Ideas for Toddlers Using Their Cognitive Skills

The first few years of a child’s life is a period of rapid development and learning, during which he will reach many milestones. In addition to providing toys and encouraging activities that foster his physical development, parents and caregivers should also provide plenty of stimulation for a toddler’s cognitive development 1. Promote cognitive development through games and toys, since toddlers learn the most through play 1.


Toddler toys don’t have to be high-tech, elaborate or expensive in order to promote cognitive development 1. Even the most basic toys and objects help a young learner develop cognitive skills. Simple jigsaw puzzles and shape-sorting toys promote cognitive development by encouraging a toddler’s ability to match pieces and shapes 1. Blocks reinforce a toddler’s ability to understand spatial relationships and dimensions. You can even repurpose ordinary items to use as toys that encourage cognitive skills. Give your young one a muffin pan and a few small objects, such as:

  • a scarf
  • a doll
  • a cup or a block,
  • watch as she begins to try to fit the items into the pan cups

She’s learning how to problem solve and manipulate objects.

Games that Foster Object Permanence

Play games with your toddler to foster object permanence -- a critical cognitive skill that allows a child to understand that out-of-sight objects still exist. Hide a doll beneath a scarf or blanket and play “peek-a-boo” with your child, concealing and revealing the item with excitement. Encourage your child to do the same. You can also reinforce object permanence by hiding a toy somewhere in the play area -- among other toys or in a chest, for example -- and encouraging your child to seek out and find the toy.

Cause and Effect Activities

Cause and effect is an important concept for toddlers to master because it teaches them that actions have outcomes. Lessons in cause and effect lead to a sense of self-awareness and increased control over objects and the environment. Encourage young ones to bang on a drum. This simple activity demonstrates that the cause (banging) produces an effect (sound). Make a game out of it and take turns banging on the drum with your child. Encourage her to imitate your simple beats, which will also reinforce pattern recognition. Another activity is to fill a clear plastic bottle with different items, such as sand, water and pebbles. Make sure the bottles are sealed and encourage your toddler to shake and roll the bottles. He will discover that manipulating the bottles in different ways produces different sounds and movement of the contents.


Reading promotes cognitive skills throughout childhood. Even though most toddlers won’t begin to read for a few more years, looking at picture books and reading books together with your little one can help her to discover and name items. Exploring books with your child will also promote early literacy and language skills, as well as prediction, which is the ability to identify and anticipate order and sequence.