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Cognitive Skills & Brain Development

Good Brain Development

Children’s brains develop as they have new experiences. You cannot see the brain developing, but you can see what new things the child can do.

Cognitive skill development in children involves the progressive building of learning skills, such as attention, memory and thinking. These crucial skills enable children to process information and eventually learn to evaluate, analyze, remember, make comparisons and understand cause and effect. Although some cognitive skill development is related to a child’s genetic makeup, most cognitive skills are learned. This means that thinking and learning skills can be improved with practice and the right training.

Your child’s cognitive skills development will make huge advances in the first six years. During this time, you will find your child beginning to make connections and understand the relationship between the objects and people around him. As he continues to make huge advances physically and mentally, his abilities should likewise grow.

Involve yourself as a parent in your child’s early cognitive skills development. This gives your child an early advantage. A recommended approach is to involve your child in his own learning. His early participation determines his success in later life.

Some of the changes in our children are not so easy to spot, particularly cognitive changes. Children’s brains develop as they have new experiences. You cannot see the brain developing, but you can see what new things the child can do.  

Select your child’s age:

Year 1 (12-24 months)

As you watch your toddler at play, you will notice him concentrating on everything he does. Every toy, game and activity is a learning experience for him. At this age, children can start drawing conclusions and making associations in order to find solutions to different problems at hand. Imitation is a big part of the learning process at this age. Instead of randomly handling household items, as he did in the first year, he will start using them in the right context -use a brush on his hair, babble into the phone and turn the steering wheel of a toy car. Activities that can help in your 1 year old’s Cognitive skill development:

      • Tap beats on a toy drum or surface as you count each tap. Your baby should begin to imitate the rhythm with time.
      • Talk about everything around you as you point and name different objects or parts of his body. Hold his finger and help him point to his nose as you say “this is your nose”
      • Age-appropriate puzzles, matching games, sorting games and block play engage toddlers and preschoolers in activity that requires them to think about a problem and find a solution
      • Help your child clap to the beat of a song when asked to do so. For example, sing or listen to a song and clap your hands to the rhythm of the music.

Year 2

At this age, toddlers are able to recognize their own reflection in a mirror, saying “baby” or their name. They will start to sort objects and differentiate them into groups, for instance cars from animals. Toddlers can communicate what they are doing using basic words and like to imitate the actions of adults. As he grows throughout this year, you will notice a change in your child’s thinking as he begins to discover cause and effect (an action-reaction combination). Activities that can help in your 2 year old’s Cognitive skill development:

      • Sing a familiar nursery rhyme that includes names of different objects or animals. Your child can help you name the animals which will help improve his short term memory and attention span.
      • Play “Whats in the box?” by showing him different items before placing them in a box. Then ask him to remember and name what items are inside.
      • Practice the alphabet song. Help him remember the alphabets and point them out in a letters book.
      • Ask your child questions which will help him think for himself and come up with answers and solutions
      • Encourage your child to match various-sized lids to their accompanying pots

Year 3

Your 3 year old is starting to understand the concepts of time and is able to differentiate between “now”, “soon” and “later”. He is starting to sort objects on the basis of one attribute such as shape, size or colour. He will now slowly be able to understand the concept of size, as he begins to understand which object is bigger when compared to others. He will now know his own age and can show it on his fingers when asked. Although his attention span is better than what it was, he can still become easily distracted. The “Why” & “How” questions will become part of your daily discussions has he becomes more curious about the world around him. Activities that can help in your 3 year old’s Cognitive skill development:

      • Help your child make connections between letters and objects. As an example, show him the letters “cat” and then help him identify an actual cat in real life.
      • Sorting objects will develop his ability to sort, order and classify objects according to color, shape and size.
      • Play a memory game with your child by helping him match the right words and their respective pictures
      • Provide your child with puzzles such as shape sorters or tray puzzles which will allow him to learn about different shapes and spaces
      • Choose a category like a color or a shape. Then take turns finding an example from your surroundings. For example, find all items that are blue or round.

