Understanding cognitive development in infants and toddlers is crucial to helping them learn valuable skills and learning strategies in these early stages. Learning and mental development continue to evolve and expand as children grow, so knowing their learning processes at these early stages helps prepare parents and child care providers to nurture and grow the child's cognitive development. A healthy knowledge of their mental development also helps you prepare them for schooling and life in general.
Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development
Jean Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development states that children go through various stages of learning and development based loosely on age. At the infant and toddler age, children are in the "sensorimotor" stage, where children make strides to understand the fundamental relationships between themselves and the outside world. Early in the stage, children may think objects cease to exist when they can no longer see them. The ending of this stage and entrance into the "preoperational stage" begins when the child understands that unseen objects and forces can still exist out-of-sight; this stage usually begins when a child is about 2 years old.
Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory
Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory states that people use a varying pallet of eight different learning intelligences to solve problems, develop skills and mentally advance. The intelligences are spatial, linguistic, interpersonal, naturalistic, intrapersonal, musical, logical-mathematical and kinesthetic. With this theory in mind, it's beneficial to introduce new concepts, ideas and lessons in ways that promote more than one of these learning intelligences. For example, a game where you describe a specific fruit to your child and he guesses it uses linguistic and spacial intelligence.
There are three overall learning styles that determine how an individual prefers to learn. Visual learners learn best through sight, observing the world and using their imagination and pictures to develop understanding. Auditory learners prefer learning through hearing. This includes children who learn well with verbal instruction or music, though it also could mean noisy environments are overly distracting for the child. Tactile-kinesthetic learners prefer physical interaction with their environment, learning best with hands-on activity and manipulation. While children use a mixture of all three methods, each likely prefers one over the other and learns more effectively through that method.
With a basic understanding of the stages of development your child is in and her preferred learning styles, you can help improve the quality and speed of her cognitive development. If your child shows a natural curiosity toward the world around them, encourage it through fun activities and games that help her learn while also enjoying herself. For example, dancing around and being silly to fun music can help develop motor function, coordination and rhythm. Similarly, playing with clay and creating arts and crafts encourages creativity and promotes an understanding of how certain processes and actions, such as forming the clay into shapes with her hands or cookie cutters, affect the world around her.