Do you know what solving a puzzle, reading a book, and playing on a balance board have in common? They all make our brains buzz!
Our brains are the most complex organs in our bodies. Every waking minute, they receive sensory information, interpret the world, help us feel emotions, spark creativity, and instruct our hands and legs to move. Being in charge of such a wide range of functions also means that there are many different kinds of activities that will challenge and strengthen our brains.
In this blog, we look at what exactly cognitive skills are and how you can hone your growing child's developing brain through play.
What are cognitive skills?
Cognitive skills are a group of abilities that we use to think, learn, and perform complex tasks. Each skill helps process information and together, they help with daily functions including brushing our teeth, deciding what to eat, playing, studying, and making friends.
For a child to do everyday activities, it’s important that all their cognitive skills are developed and able to work together. While there are many ways to hone these skills, let’s first look at what exactly the different cognitive skills are.
There are two types of memory development that are important – long-term and short-term memory.
Long-term memory helps your child recall information they learnt a while ago, such as names of people or answers in a test. Short-term memory will help them retain information while they use it, such as following instructions in a game.
2. Sensory processing
Sensory processing is a crucial skill to make sense of the world around us.
While auditory processing will help your child understand, categorize, and use sounds, visual processing helps them visualize what they hear. These skills will allow children to read, understand what they learn, and follow directions easily.
Sensory games are simple to make with materials around your house. Check out our co-create series for 20+ DIY sensory games and activities!
3. Logic and reasoning
Logic and reasoning may be the most essential skill in advanced cognitive development. This includes rational thinking, problem solving, and idea generation.
Logic and reasoning won’t just help your child solve puzzles and math problems. These skills will also help them make complex and well thought decisions in all areas of their life. This further helps hone social skills and foster meaningful relations as they grow.
Attention is an invaluable skill as it helps children avoid mistakes and complete tasks, which will boost their sense of self esteem. There are 3 types of attention, sustained, selective, and divided.
Sustained attention will allow your child to stick with and complete tasks. Selective attention will make it easy for them to ignore distractions and focus on one thing. Divided attention is their ability to recall information and use it effortlessly while doing a particular task.
‘Doing things fast’ might not sound like a big deal, but speed is an indicator of how well your child’s other cognitive functions are honed and able to work together. Completing tasks at school or home in a timely manner means that your child’s brain is well-equipped to process, reason, and act according to their age.
Develop cognitive skills through play
While we usually think of cognitive skills in relation to activities such as studying and reading, that's just the tip of the iceberg! As we discussed, these skills help us in every area of our lives and children can hone them in many ways, including through play! So let's look at some games and toys that will help your little one develop their various cognitive abilities.
1. Play to develop focus and memory
When we speak of focus and memory, playing with a set of memory cards may come to mind. It’s true, these are great to help your child pay attention and remember. But since memory is usually used to perform tasks, it’s important to include activities that allow your child to simultaneously practice their motor skills too!
Sorting boards or DIY sorting baskets are good examples of using the hands with the brain. Playing outdoors is also incredibly helpful. Sports or obstacle courses make it fun for children to pay attention to rules and focus on a task, and will aid neuron growth for more complex tasks.
2. Play to hone problem solving skills
Puzzles are an excellent way to help children of any age hone their logic, reasoning, and spatial awareness. From 4-piece toddler puzzles to 250-piece puzzles for older children to 1000-piece puzzles for adults, this can be a lifelong practice that keeps the brain sharp!
For older children, board games are also great options. From classics like chess to more contemporary board games, these help with strategizing, decision making, and are perfect for family game nights! Freeplay with simple, open-ended toys are also a good way to help your child make their own decisions.
Want to host a family game night and battle out your cognitive skills? Read this blog to find out how you can plan an awesome game night!
3. Play for balance and spatial awareness
More subtle cognitive skills include building your child’s balance and spatial awareness. Outdoor games like tag, swinging, and throwing and catching a ball are wonderful ways to help your child gain awareness of their bodies in relation to the space around them.
When talking toys, Balance boards and Waldorf Boards are exciting for your child to wiggle, sway, and perfect their balance. A Ninjaki set could be just as much fun to practice balancing objects! Lacing and threading toys and puzzles are simple but engaging and effective ways to build spatial awareness.
4. Play for sensory learning
For toddlers, the options are endless – sensory bags, sand pits, gardening, and playing with food grains are just a few examples. If you are searching for toys that tickle the senses, start by looking for textures that are interesting, such as crochet and warm wood. Bright coloured toys and musical instruments are other exciting ways to aid your child’s sensory learning.
5. Play to spark imagination
Thinking well isn’t just about memorizing and strategizing. It also includes all the whimsical and magical parts of life – creativity and imagination are cognitive skills too!
Pretend playing is the best way to light your child’s imagination. Watch as they take everything they’ve observed and turn it into a unique and spectacular show! Drawing and colouring is another awesome way for a little one to express themselves creatively. Make sure you are taking them to see new places and reading lovely children’s stories to them to further fertilize their imagination.
Does your son love dolls or your daughter love cars? That's awesome! Listen to this podcast to find out how you can get gender biases out of the playroom.
6. Play to sharpen communication skills
Communication is key to engage with the world. This starts with making sense of what's around us through words and sentences, sharing it effectively with others, and perceiving what they tell us in return. This chain involves language and vocabulary, listening skills, and social skills.
From children’s books to flashcards to games like I-Spy, building your child’s vocabulary can be a lot of fun! To help them apply it in their daily lives, encourage plenty of pretend play. From playing House to Restaurant to Astronaut, let them explore every scenario they can imagine. Multi-player games like board games and card games are also superb to hone their social skills.
Where does your child shine?
We know it can be stressful to observe and evaluate your child’s cognitive development. But every little one is unique and grows in different but equally incredible ways! Which is why we recommend that while you challenge your child to hone multiple skills, observe where they shine.
Appreciate their stellar imagination, make note of how good their memory is, admire how fast they can run. Remind your child of their gifts and let it inspire them to explore their complete potential!