Year 4

At this age, problem solving skills become more effective as preschoolers start to become able to hypothesis, test, analyze and evaluate any task at hand. They will start to plan and think ahead and work toward a specific goal. Their communication skills are also enhanced, as they can now remember more words will allow them to communicate their feelings and emotions. They can now play games with rules and enjoy simple card and board games, where turn taking, patience and cooperation are required.

Activities that can help in your 4 year old’s Cognitive skill development:

      • Play hide and seek with your child, giving him the opportunity to look around in possible locations you could be hiding around the house
      • Ask your child to help you sort different clothing based on their owner. For example, mix an item of clothing from every member of the family and have him guess who each is for.
      • Start a game where he needs to follow different instructions you give him. For example, “sit down”, “put one hand on your head” or “stand on one foot”
      • The “Yes or No” game: ask your child questions that could be true or false and encourage him to answer with a yes or a no. For example “The sky is red.” 

Year 5

The preschool period is a time of rapid growth along a number of developmental measures, especially children’s thinking abilities, or cognition. Your curious and inquisitive child is better able to carry on a conversation. His vocabulary is growing, as is his or her thought process. Not only is your child able to answer simple questions easily and logically, but he or she should be able to express feelings better. Most children at this age enjoy singing, rhyming and making up words. They can now count up to 10 or more objects, correctly name at least four colors and three shapes, recognize letters and potentially attempt to write his own name if taught. Activities that can help in your 5 year old’s Cognitive skill development:

      • Start a game of “I Spy”, which is communicating a name of an object around you by just giving him the first letter of the word. He should then think and guess the different options it could be.
      • Ask him to close his eyes and feel objects with different shapes and textures to identify what they are.
      • Play a game of “Which one doesn’t belong?”. You can name items such as book, magazine, computer and birthday card and encourage him to identify which one stands out and why.
      • Offer your child challenging puzzles that require him to think independently and solve them. 

Year 6

Six-year-old’s enjoy taking on new roles and responsibilities. They are able to pay attention for longer periods of time but continue to prefer structured activities to more open-ended experiences. At this age, your child will still require much direction from you and frequently ask questions to make sure that he is completing tasks the right way. He will be excited about going to school and learning to read and explore new concepts as his planning ahead problem solving skills become more advanced. Activities that can help in your 6 year old’s Cognitive skill development:

    • Give your child a chance to make simple choices, such as what to wear or what to eat for a snack.
    • Encourage him to answer simple pattern related questions such as “what comes next: sun, moon, sun, sun, moon, ?”
    • Name some items from a category and encourage your child to identify the category correctly. For example: socks, t-shirt, dress and pants are in the clothes category.
    • Start new board games that encourage memory and problem solving skills development such as Connect 4 or Dominoes

Further Reading

Children develop at different rates, and that’s completely fine, but here is a rough breakdown of what to expect in your toddler’s early development and a few tips for how you can encourage it.

The right balance of essential nutrients helps children with their physical as well as mental development.

Important notice

By clicking on the "Continue" button, you can learn more about infant nutrition. If you choose to continue, you agree that Danone is supplying this information at your individual request for information purposes.

Breastmilk is the ideal food for infants: it is best adapted to their specific needs. A healthy and balanced diet of the mother is important for the preparation and continuation of breastfeeding. Mixed breastfeeding can interfere with breastfeeding and reduce milk production. It’s hard to reverse the choice of not breastfeeding. If an infant formula is used for a non-breastfed baby, it is important to carefully observe the instructions for preparation and use and to follow the advice of the medical profession. Incorrect use could pose a risk to the child’s health. Socio-economic implications must be considered in the use of infant formula. After 6 months, in addition to breastmilk, water is the only essential drink. Do not hesitate to consult your health care professional if you need advice on feeding your baby.