9 Toddler cognitive development activities you must try

Toddlers are some of the most curious people on the planet. They want to learn about everything, and they’re full of energy to help them do it. While you may be eager for your toddler to learn how to walk, talk, and use the potty, it’s also important that you help them develop their cognitive abilities. This is why it’s important that you have activities ready for your toddler on a daily basis. Here are some ideas:

Toddlers are in a period of rapid cognitive development, which is reflected in their increased curiosity and desire to learn more about the world around them. They’re starting to understand more abstract concepts, like how things fit into systems, how cause and effect works, and why people behave in certain ways.

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ECCM.orgGrowing Minds With Cognitive Development Activities for Toddlers

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We want to encourage this process, but we also want our little ones to stay safe as they explore. While these activities are fun for toddlers, they also help them learn valuable skills that will prepare them for school and life.

Start with simple things around the house, like pots or Tupperware lids. Your toddler might enjoy stacking them up and knocking them down, or hiding different things inside of them and then trying to get them out by shaking the container.

After that, move on to objects around the house that will challenge your toddler’s fine motor skills: try giving him or her a fork or spoon and have him/her use it to transfer food from one container to another. Also consider giving your toddler a sponge with which he or she can squeeze water out of a sponge onto a piece of paper in order to make designs.

This post highlights several toddler cognitive development activities that you can try with your little one to help them grow as they explore the world.

Cognitive activities for toddlers’ memory, logic and creativity

As children grow into toddlers, they begin to develop a stronger understanding of the world around them, and with that understanding comes a whole new set of skills. In order to promote further development in toddlers, it’s important to provide cognitive activities that will build their memory.

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One of the best ways to improve your toddler’s memory is through interactive play. Toddlers love toys that are interactive, but don’t always have the patience for toys that require them to follow a specific sequence to move from one item or action to another. The best toys for memory improvement will allow your child to touch, turn, climb and manipulate every part of the toy in any order they like. Some examples include shape sorters, toys with many different parts that can be put together in different ways and puzzles.

But what if you don’t want your toddler spending hours on an activity? Memory-building toys can also work well as one-offs during quiet time or car rides. For example; you can try placing a few objects on the floor and letting your child pick out which ones they remember from somewhere else—perhaps at home or at the park earlier in the day.

1. Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek

Hide an object in plain sight while your child watches. Then tell your little one to find it. This is the most basic form of the game. An advanced version of hide and seek can be played by drawing a picture or writing a word on your child’s back so he/she cannot see it but you can. Then tell him/her to find it!

2. Sensory Bottles

Fill up a bottle with seasonal items like leaves, pinecones, and acorns. If you have time, soak them overnight in water and add a few drops of food coloring to make it super colorful! Let your child shake the bottle to listen to the sounds created by the objects inside. The more items you put into the bottle, the more fun it is for your toddler!

3. Shape Sorter

Toddler or child is playing with plastic shape sorter
Toddler or child is playing with plastic shape sorter

This is one of many toys that will help toddlers learn how to match shapes with their corresponding holes under different categories (circle with circle hole, square with square hole).

4. Taste buds

Hide food on your finger and let your toddler try to find it with her / his mouth. Young children will enjoy this game whether they are eating pureed foods or table foods. If they are not eating table foods yet but want to join in on the fun anyway, let them hide food in containers or cups while you are hiding the food on your fingers or under objects.

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5. Get a game board for your toddler

funny animal comic cardboard boxes. Early childhood motor skills.
funny animal comic cardboard boxes. Early childhood motor skills.

You may buy this at an educational store or find one online. It should have different shapes on it—like triangles, circles, etc.—that correspond with different letters and numbers. The center of the game board should have a drawing of an object—like a tree or a mountain—with its corresponding shape and letter/number next to it. This shows the toddler that there’s a connection between letters/numbers, shapes, and objects. It also gives them the chance to practice moving around the game board while they’re learning all these important concepts.

6 Rhymes and stories

Rhymes and stories

One of the easiest ways to get started is by using nursery rhymes or singing songs with your toddler. You don’t need to worry about finding the “right” one—it doesn’t matter whether you know the words or if you’re making them up on the spot—the simple repetition of a familiar tune will help your child start associating sounds with specific meanings. You can even get into a habit of saying certain words over and over again in conversation (like “candy”), just to build up the associations more quickly and strengthen their vocabulary skills.

When reading stories, look for books with rhyming text and point out instances where words are repeated in a pattern. This will help your toddler learn how language works and how they can start to use it themselves.

