Cognitive development refers to the change in how children think, reason, and explore. As children grow, they develop cognitive skills to understand their world better.
You can help preschoolers further their cognitive development with activities that improve their pattern recognition, literacy, memorization, and other cognitive skills. These skills are the foundation of the advanced concepts they’ll learn in preschool, elementary school, and beyond.
Types of cognitive activities for toddlers
Cognitive development activities for pattern recognition
Developing pattern recognition skills helps preschoolers recognize differences between items and make predictions. You can help toddlers build pattern recognition skills with blocks, toy towers, and beads.
Polygon pattern blocks
This activity helps children develop their motor skills, differentiate between colors and shapes, and identify and continue patterns.
Create simple patterns with polygon blocks and have the children choose the correct block to complete the pattern. As you build your pattern, say the color and shape of each block, then prompt the child to complete the pattern. For example, you can prompt the child by saying "green triangle, orange square, green triangle” and ask them what comes next.
This activity helps children develop their hand-eye coordination and motor skills while creating patterns.
At mealtimes, have preschoolers organize small snacks such as pretzels, cereal pieces, goldfish crackers, or fruit into patterns, then have them recite the pattern to you.
This activity helps children develop hand-eye coordination and motor skills, identify colors, and create patterns.
Instruct the toddlers to thread beads onto a piece of yarn or string to create necklaces and bracelets. Next, ask them to make patterns with different colors of beads. Once they have completed the pattern, have them recite it while pointing to each bead.
Cognitive development activities for language skills
Developing language skills helps preschoolers communicate emotions, analyze ideas, develop the ability to rationalize, and make sense of the world around them.
You can help toddlers develop their language skills using rhyme scavenger hunts and picture books.
Rhyme scavenger hunt
This activity helps children recognize rhymes and strengthen their problem-solving skills.
A rhyming scavenger hunt asks toddlers to interpret simple prompts to find objects that rhyme. For example, if you ask the children to "find something that rhymes with star," they may bring you a toy car.
Reading picture books with preschoolers helps them build phonological awareness, learn to use context clues, and increase their vocabulary.
When reading to toddlers, ask them questions that lead them to infer about the story and pictures. Questions like "how do you think this character feels?" and "what do you think will happen next?" encourage children to use cause-and-effect and draw conclusions.
Cognitive development activities that improve toddlers' memories
Developing memorization skills helps toddlers remember sight words, differentiate between familiar and unfamiliar people, and participate in routines. You can help toddlers improve their memorization skills with memory games.
This activity helps children recall memorized information and identify animals. For this activity, you'll need a bag and toy zoo animals.
Start the activity by saying, "I went to the zoo, and I saw a..." then, remove a toy animal from the bag and say its name. Next, pass the bag to a child and have them repeat the phrase, "I went to the zoo, and I saw a..." and say the name of the animal you pulled from the bag.
Have the child remove another animal from the bag and add it to the sentence. For example, "I went to the zoo and saw a penguin and an elephant." Then, continue with the next child ("I went to the zoo, and I saw a penguin, an elephant, and a tiger.") Continue until each child has pulled a toy from the bag and added to the story.
Singing repetitive songs and nursery rhymes like "The Wheels on the Bus," "Old MacDonald," and "Where Is Thumbkin?" with your preschoolers helps them recognize routines and improves their working memory.
The missing item
This activity helps toddlers identify objects and recall memories.
Place a few small objects on a tray. Name each object with your preschoolers, then ask them about its color, shape, or function. These questions will make the items more memorable.
Cover the tray with a towel, then ask the children to close their eyes. Remove the towel from the tray and have the children reopen their eyes. Ask the children to identify the item that you removed from the tray.
Help your preschoolers grow with these cognitive development activities
Teaching preschoolers cognitive skills such as pattern recognition, language skills, and memorization is essential for building a solid foundation that prepares them for preschool, elementary school, and beyond. It’s easy to teach these skills in fun and engaging ways using cognitive development activities.
For more activity ideas that promote growth across developmental domains, check out our free list of activities!