Activities for cognitive development in 1-3 years

Updated April 17, 2017

Cognitive development is the development of thinking skills, such as attention, curiosity, perception, memory, language and problem-solving. Children between 1- and 3-years-old are eager to communicate with others, explore their surroundings and learn new concepts and skills. "Young children learn most effectively through interactions with others," says Dr. Susan Landry at the U.S. Department of Education website. Parents can support cognitive development through activities that engage children's attention and motivate them to learn.

Activities to Support Perceptual Development

Enhance visual and spatial skills by providing shape sorters and inset boards for 1-year-old children. Extend children's attention span by taking turns with 2- and 3-year-old children to interlock pieces of more challenging puzzles. Explore concepts of size and colour by taking turns to stack colourful cups and to build a tower in order from large to small.

Stimulate attention and listening skills by singing simple action songs and rhymes with your toddler. The Successful Homeschooling website recommends songs with lyrics and movements that are easily memorised, such as "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Johnny Works With One Hammer." Introduce counting skills to 3-year-olds by singing number rhymes such as "Ten in a Bed."

Activities to Boost Memory Skills

Dr. Richard Woolfson, author of "Bright Start" (2003), recommends boosting memory skills through daily activities, for example, by finding matching pairs of socks in your laundry pile. Let 2- and 3-year-olds suggest items for your shopping list and help you find them at the supermarket. Take photos when you go on outings with your child, such as a visit to the park. Print photos and discuss them with your toddler. Help 2- and 3-year-olds sequence and stick photos into a scrapbook or album.

Activities to Enhance Language Development

Read picture books to toddlers and children. Choose simple board books for 1-year-old children and more complex narratives for 2- and 3-year-olds. Show children how to scan illustrations and point to items of interest. Name items of interest to build children's vocabulary knowledge. Maintain their attention by reading at a steady pace, and use a lively tone and different voices for characters.

Encourage pretend play to support development of conversational skills. For example, make teddy "speak" or "ask questions" in a funny voice, or have a picnic in the garden and let toddlers pretend to feed their toys. Provide dress-up clothes for toddlers and let them explore different characters and roles.

Activities to Encourage Problem-Solving Skills

Water play activities provide opportunities for children to practice problem-solving skills. For example, provide different-sized containers and let 1-year-old children practice pouring from one to the other to help them develop concepts of "full" and "empty." Count out loud with 2- and 3 year-olds as they pour water into a larger container. Challenge 3-year-olds to estimate how many cups of water will fill a container before helping them count to measure the amount.

Provide a range of items, such as leaves, pebbles, plastic fish and toy boats, and ask 2-year-old and 3-year-old children to find out if the items float or sink in the water.

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About the Author

Mother of three and graduate of the London Metropolitan University, Julie Vickers is an early years teacher and writer who also loves to craft and create! She writes on topics such as education, health and parenting for websites such as School Explained and has contributed learning sessions on child development and behavior for the Education Information and Learning Services website.