Cognitive Development In Children: Stages And Activities

Cognitive Development In Children Stages And Activities

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Most people think that the term cognitive development may refer to the ability to learn and get an education. But cognitive development in children is not limited to the child’s academic skills.

As a child grows, the child’s brain undergoes various changes, enabling them to think and learn besides memorizing or remembering. From infancy to adolescence, children go through different stages of cognitive development, wherein each stage builds a strong foundation for the next one.

In this MomJunction article, we help you understand cognitive development in kids, its various stages, and a parent’s contribution towards their kids’ intellectual development.

What Is Cognitive Development In Children?

Cognitive development in children refers to the development of their thinking process that involves the processing of information, reasoning, language development, intellectual development, and memory. A child’s cognition also helps them to explore and resolve things (1).

Cognitive development is important in early childhood through adolescence as it is associated with brain development. The development of the thought process enables children to understand the world around them (2).

This development, however, happens over the course of an individual’s childhood.

What Are The Stages Of Cognitive Development In Children?

Cognitive development in children takes place at different stages. A profound theory on children’s cognitive development was put forward by a Swiss psychologist named Jean Piaget in 1952. According to Piaget’s theory, there are four stages of cognitive development in children (3).

1. Sensorimotor stage (birth to 2 years)

This is the stage of cognitive development in early childhood when infants and toddlers learn to sense and manipulate things.

Characteristics of this stage
  • The infant understands the sensations and movements.
  • The child learns to observe, listen, and grasp.
  • They learn that their actions can have consequences, or make something work. Infants start crawling, walking, and perceive the languages they listen to.
  • They start learning that objects continue to exist even if they cannot be seen. For example, hide an object that an infant or a toddler has been playing with. An infant may think it has disappeared, whereas a toddler will start searching for it, an indication that he/she is reaching the developmental milestone.
  • They start learning that the objects and people around them are different from them and learn to identify them with names and words.

2. Preoperational stage (2 to 7 years)

This is the stage that builds the foundation for language development. Children also start imagining, memorizing as well as representing things symbolically.

Characteristics of this stage
  • Children learn to think and use pictures and words to represent objects.
  • They are egocentric and lack understanding of things from others’ perspective.
  • They start understanding the language better.
  • They develop the skill of pretend play and imitation. They also begin to draw or sketch the things they see around them.

3. Concrete operational stage (7 to 11 years):

This is the middle childhood cognitive development stage, which marks the major changes in language, memory, and mental processing in children.

Characteristics of this stage
  • Children develop logical thinking and have concrete thoughts.
  • They become less self-centered as they begin to think about how others may feel or think.
  • They feel that their thoughts are unique and nobody else shares the same feelings or thoughts.
  • At this stage, kids may not understand the hypothetical concepts or abstract thinking.

4. Formal operational stage (12 and older):

At this stage, adolescents develop the ability to understand abstract ideas and are capable of thinking scientifically and drawing solution for a problem.

Characteristics of this stage
  • Children start thinking about moral, social, and political issues.
  • They are capable of deducing logical reasons for specific information.

While these stages of development occur naturally, support from the parent and caretaker is necessary for it to occur without any hindrances.

How To Develop Cognitive Skills In Children?

Parents can play a key role in the intellectual development of a child.

As a parent, you can encourage your children to explore things to improve their ability to think and learn. You can also put forth questions that enable them to find a solution to a problem. Here are a few more ways in which you can promote cognitive development in your child.

  • Interact: When you talk to your baby, use names for things that are commonly used. They learn the names of things and people when they hear you say it.
  • Touch and explore: Let them touch and explore the things they come across.
  • Identify sounds: Teach them to identify the different sounds they hear every day and relate it to the object or person.
  • Sing song: Sing a song and get them to sing along with you. It helps them associate the words with the objects or images in a book.
  • Identify alphabets: Expose the toddlers to books or puzzles that contain the letters of the alphabet. It is the best way to introduce them to the alphabet.
  • Shapes and colors: Introduce them to shapes and colors by describing the objects.
  • Engage in activities: Try to find out what your child is interested in and encourage them to do that more often. For example, if the kid loves sketching or painting, then encourage them to paint more. If they like books, get them new books they can read.
  • Trip to interesting places: Take them to exciting places and engage them in physical activity, which in turn helps in improving attention and concentration.
  • Answer their questions: Patiently listen to your child’s queries and give them a logical explanation using examples or demonstrations.
  • Offer choices: Provide them with choices and let them make their own decisions.
  • Exposure to games: Expose them to a variety of games that improve their creativity and problem-solving skills.

Though it requires a good amount of time for a child to understand things, they eventually learn it. You can also try a few activities for active cognitive development.

Cognitive Activities for Children

There are various activities that you can try to help improve a child’s cognitive skills. The table below lists an activity for cognitive development in children of different age groups.

Cognitive Development
Age groupActivities
Infants (6 to 12 months)Touch and grasp: Infants can improve their sense of touch and their grasping reflex with soft toys.
Toddlers (18 months to 3 years)Play with blocks: Stacking the blocks helps toddlers improve their learning and thinking skills.
Preschoolers (4 to 6 years)Compare and match: Comparisons of shapes with objects around is a great way to improve their observation, memory, and learning skills.
School-age children (7 to 12 years)Play games: Board games, simple crosswords, word finders are a few games that can encourage their learning and thinking skills.
Adolescents (12 to 18 years)Play mind games: Playing chess, solitaire, poker, and checkers is a good way to exercise the minds of teenagers.

You can try various activities to help your kid reach cognitive milestones when they should. In addition to these, playing in the outdoors helps them stay physically active that in turn benefits mental health and improves mental acuity.

Cognitive development does not follow a set format, but is influenced by various factors. Each child has different cognitive strengths, and cognitive training can help improve their less dominant skills. A little guidance and encouragement from the parents are what a child needs to figure out the things around him/her.

Did your kid practice any cognitive development activity? Share the experience with us in the comment section below.


1. Cognitive Development Domain; California Department of Education
2. General Cognitive Changes Adolescents Experience; HHS
3. Piaget; NCBI


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shreeja pillai

Postgraduate in Chemistry and content writer. She has worked as a research analyst with a leading multinational pharmaceutical company and also holds a diploma in pharmaceutical regulatory affairs. Her interest in the field of medical research has developed her passion for writing research-based articles. She is a writer for MomJunction and aims at providing informative articles based on health and wellness. Apart from writing, she takes a great interest in music and traveling. know more about her at
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