7. Arts and crafts

Arts and crafts

Arts and crafts with children is all about the process—the thrill of using their imagination and getting really messy.

Arts and crafts are a staple in the lives of most children, and there’s a reason for that: it’s fun for them, it’s fun for us, and it’s fun to watch them learn. In the toddler years, there are so many new skills being learned both cognitively and physically—plus, they’re just curious little people who like to build things and get their hands messy.

Cognitive development activities, like STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and STEAM (which adds in the arts), are a way to introduce children to science, math and other academic skills in a fun way that kids can actually understand.

Arts and crafts aren’t just for little kids; even older children can benefit from some sensory projects at home. It’s a great way for your child to explore his or her interests. For example, you may have noticed that your older child is particularly interested in dinosaurs lately—and that’s because of the fine motor skills that he’s developing as he works on projects like these. He’s learning how to use his hands to accurately manipulate tools and materials instead of just flailing around willy-nilly.

There are many benefits to engaging in arts and crafts with your child. Not only is it a rewarding activity for both parent and child, but it increases your child’s ability to problem-solve, think critically and express themselves through play.

8. Playing outside and visiting places

Playing outside

Playing outside and visiting places are some of the best ways to stimulate your child’s developing mind. You’re not just getting them away from the television—you’re exposing them to new sights, sounds, textures, and experiences that stimulate their senses and make their minds grow.

A good place to start is by taking a walk with your toddler. You can stroll around the block or in a local park, allowing your child to appreciate her surroundings and explore along the way. As you walk, point out objects you see around you—the sky, a squirrel, a dog running by. If she/he wants something, ask if she wants to go over to it or touch it. Let her choose which way she wants to go. (Don’t be surprised if she leads you in circles!) Let her help you take off your shoes or put on your coat. All of these activities will improve her gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

At home, encourage your child to play independently by providing him with lots of open space and age-appropriate toys. Resist the urge to constantly hover while he plays; but do stop by occasionally to ask what he’s doing or what he thinks of what he’s playing with. This interaction will help him learn how to communicate his ideas and thoughts.

For starters, playing outdoors allows toddlers to observe the world around them. When your toddler explores the yard or takes a walk around the neighborhood, she’ll likely stop to inspect anything that catches her eye—bugs, flowers, leaves, and other plants are all good examples of things she’ll want to take a closer look at. This is called “object permanence,” and it means that your toddler understands that even though something is not in sight anymore, it still exists. This doesn’t mean you should stop watching her at all times while she’s out and about; if you let her play without your supervision, though, you’re giving her plenty of space to explore on her own.

This type of exploration also strengthens spatial awareness. As she walks around the neighbourhood and observes everything around her, she will begin to develop an understanding of how objects relate to each other as well as how they fit into the greater whole.

9. Introduce Organization and Pin Up Pictures –

Pin Up Pictures

One way to help communicate with your child is by using visual stimulation. Since they can’t read words yet, a picture is the next best thing. The easiest way to do this is by using pin up pictures of characters that your child recognizes or adores. By doing this, you are creating a visual connection between the object and the activity you want your child to complete. 

For example, if you want your child to clean their room, put up a picture of a character cleaning their room (such as Piglet from Winnie-the-Pooh). When your child goes over to clean their room with you, they will see their favorite character cleaning their room and be more likely to join in. You can even use this method for bedtime routines! Simply put up a picture of the characters from bath time on the wall in their bathroom, so they can see what will happen after they take a bath.

Toddlers are naturally creative, inquisitive little humans—and that’s a big reason why they’re so fun to play with. As you engage with them, you’ll find that their creativity inspires yours as well. And, as your child gets older, you’ll find yourself always looking for new ideas on how to fuel their curiosity, stimulate their curiosity and help them develop their cognitive abilities. 

In their younger years, toddlers have a tendency to be more open to trying new things (although the best time to start is as soon as you bring your baby home from the hospital). But with this eagerness comes an intense need for guidance from their parents; even though they’re not yet verbally capable of communicating what they want or need, their bodies will still be giving off all sorts of cues about what makes them happy or uncomfortable. This is where you come in: if your toddler doesn’t seem engaged in an activity, keep trying new methods until you find something he really loves.

Hopefully, you’ve discovered a new way to get your toddler acquainted with some of the basics surrounding life. The activities above are helpful, in large part, because they teach kids how to begin to take care of themselves. There are different recommendations for the ages of each activity, but the general principle holds up: it’s hard enough just being able to take care of yourself when you’re an adult. The sooner you introduce these activities, the better off you’ll be.