Cognitive development, or the the process of growth in intellectual abilities such as thinking, reasoning and understanding, is a major component of early childhood. According to the World Health Organization, early childhood is the most important phase of development throughout the lifespan. So games for cognitive development during early childhood are an effective way to help kids grow intellectually.
Many of the classic games we associate with early childhood help with cognitive development, according to the Kansas Department of Education. For infants and young toddlers, that means games such as peekaboo and hiding toys in front of them so they can seek them. For kids 18 months old through 3 years, that means games such as hide and seek, where parents start by hiding in easy locations and letting children find them. With preschoolers, you can continue hide and seek and try Simon says and follow the leader. All of these games help with problem-solving, memory and attention maintenance. Attention maintenance is the ability of the child to control what she wants to focus on without getting distracted.
Sorting, Matching and Classifying
Categorizing is a huge part of cognition, according to the California Department of Education. Games that encourage sorting, matching and classifying are excellent for cognitive development. For children younger than 3 years of age, a sorting game might just require them to put the blue blocks in the blue box, the red blocks in the red box and the green blocks in the green box. Shape sorters, where children must fit the correct shape block into the correct shape hole, also can help very young children with categorization skills. Preschoolers can play the game Memory, where cards are laid out face down and children flip over two at a time, hoping for a match. If the two cards match, the child keeps them and then it is the other person's turn. If they don't get a match that time, they can remember where those cards are for a future turn. You can make your own memory game with index cards or use playing cards.
Young children are usually full of energy, so parents can channel that into active cognitive development games. In Sleeping Animals, kids use cognitive skills such as memory and imitation to pretend to be animals. Parents call out an animal, and kids move like that animal such as a tiger or a bunny. Then parents say, "Night time!" and the "animals" go to sleep. They wake when parents call out a new animal name. Another animal-themed game is Mr. Fox, in which the parent is Mr. Fox and the children act like other animals. Mr. Fox calls out commands such as "Hop like a bunny" and "Crawl like a crab" and kids follow that action. But when Mr. Fox calls out, "Midnight!" he chases after the kids, who are allowed to run.
With young children, not every game has to have rules and a winner. Another way parents can support cognitive development is through playing symbolic games with their children, suggests the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Symbolic games are more commonly known as imaginary play or pretend play. So when your little one is pretending that a block is her cell phone, pretend to call her from yours. When your preschooler is pretending to make dinner in his play kitchen, ask him if he can make you some, too. This kind of play develops curiosity about the world, problem-solving, focused attention and persistence, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
- World Health Organization: Early Childhood Development
- Kansas Department of Education: Cognitive Development: Thinking to Learn
- California Department of Education: Cognitive Development Domain
- National Association for the Education of Young Children: How to Support Children's Approaches to Learning? Play with Them
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