10 Cognitive Activities For Infants To Boost Development

Cognitive activities for infants can strengthen their ability to think, communicate, and analyze. A child’s cognitive development happens when they interact with their environment (1). Each interaction gives rise to new nerve connections in the brain.

In infants, cognitive development is seen when they grow curious and reach out with their hands to touch and feel things (2). In the first year, babies also start understanding language and develop bonds of love and trust. The way parents speak, play, cuddle or interact with their children also helps in the cognitive development of their children (2).

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During the initial years after birth, an individual’s brain will undergo steady and rapid development, and this pace of cognitive development may never happen later in life (9).

In addition, many theories of cognitive development have also been put forth by scientists such as Jean Piaget, Erikson, Bronfenbrenner, and others. This post lists some exciting activities that will help you develop your child’s cognitive skills.
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10 Cognitive Development Activities for Infants

Every child is different and reaches their developmental milestones in their own time. These activities can help boost your infant’s cognitive development at different ages.

Cognitive activities for infants 0 to 3 months

A newborn baby is able to see objects around 12 inches from them, is sensitive to sounds nearby, and startles when they hear loud noises by kicking their legs, flailing their arms, and arching their back (3).

From one to three months of age, your child should be able to move their eyes as objects move, respond to startling and loud noises, follow objects such as rattle toys, recognize familiar people from a distance, and cry or fuss when they are bored or want to communicate. During their third month, an infant can recognize their mother’s breast or bottle when it is feeding time and learn to follow moving objects or people by turning their head.

Here are some cognitive development activities that are apt for infants:

1. Read to your infant

Reading to your baby has many benefits, and it is never too early or late to start. Children benefit from being read to from a very young age (4). Reading to your newborn makes them better at recognizing voices and sounds, while showing them picture books with bright colors helps in their cognitive development.

2. Talk to your baby
Talk to your baby, cognitive activity

Image: IStock

At 0 to 3 months of age, your baby is way too young to speak or converse with you. However, you can still try talking to your baby, look at them and smile, and have regular conversations with them. Notice how your baby will listen to you intently.

Having conversations with your baby and talking to them helps in developing language and communication skills (5). Your baby may also respond to you by vocalizing distinct sounds.

3. Hang a moving rattle over their crib

Hanging a moving rattle, or mobile, over your baby’s crib or within their reach during tummy time encourages them to reach out for it. This helps them move their hands and legs while enabling them to hold their head (5).

4. Sing to your baby
Sing to babies for their cognitive development

Image: Shutterstock

Singing to your baby has multiple benefits for your baby. It helps in developing a bond and in making connections with your baby. It helps in teaching them new words and rhythms and improves their listening skills–all of which help in their cognitive development (6).

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Music helps enhance babies’ mood, modifies their perception, and shapes their identity (10).

Cognitive activities for infants 3 to 6 months

By the time your baby turns four or five months old, they develop a sense of self-discovery. They are more interested in exploring their surroundings as they begin to understand that they can influence things around. They are even able to appreciate interactive toys.

At this age, your infant is better at expressing emotions. They are able to communicate if they are happy or sad. They look at you when you are feeding them, and reach out for toys and other objects with their hands. They are also interested in exploring objects. By six months of age, your infant is also able to transfer objects from one hand to the other and reach for things around them.

Try these cognitive development activities for this age group.

1. Encourage object play
Object play as a cognitive activity for infants

Image: IStock

When your infant turns around four to five months of age, manipulating objects helps them understand ‘cause and effect’ in play. They may drop things on purpose to get your reaction. By observing your reaction they understand if they have done something right or wrong. If they see you smiling, they are encouraged to do it more and when you frown they slowly understand something is wrong. Give them objects such as small boxes, balls of different sizes, spoons, and plastic cups to encourage object play. Ensure that the objects are not potential choking hazards.

2. Provide age-appropriate interactive toys

Once your child is acquainted with the cause-and-effect relationship of certain activities, it is a good time to introduce age-appropriate interactive toys that follow this principle. For example, introduce them to interactive toys with buttons that open the doors or create music. Seeing the result of the action, such as when they press a button, can help strengthen your baby’s self-confidence.

3. Introduce them to different textures
Introduce babies to different textures as a cognitive activity

Image: Shutterstock

As your child begins to use their hands more for grasping objects or reaching out for them, introduce them to different types of textures such as wool, velvet, and corduroy in the form of textured balls or activity boards meant for this purpose (7). This helps them in discovering different types of objects and textures. Also, allow them to understand them in their own way.

Cognitive activities for infants 6-12 months

Between six and twelve months of age, an infant’s cognitive abilities develop rapidly and they can use their hands more, transfer objects between both hands, turn book pages, look for objects that you hide, put and pull out things from containers, They are able to make sounds using objects they have, and start responding to simple commands (3).

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As your infant grows a little old, you may allow them to choose and explore with games and toys independently; however, supervise them during all times, but do not overwhelm them with too many options or instructions (11).

Here are some activities that can help in boosting your infant’s cognitive abilities and developing motor skills in this age.
1. Stacking

A stacking game is great for infants between six and twelve months of age. You can get different types of stacking cups or containers. Teach your infant how to stack objects.

