The development of thinking skills, also referred to as cognitive development, occurs rapidly between the ages of 1 and 3 years. Thinking skills involve a toddler’s ability to reason, remember, imagine, problem-solve, and collect, organize and evaluate information. Every child reaches cognitive milestones at his own pace, but most toddlers demonstrate specific thinking skills around the same age range.
12 to 18 Months
By 18 months old, toddlers begin to realize objects exist even when they can’t see them and will ask for items that have been taken away. Exploration through touching and moving objects is vital to their developing thinking skills. They might try to fit objects into holes, stack items and knock them down, or mix and dump objects such as water and sand. Toddlers at this age can follow simple directions such as “Put your toys in the toy box.” They can also point to objects in pictures when asked. Imagination becomes part of play, and toddlers between 12 and 18 months of age begin to identify some colors and shapes, and might group similar items such as socks, books or blocks.
18 Months to 2 Years
Between 18 months and 2 years of age, toddlers begin to use items around them in the manner they’re supposed to be used. For example, your toddler will use a brush for his hair or put the telephone to his ear. He can also understand the passage of time, and understands phrases such as “later” or “when we get home." At this stage of cognitive development, toddlers recognize and name familiar people in photos and their memory for details and routines increases. Your toddler might explore the concept of counting and understands what more than one means. Toddlers are curious at this age, and according to the British Columbia Ministry of Health, they show interest in new people, things and sounds. They can also understand and follow two-part requests, such as “Take your toys upstairs and put them in your bedroom.”
2 to 3 Years
Between 2 and 3 years old, toddlers can match and sort pictures, shapes and some colors. According to British Columbia Health and Human Services, toddlers of this age can usually count up to three items and use trial and error to solve problems. At this age, toddlers sort groups of objects into sets and might complete simple puzzles. Two- and 3-year-olds understand the concept of future time, but might not understand the concept of the past. For instance, your toddler understands that tomorrow means the day after today, but he might not grasp the meaning of yesterday. However, toddlers of this age can recall past experiences. By 3 years of age, most toddlers enjoy play-acting, and pretending to be someone or something else. They can make a plan before completing an action. For example, your toddler might search for clothing and dolls before playing a dress-up game.
Encouraging Cognitive Development
Encourage the development of your toddler's thinking skills by exposing him to new experiences and by taking the time to read stories and explain concepts or ideas. Count objects aloud, even in early toddler development, to help toddlers grasp the concept of numbers and counting and point out colors and shapes during daily interactions. Continuously add to the range of toys, people and learning materials such as craft or art supplies and puzzles and books your toddler has access to. Praise helps encourage toddlers to challenge their thinking skills.
- PBS: Thinking Skills
- British Columbia Ministry of Health: Ages 12 – 18 Months Cognitive Development
- British Columbia Ministry of Health: Ages 18 to 24 Months Cognitive Development
- British Columbia Ministry of Healthy: Ages 24 to 30 Months Cognitive Development
- British Columbia Ministry of Health: Ages 30 to 36 Months Cognitive Development
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