Joan Weaver. Dear parents: Caring for infants with respect. 2nd/Expanded Edition ed. Los Angeles: Recourses for Infant Educarers, 2002. Print.

Gerber, Magda, and Allison Johnson. Your self-confident baby. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998. Print.

Solomon, Deborah Carlisle. Baby knows best: raising a confident and resourceful child, the RIE Way. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013. Print.

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