Your child’s ability to think, communicate, and understand through play is vital in their cognitive learning.
Parents can do activities with their toddlers to ignite that cognitive spark and build on those important skills toddlers need to think, feel, and act.
Here, we look at 10 activities to develop your little one’s cognitive skills.
Table of Contents
10 Activities To Develop Cognitive Skills In Toddlers
Hide and Seek
A step on from peekaboo, hide and seek is great for both brain and body. Popular in all cultures, the game reinforces many key aspects of cognitive development without you even knowing. From remembering instructions (‘it is my turn to hide’) to planning, the game is good for fun, laughter, and bonding.
Hide and seek is also a great game when working on separation anxiety. Your toddler can hide as far and wide as they are comfortable and vice versa and they await you to find them whilst hearing you. ‘Coming ready or not!’ ‘Is he in behind the door? Noo…’ – the basic commentating that builds up to you finding them is a real serotonin booster and makes being apart fun.
Toddlers become experts at flexible thinking and becoming a little more independent as well.
Read books, use voices!
Books encourage thought at any age, but the process of learning how to think as a toddler is heavily supported by the art of reading to/with them. In fact, the more animated, the better.
The story on paper is only something parents can read, but to make it come to life, the story needs to be told by you and through you. Your toddler will process everything.
Reading to your toddler helps them make sense of their own life. Even simple books to start such as colors or animals, children will form opinions on what they like best or least, and associate those things with items in their house or animals they see on walks. You are forming more links than you realize by offering these vital opportunities for your toddler to learn.
In reading, parents are also allowing their little ones to both prepare and improve their language, which extends into the social and literacy skills as they grow and helps with cognitive development.
Name something you see in the room that is red and then clap your hands.’ ‘Pretend to sneeze, then touch your toes.’ These sound like silly instructions, and they don’t make sense, but while they are busy not making sense, they are two things to instruct your toddler to do that can be quite funny (especially if you invent even stranger ones).
What is construed as a simple little game is actually a key learning experience for your toddler.
Simple two-step instructions form thinking and planning in your toddler’s minds. Your toddler will know they need to do one thing before changing their movements and then doing something else. It can seem simple to you, but toddlers will love trying these out and following instructions to complete their mini tasks.
Tweezers and Peas
A classic when learning how to pick up and drop, and a great way to get those pincer skills sharp ready for learning how to write or draw. The tweezers and peas game is all about using an object to pick up another. There are bigger tweezers out there you can purchase for your toddler to start playing this game.
Make sure you have plenty of peas and a few bowls so they can transfer, maybe even counting as they go along!
You don’t have to use peas. Chickpeas are good (but trickier), or for something slightly bigger and easier, you could try cotton wool balls. Your options are endless. Peas are usually fun because they are squishy, bright in color, and tasty if your child so wishes to munch as they play!
We can’t escape nursery rhymes. They are everywhere, and whether you like them or not, your toddler is going to want to hear them and hear them often. Phonetic skill development will also improve your toddler’s reading skills as you sing Round and Round The Garden for the 594th time! Nursery rhymes contribute to maths, social and emotional learning, language as well as creativity.
Again, nursery rhymes are simple songs to you or me, but they offer many ways to learn and grow to the developing child. Copying dance moves, singing about fun songs encourage humor and connection, but speech is the obvious one. Children will pick up words and phrases that they can begin to associate with everyday life.
Colors and Shapes
Colors and shapes are so much more than, well, colors and shapes. A child will interpret both a color and a shape with their lives. They learn to organize and identify visual information, and the shapes will help them understand other symbols and signs. These are all great starting points for when they move up in their development and head to school.
Walking to the shops with your little one can even be brought in here as a game. ‘Can you tell me how many red cars you see?’ ‘Can you see any triangle or square shapes?’ Your toddler will be pointing to bricks and car wheels, things even you haven’t noticed about the world you live in! Colors and shapes learning helps absorb new information and develop pattern recognition.
Taste The Rainbow
It goes without saying, really. Eating well will boost your toddler’s brain cells faster and more efficiently than if their plates were distinctly lacking in color. We all know the science behind eating well. There are far too many research projects and proof out there to name on here; it is a fact that vitamins and minerals boost our brains.
Children and adults both function far more efficiently if they have eaten nutritious food. Sugary snacks may offer a temporary burst of energy, but this energy is only briefly sustained by empty calories that offer no nutrition to the body and mind. Eat well is linked to faster learning, better concentration, and better memory, and these are all vital to cognitive development.
Cause and Effect
Children begin building on cause and effect strategies well before their first birthday, which is the beginning of their cognitive development. To go right to the beginning of learning, you can start by entering various rooms in your house, pausing at the light switch, clicking them on, and pointing to the light.
Within seconds, your child will be doing what you are doing and seeing the switch and light correlation. These small connections form meaning in their minds and will learn simple words such as on and off in the process. Cause and effect offer so many simple activities to develop cognitive development.
As your baby grows to toddler age, these cause and effect situations become more frequent and can even become games. Simple things like tying a string to their toy doggy and taking it for a walk teach them the importance of pet care and exercise and give instructions, even if it is to a teddy!
Pulling on the sting and seeing the teddy move will encourage that movement and teach toddlers that the toy dog will walk if you pull the string gently.
There are no drawbacks to playing outside. Come rain or shine, there are mountains of learning opportunities outside your four walls to be done, and your child will love every minute. Exploring sights and sounds, touching the grass, playing in the sand, feeling the seawater around their ankles, the list is endless when it comes to unstructured play. Not only can your toddler play, but they can appreciate the wider world they live in and learn about the outer environment.
Playing outside also boosts immunity and mood, which contributes to a healthier toddler. This in itself extends the ability and frequency to learn as they become robust to nature around them. From insect hunting to rolling down grass hills, your toddler’s world is only going to be as big as you make it. The bigger the world, the more opportunities they will have to learn, grow and develop.
Let Them Take The Lead
Learn to take a back seat! Your children, as their minds and opinions are forming and growing, so are their preferences. Whilst you may not be a fan of counting cars in lines or sweeping up the flour in your kitchen after making cupcakes for the 4th time that week, your children are picking and choosing what they love doing, aiding their cognitive development.
Just like you or I, they begin to know what they like and how happy it makes them. That should be encouraged in as many ways as possible.
If you allow your child to make their own choices and form opinions for themselves, you are also encouraging independent learning and thinking; learning that is permanent and useful. It is up to the parent to create the environment and the child to lead their natural-born curiosity. The learning isn’t pressured, and what surrounds them will motivate them.
Conclusion – Love For Learning
These are 10 awesome cognitive activities for toddlers! Each of the 10 activities will help cognitive development, a vital skill!
Learning is about having fun and making a thousand small decisions a day. If you ease off the pressure and offer plenty of exploration opportunities to your toddler, they will follow their innate ‘responsibility to learn and be curious.
You can watch your toddler jump from milestone to milestone as their sponge minds absorb all around them.
Remember, the best part about learning is that you were so busy having fun don’t even realize you are doing it. And all the while, these are building cognitive development!