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Becoming a Magical Play Partner for your child. (Part 2) Developing Joint Attention Skills.

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Welcome to part 2 in our Magical Play Partner blog series. In this article, we will focus on Joint Attention, what it is, why it is important and simple ways to track and support development.

In Part 1 of our Magical Play Partner blog series, we talked about some tips for becoming your child’s magical play partner.

In Part 2, below we talk about how to develop Joint Attention Skills; a key building block when promoting optimal Speech, Language, Communication and Social-Emotional Development.

In Part 3 we will talk about using Sensory Social Play activities to promote Speech, Language, Communication and Social-Emotional Development.

In Part 4 we will talk about how Object Focused activities promote Speech, Language, Communication and Social-Emotional Development.


One of the critical building blocks of Speech, Language and Communication development is Joint Attention.  

Joint Attention or Shared Attention is when two people (adult/child) share focus on an object or activity. Joint Attention happens when one person alerts another to an object or activity by using eye-gaze, pointing, words, gesture, or sign.   

Early Joint Attention skills may include the following actions:

  • A child reaching to be picked up by an adult
  • A child and adult looking at the same book
  • Enjoying a sensory social routine (incey wincey spider, peek a boo) together, sharing sounds, smiles and laughter

Joint Attention activities during play can be further developed to build skills such as focusing on a game together and requesting for favourite items.

There are two main ways in which joint attention may occur:

Children Initiate

Children initiate social interactions by pointing to a toy and gazing at their parent to get them to look at it too. Older children may start to vocalise to gain attention for example “look at that” or “my teddy”. When a child initiates a Joint Attention episode, this indicates that they are motivated to engage in social activities.

Children Respond

In this case, children will respond to someone else’s efforts to gain their attention. For example, a parent might point to a dog, and say “look at the doggie”. The child may respond by following their parent’s gaze, or gesture (pointing) to look at the dog. Responding to joint attention requests is easier than initiating a joint attention activity.

child learning

Why is joint attention important?

Establishing Joint Attention is very important for developing social-communication and cognitive skills.  Joint Attention skills typically develop soon after birth and usually by the age of three children can gain and maintain Joint Attention from adults and their peers.

If children struggle to develop Joint Attention skills, it will be difficult for them to socially engage and develop relationships with caregivers and peers. Joint Attention skills are very important to support social skills development, bonding with others and understanding another’s point of view.

Before you engage in joint activities with your child, you can check their joint attention milestones development in the myToddler-Talk passport

Examples of Joint Attention milestones are:

Stage 2 (4-6 months) Your child looks at you during peek a boo games

Stage 3 (7-12 months) Your child follows the direction of your point if you point to something

Stage 4 (13-18 months) Your child makes eye contact with you if you block access to a desired object

If your child needs more support to develop joint attention skills, there are lots of simple and practical activities that you can do from the

Toddler Talk Activity Box at Stage 2 

Toddler Talk Activity Box at Stage 3  

Toddler Talk Activity Box at Stage 4


There are Two main types of Joint Activities you can do to promote joint attention skills when playing with your child:

Sensory Social Routines

Object-Based Joint Activities

 We will be discussing both these activities further in Part 3 and Part 4 of our Magical Play Partner blog series.



For more information on playful activities you can do with your child