Play is not just for fun, it’s also the best way to learn! There are great activities which promote cognitive development in children in accordance with their age. Continue reading!
Cognitive development is the way a child learns through what is happening around them. Interaction with adults and stimulation they receive from their surroundings helps develop their language, reasoning, and creativity.
One of the most effective ways to stimulate cognitive learning in children is through play. Besides enjoying themselves, children learn to problem solve, work out efficient solutions, and stimulate their imagination.
What are the best activities for cognitive development, based on a child’s age? Let’s take a look together in the next few paragraphs.
What is cognitive development?
Cognitive development is the study of a child’s mental development from the point of view of learning processes: processing information, understanding concepts, perception skills, language learning.
Why does play stimulate cognitive development?
“A child’s brain is designed to learn through play. When we play with a child, they enter learning mode: and all their senses become centred on the activity to hand. Through play, the child is able to think and act with intelligence and maturity superior to those typical of their age because play expands their mind as no other activity is able to do so.”
Alvaro Bilbao, The child’s brain explained to parents.
Children love to play, especially when they play with their parents. Playing is not only fun, but it helps them grow and develop their intelligence: they learn motor coordination, including fine motor skills, creativity, reasoning, logic.
The best activities to stimulate children’s cognitive development are active ones, which require the child to take the leading role of the action, drawing on all their intellectual abilities to play mindfully.
Here are a few activities that stimulate a child’s cognitive abilities, in accordance with their age group.
Cognitive enhancement activities: 3-4 months old
At around three – four months babies start exploring the world, themselves, and objects around them.
Which activities can help them to explore?
This is the perfect time to place them on a playmat so as they can start to move and explore surroundings other than their mum and crib.
You can find playmats which are made from a range of materials, textures, and colours to stimulate the baby’s tactile and sensory skills.
Following an object with their eyes
Take a toy, one that will capture their attention, such as a rattle, and move it up and down and left and right in front of them. Following an object with their eyes and hands builds their visual and motor skills.
Hands against feet bicycle game
Another simple activity to promote a baby’s motor skills involves placing the palms of your hands underneath the baby’s feet, consequently, they will stretch and push forwards.
Cognitive stimulation activities: 5-6 months old
In this phase babies are able to make various sounds. They are no longer content with just observing objects around them, they now want to grab, examine, and throw everything (as well as putting them in their mouths). In fact, their main method for exploring involves putting objects in their mouth, and they do this for quite a while.
Below you can find some useful playtime ideas to stimulate your baby during this particular development stage.
The excitement of grabbing objects by themselves
Place a few objects next to them so as they can grab them on their own, without your help. They will be overjoyed at their achievement!
Help them to roll over
During this stage babies learn to roll over on their own. To help them, you can use this little trick: place a quilt on top their mat, lay the baby on top of it and gently lift it to help them roll over from their stomach to their back and vice versa.
To help your baby master sounds, react with excitement to their “dada” so as to encourage them to keep practising and progressing. Say some simple sounds that they can copy.
Cognitive activities for 18-24 months toddlers
This is the time to nurture their curiosity: describe, explain, and speak about everything that they see and that is happening around them. It’s important to give them the possibility to understand what they are observing.
This also applies to sounds: whenever you hear a noise that may be new to them, tell them where it comes from, so they can learn to associate sound and source.
Children at this age have a strong desire to discover and are faced with making choices for the first time. Encourage them to make small decisions: choosing their snack or shoes.
It’s very important not to make the decision for them if we want them to become an independent and active minded child.
Songs and Nursery Rhymes
Recite nursery rhymes and sing children’s songs. Your toddler will try to follow and copy you. This will help them to develop memory skills and learn new words.
Shape sorting toys and puzzles
Shape sorting toys and puzzles stimulate toddlers to become familiar with shapes and to develop problem-solving skills.
There are so many on the market: stacking rings; shape sorters toys where they insert the stars, squares, and hearts into the right hole; stacking and nesting blocks… Toddlers can spend hours sorting and stacking different shapes and then starting over again.
Learning to count
It’s better to learn to count by counting objects, for example toys, rather than counting fingers. This helps toddlers to understand the value of quantity, and not just learn an abstract number.
Cognitive stimulation activities: 3 – 6 years old
As children approach pre-school age, they start to play in a more complex way as they acquire linguistic and cognitive skills.
Their ability to concentrate is still limited, therefore, activities are kept short otherwise they can become bored very quickly. During this phase, it’s important to try and help them with developing their memory, creativity, and independence, which in turn will encourage them to make more complex decisions.
Jigsaw puzzles and building toys
Jigsaw puzzles and building toys promote spatial awareness and problem-solving development skills.
Jigsaw puzzles help children work through a convergent problem, where there is only one single solution. On the other hand, building activities develop their ability to solve divergent problems where there are many different possible solutions.
Children’s fairy tales
Reading every day is very important for their cognitive development. There are a wide range of books available for each different age group, full of pictures you can talk about together.
Fairy tales help them understand concepts and values which will be useful to them in future years, and which will also stimulate their imagination.
Learning the letters of the alphabet
There are many different methods to help children learn the letters of the alphabet before they start school: nursery rhymes, songs, specific puzzles.
A fun game is to say a letter sound out loud and ask the child to point to the letter on a sheet of paper. It’s a type of “treasure hunt” for the corresponding letter of the alphabet.
Children learn and develop cognitive skills through play. They do this by trial and error. Sometimes, just like us, when faced with difficulties they throw in the towel or become frustrated. Parent support is key to encouraging them to try again.
The information contained on this Site is purely of an informative nature and does not replace any diagnosis or treatment advice received from a doctor. We recommend that you always seek advice from your family doctor and / or specialists.