The power of play can’t be underestimated. Children acquire so many vital skills during playtime, and the type of toys you purchase can have a major influence on their future development. While there are plenty of toys out there just for fun, finding toys that encourage cognitive development will help your youngster reach their most important milestones without even realizing it.
You may have heard the term “cognitive development” often when reading parenting blogs or talking to your pediatrician, but do you really know what it means? Early childhood is a period of rapid development; as the brain expands, important functions and processes begin to emerge. Cognitive development refers to the various methods and thinking abilities we develop over the course of our lives, and the habits and skills we acquire as children will influence throughout adulthood.
The most widely adapted model of childhood cognitive development was created by psychologist Jean Piaget. He identified four distinct cogntive stages children move through as they grow.
- Sensorimotor Stage
From birth to around 2 years of age, children rely primarily on their senses to interpret the world around them. Various textures, sounds and visual stimuli help children interact and engage with their environment.
- Preoperational Stage
Between the ages of two and seven, children begin to develop a memory and sense of imagination. Arts and crafts as well as role-playing activities encourage creativity. Children will begin to understand the meaning of symbolism as well as the distinction between events that happened in the past and the future.
- Concrete Operational Stage
External events dominate the mind of a child during this sage. Up until age 11, children will become increasingly more aware of the world around them, the feelings of others and become less egocentric as they’re introduced to new ideas, opinions and beliefs.
- Formal Operational Stage
Beyond age 11, children will develop logic and analytical problem-solving skills. They will be able to apply their own thinking processes to the world around them and create solutions as well as make plans for the future.
Eight Toys to Aid Your Child’s Cognitive Development
Memory processing, emotional intelligence and important critical thinking skills are all enhanced by structured play. Cognitive development is always happening no matter what your child does, so choosing the right toys will enhance their natural growth and help them to reach the most important cognitive milestones.
- Sand Castle Building Sets
This set can be used indoors or outdoors; at the beach or in your backyard, the set will encourage children to create structure and understand the importance of organization through building. If you don’t have access to any sand or clean outdoor areas to play in, the set can be used during bathtime to encourage sensory exploration and introduce the concept of measurements.
- Alphabet and Numbers Nestling Block Sets
Nesting blocks are excellent toys for young children; toddlers are able to focus on stacking and motor skills, while preschoolers can learn shapes, basic numbers and the alphabet.
You can also find nestling blocks with animals and various designs that can teach your child specific concepts. One of the reasons blocks make excellent toys is that they are able to be repurposed and serve children throughout various stages of cognitive development.
- Peg Puzzles
Ideal for children between the ages of 15 months and 3 years old, peg puzzles come in a variety of shapes and sizes with varying levels of complexity. Animals, vehicles, household objects are the most common themes, but you can find ones for just about any subject.
Many peg puzzles incorporate textures for sensory development, and the shapes themselves encourage manipulation and logic skills to help children learn how to make strong object associations.
- Play Food and Kitchen Set
Roleplaying helps children develop their imaginations and build confidence. Roleplaying introduces students to the concept of many real-life environments and helps them acquire the skills they’ll need to perform tasks later on. Whether it’s the classroom, supermarket or just at home, role-playing helps children understand social norms and expectations while being able to assert their own identity in the situation.
Play food and toy kitchens promote numeracy, problem solving, organization and a variety of other skills. You can also use various types of foods to encourage a picky eater to be a bit more adventurous as well as make healthy food choices later on.
- Finger Paints
Sensory exploration and creativity are at the forefront of finger paint play. Children can use their hands to channel their imaginations onto a canvas or paper while learning colors and shapes. Finger paints, coloring and similar arts & crafts also help improve hand-eye coordination.
- Flash Cards
Flash cards don’t have to be boring! Combine a variety of different cards to spend quality time helping your child improve their comprehension, literacy and critical reasoning.
Practicing with flashcards can help children become more confident in themselves and their understanding of the world; you can enhance the experience by incorporating physical models of figures introduced on the cards. For example, using a real apple along with a card that says, “A is for Apple.”
- Books and Comics
Books and comics are available for all ages. When children are just beginning to read independently, it’s important to expose them to a variety of mediums and material. Vintage comics like the ones from Dylan Universe Comics include many classic characters children will recognize immediately, and the bright colors and illustrations can aid comprehension and increase immersion.
- Bead Maze
You may have been used to only seeing these in doctor’s offices, but bead mazes and similar toys include multicolor pieces in various shapes and sizes that can enhance a child’s sensory perception, boost their creativity and be used as a tool to introduce them to counting.
Choosing the Best Education Toys for Your Child
Focus on your child’s developmental milestones as well as their own strengths and weaknesses. Build confidence through positive reinforcement and refinement, which will enable your child to work on strengthening their weaknesses without feeling frustrated. Your child is always learning, and their natural curiosity and wonder during their formative years can turn any opportunity into a meaningful lesson and memory for the both of you.