Major Milestones in Cognitive Development in Early Childhood

Whether you are looking to see how your 4 year old can solve simply mathematical problems or are watching the way in which your 7 month old is finally realizing that when she shakes her rattle it makes a musical noise, cognitive tasks mark the landscape of early childhood development 123. Gaining new abilities in mental reasoning, cause and effect, analogical thinking and other intellectual processes typically develop in a steady progression, making major milestones a helpful way to gauge your child's cognitive development 12.


Although infants are not known for their critical thinking prowess, this stage of early childhood development has its fair share of cognitive milestone markers that parents can follow. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics' Healthy Children website, when your infant is between 4 and 7 months of age, she will show the ability to understand simple cause-and-effect principles 12. For example, when she drops a rattle on the floor, she will notice that it makes a noise. By 12 months, your infant will begin to understand the concept of object permanence. Mastering this cognitive milestone means that your child understands that when an object is out of view that it is not gone.


During the early toddler years, from 12 to 24 months, your toddler is building his concentration and problem-solving skills. While these abilities are far from mature, your growing toddler's cognitive development sets the stage for later progress. Building on object permanence concepts, the young toddler will understand simple games like hide-and-seek, and he will understand that when you leave him (like dropping him off at daycare) you will come back. The child development experts at the Healthy Children website note that by 2 years, most toddlers use a more thought-filled learning process instead of solely manipulating objects 123. Additionally, the older toddler can understand how different objects relate to one another, allowing him to try out basic puzzles or sorting games.


Preschoolers are making cognitive strides in the way they think and in the activities they are able to engage in. According to PBS Parents, by 4 years of age, children are able to independently make decisions, have increased attention focusing skills (compared to a younger child), can understand simple sequencing and time concepts (such as before and after) and can ask for problem-solving help that’s appropriate to the issue at hand. For example, if you ask your preschooler to put on her shoes, she can go to the closet, choose which shoes she wants to wear, and then she will ask you to help tie them.

Young Grade Schoolers

While you might think of "early childhood" as synonymous with the preschool years and earlier, this time encompasses kids up to age 8. That said, kindergarten and the earliest grade school years are a time when your child is refining her cognitive skills and thinking in a much more mature way. The child development experts at PBS Parents note that at 6 years of age, a child can think in an abstract manner, engage in complex pretend play and create imaginative solutions when trying to complete tasks.