If the words "cognitive development" seem more like the stuff of scholarly pediatric journals than something simple, don't worry -- every mom can master tips to help her child build cognitive skills. You don't need a degree in early education to build your child's cognition. Just remember that in the most basic form, cognitive development includes mental reasoning skills such as thinking, problem solving, critical analysis, memory and attention or focus.
While your toddler isn't ready to solve algebraic equations or to analyze a philosophical text, you can help him build basic abilities like memory and recall, as well as attention and simple problem solving. Now that your little learner is out of the infant stage, he has the ability -- after age 2 -- to solve problems in his head and to understand the relationships between objects. To pad his cognitive development, try easy puzzles that have a dozen or so pieces, and use shape sorters or matching games about easy topics like colors.
As your child reaches the preschool years -- ages 3- to 5-, she is building more sophisticated cognitive abilities, compared to when she was a toddler. Your preschooler, and her budding imagination, will enjoy dramatic games that involve pretend play. You can help the development of your child's cognitive abilities by providing plenty of pretend play opportunities like a faux kitchen set up or dress up clothes that let her act like a community helper. If you want to help her problem- solving skills, try a 20- or more piece puzzle, some snapping blocks or a math-based sorting activity like colorful plastic counting bears.
Routine Activities and Questions
Another easy option for developing your little learner's cognitive abilities is to spend the day incorporating thinking activities into your daily routine. Instead of carving out special cognitive skill-building time or playing specific games with your toddler or preschooler, ask your child open-ended questions during the course of your day such as, "Why do you think that the snow melts when you bring it inside?" or, "How do you think that you can make the big blanket that just came out of the washer into the small drawer?"
Field trips aren't just for schools. That said, there's a reason that educational institutions take children on these outings: To learn and develop skills -- such as cognitive ones -- in a new or different environment. Take your toddler or preschooler on a trip to the art museum, science center, library or local zoo for an entertaining and educational experience. As you tour your field trip site, don't let the learning get passive. Instead of doing all the talking, ask your child to make his own observations, and to come up with explanations for what he sees. For example, if your preschooler is interested in an abstract geometric painting, ask him what he sees and how he thinks that the artist made the artwork. Visiting a museum or other similar place can help your child use his critical thinking skills and refine his memory abilities -- don't forget to ask him about what he saw when you get home -- and focus his attention.
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