From decision-making to language skills, many cognitive skills are expected to develop in children during the first few years of life. But, why is cognitive development so important for children?
By Anuradha Naidu
Cognition can be best explained in simple terms by the word "understanding". When you say you "understand" something, you are using the cognitive skills of mental processing and reasoning to make sense of that experience.
In a young child, these skills are at a developmental stage and can be observed in the child's ability to focus on the adult’s face, play with toys and imitate sounds and actions. A significant step in Cognitive Skill development appears at around 9 months when a child starts to look for things which are hidden or have disappeared.
Another early significant cognitive skill emerges when children become aware of cause and effect relationships, through play with simple toys like rattles, blocks, balls, nesting cups and activity boards.
Later, we see children imitate sounds and actions which eventually develop into words of the mother tongue. This is the stage when children begin to form rudimentary concepts based on their experiences.
Early concepts that develop in the 0-3-year age group include concepts of space such as awareness of up /down and in/out and size such as big and small. Hence, it is too early to expect a child at this stage to understand the abstract concepts of colours and shapes.
At the 3-6-year stage, children need to develop their "understanding" by learning through play and other experiences of daily life. Here is a list of cognitive skills that preschoolers need. Among the earliest concepts, children learn to relate to is " quality", this includes understanding words like - hot and cold, hard and soft, same and different, smooth and rough, heavy and light to name a few.
"Quantity" concepts that will help children in the preschool years include ideas associated with long and short, thick and thin, short and long, big, bigger, biggest, one and many. These become the basis for future numerical skills. Children also need opportunities to follow simple and complex directions, re-tell events or stories, problem solve puzzles, play games with rules, pretend play with make-believe toys to imitate adult life. Finally, the foundation for early literacy like learning the alphabets, numbers, colours, shapes and early concepts about time is also laid during this period.
Children need plenty of opportunities to explore their senses. In fact, the early stage of cognitive development is known as the sensorimotor stage. During this period, children have a natural inclination to explore their environment and learn by doing.
Engaging in play with water, sand, playdough (using natural ingredients from the kitchen) is the best form of cognitive stimulation. At the next stage, construction with blocks, Lego and even large cardboard boxes and cushions allow exploration of space.
Play also include pretend play with kitchen items, transport, and dressing up through which children explore the roles they see the adults around them in.
Apart from free play, it is also important to include age-appropriate toys. Storytime with parents is also crucial to cognitive development and reading aloud 3-5 books every day is recommended.
Cognitive development develops in different stages in children. But, can parents enhance cognitive development skills in a pre-schooler? This ClipBook takes a look.
The preschool age is predominantly an exploratory age when children want to know how the environment works, how it feels and how they can be part of everything that is going on around them. This is the time when children are imitating the speech and actions of their parents, siblings and friends. Imitation also helps the child rehearse simple problem-solving skills and use their memory as tools for the development of understanding.
Pretend play and the exploration of role play through dressing up activities provide children with a wonderful opportunity to construct new ideas. Storybooks offer another means by which children explore fantasy. Build up a personal collection of books based on specific characters or themes to read and re-read repeatedly, enabling children to anticipate or change the direction of the story with familiarity. As the preschool years are also known as the creative age, it offers parents and preschool teachers a wonderful opportunity to engage children in learning through joyful activity.
As parents, who understand their children best, it will help to expose children to a range of experience such as books, pretend play, outdoor play, play dates and watch how their interests develop. It always helps to start with that which children like best and follow their lead.
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