Cognitive Development Activities for Toddlers & Infants

by Stacey Chaloux
Playing helps your baby learn important concepts, such as cause and effect.

Playing helps your baby learn important concepts, such as cause and effect.

When your infant or toddler plays, she is experiencing her world, practicing new skills or internalizing concepts. Through her play activities, she is learning. The time you spend with her, the toys you use to play with her and the way you interact with her all affect her cognitive development. Choosing some age-appropriate toys and activities helps your little one continue to grow and develop.

Birth to 6 Months

As a newborn, your baby is learning through her senses, according to Kids Health. Stimulate her senses by smiling and talking to her, and give her gentle caresses or sing a soft lullaby to her. She will soon learn to associate your face, voice and touch with feelings of comfort. Show her rattles and bright, colorful toys and move them slowly across her field of vision to help her learn to track the toy’s movement with her eyes and to locate the source of a sound. Sometime after 4 months of age, your baby will learn about the concept of cause and effect, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Offer her toys that she can shake, bang or drop to discover the effect she can have on the world around her. It is never too early to begin reading to your infant, to help her see reading as a pleasurable activity so that she will want to continue reading as she grows.

6 to 12 Months

During the second half of her first year, your baby will learn the important concept of object permanence, according to the AAP. This is the understanding that objects still exist even when she cannot see them. To help her develop this skill, hide a toy under a blanket and help her find it or play peek-a-boo. Infants are fascinated by the novelty of new objects, so even simple household objects such as a bowl and wooden spoon to bang on can become interesting toys. Once your infant becomes mobile, she will want to crawl and discover new playthings, so ensure that the space is safe to explore. As she approaches her first birthday, your little one will begin to use toys in a more purposeful way, instead of simply banging or chewing on them. Offer her toys that help her begin to imitate adult actions, such as a toy telephone or a few toy dishes.

Age 1

Once your baby has become a toddler, she will understand more language, even if she is not saying many words yet. Continue to read books with her and ask her to point to familiar objects in the pictures. Because her receptive language has grown, she will also be able to follow simple directions, such as, "Bring me your shoes." Your toddler will be learning from every game she plays, and she will especially enjoy toys that enable her to make something happen with wind-up cranks, switches, buttons or knobs, according to the AAP. You will see the beginning of pretend play during this year, such as pushing a toy car across the floor or giving her doll a bottle. At this age, she is ready to use simple art supplies such as modeling dough or crayons, but be sure to watch her closely since she may put things in her mouth.

Age 2

Now that your little one is 2, she forms mental images of things, which help her solve problems in her head rather than having to manipulate objects, according to the AAP. Her ability to match and sort objects by like characteristics is increasing, so offer peg puzzles and shape sorters to help develop these skills. Her pretend play becomes more complex at this age, as she begins to act out a sequence of events. Encourage her as she pretends and ask questions such as, "What are you feeding your baby?" or "What will your baby do next?" Your toddler will begin to understand simple number concepts, so practice counting small groups of objects together as you play. She will also be interested in colors, so label her things with their color as you go through your day such as, "Here is your red plate" or "Let's put on your blue shirt."

About the Author

Stacey Chaloux is an educator who has taught in both regular and special education early childhood classrooms, as well as served as a parent educator, teaching parents how to be their child's best first teacher. She has a Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Missouri and a Master of Education from Graceland University.

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