Cognitive development is influenced by how a child approaches learning as well as his or her biological makeup and the environment. A child’s background knowledge, or knowledge base, also affects the way a child thinks. This background knowledge influences the child’s information processing, memory, classification, problem solving, language acquisition, and reading and mathematics learning. What and how children learn often varies considerably from culture to culture.

The physical environment of the home, child care center or classroom and the kinds of interactions children have with adults and other children influence the way children approach learning and other aspects of their cognitive development.

Play is important for learning; researchers have found many connections between cognitive competence and play, particularly high-quality dramatic play.

Teaching Strategies GOLD, Teaching Strategies. 2010

Cognitive development objectives

  1. Demonstrates positive approaches to learning
  2. Remembers and connects experiences
  3. Uses classification skills
  4. Uses symbols and images to represent something not present

Typical cognitive development

Cognitive development includes a wide variety of new skills and ways for children to look at the world around them.  Families, caregivers and teachers should be watching for how children interact with the world around them (dealing with frustrations and new information); how they attend and persist to tasks; how they solve problems and how they develop skills which will lead to later knowledge in the areas of literacy and numeracy.

  • PBS: The Whole Child looks at cognitive (thinking and reasoning) development.
  • “Get Ready to Read” offers suggestions for the most important milestones and what to do when you have concerns about your child’s cognitive (thinking and reasoning) development.

How to facilitate development of cognitive skills

Thinking and reasoning (cognitive skills) are developed when adults interact with infants, toddlers and preschoolers in playful ways throughout daily routines. Asking questions, setting up situations which require problem solving and allowing and encouraging children to explore new and familiar materials will all help to develop a child’s thinking and reasoning skills.

  • NAEYC discusses the importance of playing with your children, play and learning go together to facilitate cognitive development.
  • Using Toys to Support Infant-Toddler Learning and Development Play is the mechanism by which children learn—how they experience their world, practice new skills, and internalize new ideas—and is therefore the essential “work of children” (Paley 2004).
  • Scholastic discusses how 3 to 5 year olds begin to develop “new” ways of thinking and viewing the world. The article what this thinking looks like and how parents, teachers, and caregivers can support this development.
  • Tools to Enhance Young Children’s Thinking describes a series of “thinking routines” which preschool teachers can use to help children develop their thinking and reasoning skills.
  • Ages & Stages: Helping Children Develop Logic & Reasoning Skills: 3 to 6 year olds change their thinking perspectives drastically. Learn what those perspectives are and how to facilitate their further development.
  • Let’s Play provides families with fun ideas for keeping babies, toddlers and preschoolers entertained and learning, especially during daily routines like commuting time, chores, bedtime and bathtime, mealtime, shopping. There are also “boredom busters” for any time. Parents can search activities by age (0-18 months, 18-36 months, and 3-5 years), tag favorites, and share activities via social media.