You can also play a stacking game where both of you may stack objects at the same time. Apart from learning the cause-and-effect concept, your child also develops fine motor skills through this activity.

2. The disappearing Cheerio
Peek-a-boo cognitive activity for infants

Image: Shutterstock

At around seven to eight months of age, infants learn the concept of object permanence as per Jean Piaget’s theory (8). This concept posits that the object exists even when it is hidden. The disappearing cheerio and peek-a-boo are good games to help your infant develop this concept. They may even start pointing at things to indicate its hidden presence. These activities develop attention skills, memory, and object permanence in your infant. They may even start imitating you by babbling and making hand gestures.

3. Container play

As your child begins to sharpen their grabbing, gripping, and motor skills, give them different toys in a container. Your infant may reach out for a few toys or overturn the entire container and observe the toys rolling out or producing rattling noise.

Make this a habit every day and allow your infant the independence to pick out toys they would like to play with. By making choices they learn the effects of their actions. As your infant grows older, you can teach them to put the toys back into their containers. Any type of container play is intriguing for an infant and boosts their cognitive abilities.

Grabbing toys helps children improve their hand-eye coordination, resulting in improved fine motor skills. Kayla Carnahan, a mother and a blogger, shares how such toys are a favorite with her children. She says, “Offer your baby some things to hold with some very thin parts that are easy for them to manipulate. My absolute favorite for all three of my kids is this ‘o’ ball. This ‘o’ ball has lots of different holes and very thin parts, so it’s very easy for your baby to hold on to. Lace their little fingers in and practice holding (i).”

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is cognitive development according to Piaget?

According to Jean Piaget, cognitive development in human beings occurs in four different stages based on their age (12). They are:
1. The sensorimotor stage: Birth to age
2. The preoperational stage: Ages 2 to 7
3. The concrete operational stage: Ages 7 to 11
4. The formal operational stage: Age 11 and beyond
Further, he reflected that the stages meant a sequence of thinking patterns with four key features:

  1. The stages always happen in the same order.
  2. No stage is ever skipped.
  3. Each stage is a significant transformation of the stage before it.
  4. Each later stage incorporated the earlier stages into itself.

2. What factors affect cognitive development in infants?

The factors affecting infant cognitive development are child nutrition, dietary deficiencies, parent behavior, parenting, and environmental factors (13).

3. What role does imitation play in the cognitive development of infants?

Imitation means infants acquire new skills, behaviors, and social cues by observing and imitating those around them (14). Through imitation, infants understand how to use certain things or behave a certain way without being instructed explicitly (15).

4. How can mirror play enhance self-awareness and cognitive development in infants?

Mirror play can help develop a child’s visual perception (16). For example, during tummy time, you can place a mirror in front of your child and allow them to play with it. They will not only feel entertained seeing themselves, but they will also learn to recognize their face.

5. How does social interaction with peers or siblings contribute to cognitive development in infants?

Social interaction with peers or siblings helps infants learn how to interact and communicate (17). They learn to observe reactions through facial expressions and bond socially with those around them.

Cognitive development in babies starts from the time of their birth. As they interact with their surroundings, their ability to think, interpret, and express. You may help develop this ability further by introducing cognitive activities for infants that will help their understanding and communicating abilities. Since children achieve different milestones at different ages, you may plan the activities according to your baby’s age. For example, reading a book or talking may be used for children from zero to three months, while stacking and container play for children from six to 12 months. Experimenting with different activity ideas may allow your babies to learn and develop better.

Infographic: Cognitive Activities For Infants From 0-6 Months

It is known that talking, singing, and playing with your little one are activities that significantly stimulate and enhance their senses. So, scour through this infographic as it discusses other things to develop your little one’s thinking and cognitive skills.

babys cognitive skills (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get high-quality PDF version by clicking below.

Download Infographic in PDF version Download Infographic
Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • Selecting age-appropriate activities is vital for infants’ cognitive development and offers proper stimulation.
  • 0 to 6 months infant activities can stimulate them to respond to sounds and reach out to things they like.
  • 6 to 12 months infant activities may enhance their ability to look for hidden objects and understand simple instructions.

Learn about the cognitive milestones for infants and toddlers. Discover how they develop and grow!

Personal Experience: Source

i. How to play with your 2 month old baby | developmental milestones | activities for babies | Carnahan.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Infancy Cognitive Development.
  2. Infants (0-1 year of age).
  3. Cognitive Milestones.
  4. The Benefits of Reading to Babies.
  5. Your baby\’s developmental milestones at 2 months.
  6. 10 Ways Babies Learn When We Sing to Them.
  7. Sensory Activities (0-18 Months).
  8. Object Permanence.
  9. Supporting Early Brain Development: Building the Brain.
  10. Benefits of Lullabies for Babies.
  11. Thinking and play: babies
  12. Cognitive Development: The Theory Jean Piaget
  13. Factors Affecting Early Childhood Growth and Development: Golden 1000 Days
  14. The development of imitation in infancy
  15. A first step in learning by imitation
    baby brains respond to another’s actions
  16. Mirror Play & Self-Awareness
  17. How and when do babies develop social skills?
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