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Cognitive Development for Early Childhood (aka Thinking Skills)

Cognitive development for early childhood refers to the way your child thinks and understands the world around them. God created them ‘wired to learn.” They’ve been processing the world around them since Day 1.

Everything your child encounters helps them build and develop these thinking skills. From birth till 5, a foundation is laid as these skills develop at an amazingly rapid rate. As we watch them play we can see from their actions that those wheels are turning in that little brain of theirs. They make observations, process what they think is going on and then test it to see the results (sounds like a miniature scientist – doesn’t it?)

Preschooler looking in microscope

Because of this, it’s important to expose your child to a smorgasbord of activities in all areas everywhere -reading, math, science, dramatic play, arts, gross and fine motor, in the backyard, on a walk, and in the living room playing with their toys. They are like little sponges taking everything in. The more they are exposed to the more pegs or learning blocks they’ll have to build on.

Cognitive Development for Early Childhood

Play is a child’s work. During early childhood, children are literally little researchers gathering information, processing it and filing it away to build on in the near future. Long before they are able to tell us what they’re thinking, they are already capable of problem solving, if we give them a chance.

Children need to be encouraged and given the time to think of their own creative ways to solve problems they encounter during play. But there does need to be a balance. We want our children to be challenged but not frustrated.

Boy with lots to think about

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Open-Ended Questions

One way we can challenge them is by occasionally asking open-ended questions. But use moderation. You don’t want to be constantly asking them questions every time they’re trying to play. If they are actively involved in playing I assure you there is plenty of learning taking place, with or without questions. Here’s a few examples:

Fun Critical Thinking Activities

There’s a tremendous amount of activities that can be used to help foster toddler or preschooler critical thinking skills.

  1. Matching
    • Match socks (it’s fun and productive – lol)
    • Match 1 on 1. One fork for every plate
    • Match a toy animal to a picture in a book
  2. Comparing
    • Using two items ask your child questions like, which one is: heavier, longer, softer, and so on
    • In my article Simple Measurement Activities for Preschoolers, you can find a big collection of fun ideas to use for comparing activities for preschoolers.
  3. Classifying
  4. Cause and Effect
  5. Sorting
  6. Time /Sequencing
    • Preschoolers gain a sense of time when they have routines.
  7. Predict What’ll Happen Next
    • Occasionally when you are reading a new story to your child, have them predict what they think will happen next.
  8. Puzzles
  9. Memory games
  10. Read, Read, Read
  11. Talk About Everything
    • Describe what your doing
    • Answer their questions
    • Ask them open ended questions to get them thinking such as:
      • How high can you build your tower before it falls?
      • Why do you think this plant died?
      • What could we make with this?
      • Where should we put this?
      • How many do you think will fit in here?
      • What made you think of that?
  12. Rhyming
  13. Object permanency (knowing an object exists that they can’t see – a toddler wanting to sit out on the front porch to wait for Daddy to come home.)
  14. Patterns
  15. Using Their Imagination
    • Dramatic play
    • Using one thing to represent another like a block as a phone.
    • guess which hand
  16. Play board games. Check out Best Board Games for 5-6 Year Olds
  17. Play guessing games
    1. Set out 5 items. Have them shut their eyes as you take an item away. Have them guess what’s missing.
    2. Put a familiar item under a blanket and let them guess what it is

What Should Danny Do? by Adir Levy

I highly recommend this fun, interactive book for teaching preschoolers how to think about the choices they make and seeing what the consequences of those choices are without actually experiencing them themselves.


Be sure to check out more Early Learning Activities.

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