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Bright from the Start: Attention Builders for Babies

These are my notes from the book Bright from the Start by Jill Stamm.

Jill Stamm states that there are three things a baby needs to be bright and happy: attention, bonding and communication.  For the science behind why, I highly recommend reading the book “Bright from the Start“.

For parents like me, who feel clueless when it comes to engaging a baby and knowing what things to do, say and games to play, these are the things you can do to provide your baby attention (from Bright from the Start):

For babies 0 to 6 months:

  • Frequent face to face time from about 10-12 inches away.
  • Speak with exaggerated facial expressions and mouth movements.
  • Make direct eye contact and maintain eye contact.
  • Use rattle or other object for tracking across midline and re-engaging your baby’s eye contact continuously on the object.
  • Point out objects.
  • Label objects and actions throughout the day.
  • Use parentese (the sing song voice that adults instinctively adopt with babies) to engage your baby’s auditory attention.
  • Initiate deliberate interaction time when your baby is awake.
  • Change/rotate toys or bright objects for novelty.
  • Use objects and toys with high contrast colours (red, yellow, black and white) and high contrast patterns, such as stripes or checks, to attract your baby’s attention.  Gradually add other strong colours such as blue and green.
  • Place mobiles and toys ten to twelve inches from your baby’s face.
  • Make faces at your baby and watch him imitate (e.g. sticking out your tongue).

From 6 to 18 months – much of these activities are covered above, but here are the differences:

  • From 6-9 months, use parenthese to engage your baby, then transition to child-directed speech in a conversational tone and speed.
  • Say the cue word “watch” when you want your baby to observe your action.  Make sure your baby is focused before beginning the action.  This starts the “routine” of a cue for attention.
  • After gaining your baby’s attention, use a quiet voice or silence when demonstrating a specific action to engage your baby’s attention to that action.
  • Introduce only one variable at a time, maintaining the other variables at a constant so that your baby can concentrate on that one variable.  For example, sort objects by colour only – make sure that the shape and size are all the same and only vary the colour.
  • By about 16-18 months, introduce a place mat as a “prop” to encourage your baby to focus attention on where the activity will be (if I recall correctly, this is similar to Montessori activities).
  • Keep your baby out of a carrier seat when not necessary so that he can follow your eye gaze.

Here are specific activities that you can do with your baby to help develop his attention:

1. Use contrasts to attract your child’s attention:

  • Introduce picture books with bold, simple and clear images (like Maisy books) as opposed to books with complex and busy drawings (for example, Beatrix Potter’s pastel Peter Rabbit).
  • Talk in a whisper to attract your baby’s attention – he may just stay still long enough for you to get through a diaper change during the wriggly stage (it’s got to be done before he starts fussing, though, or he won’t be able to hear you).

2. Introduce sizes to attract your child’s attention:

3. Novelty is another attention grabber:

  • Swap, rotate, move around your baby’s toys so that what he expects to see in one place is now in another.
  • Move the pictures around your house.
  • Talk a walk and point out new and familiar objects.
  • Introduce new foods and new people.

4. Attract your baby’s attention with incongruity:

  • Place a sock where it doesn’t belong, e.g. on Daddy’s head.
  • Introduce a new food by putting it in the middle of lots of things that match, e.g. a carrot stick in the middle of the broccoli.

5. Use emotion to your advantage:

  • Be aware when your baby is sleepy or hungry as he will not be interested in playing (and therefore learning) at these times.
  • Introduce a new activity by making positive associations, e.g. teaching your toddler to brush his teeth by demonstrating it using his favourite teddy bear.

6. Employ personal significance – baby’s love the sound of their name (we all do):

  • Change the name of the main character in the story to your child’s name.
  • In larger families, have a special designated area that belongs to your child.

7. Games to play that activate your baby’s “mirror neurons” (it was found that watching an activity being done causes as many neurons to fire off as actually performing the action):

  • Peekaboo! – I’m sure most people are familiar with this game, but in case you aren’t the idea is to hide your face behind an object and say “peeka -” then drop the object as you say “boo!”.
  • “Open wide” – This one comes instinctively.  We tend to open our mouths when feeding baby to show him what we want him to do.
  • “Wave bye bye” whenever you leave or someone leaves.
  • Sit and read – for younger babies, you can make up stories with cloth books, or just talk about the pictures (perhaps this is why Gavin loves books – I used to pretend to read him stories about a busy bee from a cloth book without words; I would also read aloud my parenting books to him when he was a baby).

8. Share attention with these activities:

  • Point and label objects as you go about your day.
  • Point out words as you read.
  • Point out sounds that you hear.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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