Cognitive Development

Babies start learning from the moment they are born and some of the things they learn in the first months of their lives are foundational skills and concepts that will be directly taught to them years later. Interacting with infants and toddlers about the world around them, including book reading and storytelling, are the best way to build foundations for reading. The ideas children form in the course of these interactions and the new words they learn will later help them make connections when learning new concepts such as the key ideas in science and social studies.

Learning to write involves children’s ability to control writing instruments. This ability is an outgrowth of the years of development of fine motor skills that begins in infancy. Providing infants with various materials to manipulate helps them develop hand-eye coordination and control of their hands and fingers. An especially valuable activity to prepare toddlers for writing is drawing—it provides yet another opportunity to develop fine motor skills and helps children connect symbolic marks on paper with spoken words or messages.

Engaging in make-believe play experiences is a developmentally appropriate way for children to learn. During play, they can use all of their senses to try out new things, make predictions, and solve problems. Play allows children to practice early math and language skills in a meaningful context. Another way to help children build their emerging understanding of mathematics is for caregivers frequently use math-related concepts in their interactions with babies and toddlers. Long before babies learn number words they demonstrate an ability to discriminate between quantities and notice when a new object is larger or smaller than the familiar one. These early ideas about number and size lay the foundation for understanding more advanced mathematical concepts. Adults can guide infants and toddlers in their mathematics learning by engaging them in exploration of objects that differ in size, shape, and quantity. Learning to discriminate between objects based on their different attributes is also critical for developing logic and reasoning. Early development of logical reasoning and other essential cognitive processes not only contribute to children’s future mastery of school subjects, but also help them solve problems across a variety of contexts.