List of Cognitive Development Activities for Toddlers

By Erica Loop
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Your curious toddler is starting to remember where objects are when you hide them, concentrate on a task for longer than a fleeting second and imitate the everyday things that you do. She’s building new language skills and finding new ways to solve problems. While cognitive development happens whether you intervene or not, you can boost your toddler’s skills with activities ranging from building blocks to books.

Building Blocks

Two toddlers playing with building blocks at a table.
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Building blocks may seem simple, but they’re actually deceptively complex when it comes to your child’s cognitive development. Blocks provide your toddler with the chance to explore through his senses and gain spatial awareness abilities. Some of the cognitive benefits that blocks provide include increasing language and vocabulary development, building basic math skills and problem-solving, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children. For example, as your child twists, turns and stacks his blocks, he’s gaining perceptual and spatial abilities while learning about three-dimensional geometric shapes.

When you talk to him about the blocks and ask him to name the shapes or tell you what he’s building, your child is gaining new vocabulary skills.

Book Time

A father reading a book to two toddlers.
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Beginning with books at an early age gives your toddler the chance to develop early literacy skills, use her memory and increase her use of language. If your toddler is between 1 and 2 years, try books with only a few words on each page, bright colors, touch-and-feel pages or pictures of children playing, suggests the national early education organization Zero to Three.

Older toddlers, between 2 and 3 years, may enjoy and benefit from books with simple stories, rhymes or those that include alphabet, shape or counting subjects.

Engage your toddler in the reading experience, asking her questions and pointing to the pictures with her as you say the words. As she develops her language skills ask her to name the pictures that she sees. Build memory abilities by asking her to recall a few facts from each story. For example, ask her to tell you what animal was the main character or what shapes she saw in the book.

Pretend Play

A smiling toddler wearing a knitted crown.
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Pretend play activities provide your toddler with the chance to imitate real-life situations, problem solve and build creativity. You may have noticed that your toddler enjoys imitating your own actions. He’s pretending to talk on a play phone just like daddy does on his cell and he’s stirring a pot of mock macaroni like mommy does.

Give your toddler costumes and props or use a ready-made set-up such as a play kitchen. Encourage him to explore an everyday scene in which he plays the role of a parent or re-enacts what his teacher does at daycare.

Puzzles and Shapes

A toddler playing with a colorful shapes puzzle.
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Older toddlers who are between 2 and 3 years are beginning to understand the relationships between two or more objects, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Puzzle and shape sorting activities help to build these types of cognitive abilities. Pick simple puzzles that only have a few large pieces. You can use a store-bought shape sorting toy or make your own. To make your own draw shapes onto a piece of cardboard. Make matching shape cards. Have your toddler sort the cards onto the correct matches.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.