Infant and Toddler Cognitive Activities: The First Three Years

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Infants (Ages 0-12 months)

Infants may not seem to be learning much as young babies, but they are taking everything in their surroundings in like a sponge. Even a newborn will respond to the sound of a human voice, especially mom’s voice. Parents and caregivers should talk to their newborns and even try gently shaking bells or rattles near them to see the way they respond to sound. Speaking softly to baby facilitates attachment and stimulates cognitive skills in babies who are just beginning to attend to the world around them.

At merely 3 months of age, babies smile, babble, coo, and notice new surroundings. Continue to talk to baby in order to build those blocks of language development. This is the age where social interactions begin to gain importance, so now is the time to really engage in baby talk, making noises, and smiling at baby.

By 6 months, toys can be used as a great way to facilitate infant cognitive skills. Unbreakable mirrors are perfect, since babies love to look at their own face. Place several toys, such as cubes, rattles, or rings near baby. Baby should try to pick up a toy. Interact with baby during play, naming objects and talking to her.

The 10-12 month old infant has learned an amazing amount since she was born. She can now bring two toys together, so model clapping two blocks together, and encourage her to copy your movements. Place a block in a bowl and give baby a big wooden spoon. Stir the toy around in the bowl. Encourage baby to do the same. Another good activity to play with baby around her 1st birthday is “hide the toy”. This is simply placing a small blanket over a toy in front of baby. Encourage child to remove the blanket to get the toy. Also build infant cognitive skills at this age by playing music and singing along.

Toddlers (Ages 13-36 months)

The young 13 month old toddler is beginning to do a lot. While she may not be able to say many words yet, she is starting to understand words spoken by a caregiver. Ask simple questions like, “Where is your hat?” Make sure the object can be seen, and watch for your child to respond by looking at the appropriate object. By 15 months, your child should point and make vocalizations when asked the same question.

Toddlers of 18 months are beginning to really enjoy board books. Take advantage of this interest in picture books. Curl up together and name the objects in the book. Try to get the child to turn pages and point to objects when you ask what they are.

By the time a toddler is 21 months of age, she may be following simple instructions. Take the time to give your child instructions to follow each day. Say things like, “give me the ball”, or “pick up the sock”. Try giving 2 instructions, such as “bring the ball over here, and put it in your diaper bag”. Try working simple puzzles with your 24 month old. Four piece puzzles are good ones to start with at this stage.

Infants and toddlers develop at lightning speed, and those first three years are the most important time of a child’s development. Parents and caregivers can take advantage of this time with the above infant and toddler cognitive activities.


The Early Learning Accomplishment Profile for Developmentally Young Children by M. Elayne Glover, M. Ed., Jodi L. Preminger, M.A., and Anne R. Sanford, M. Ed. , Chapel Hill Training Outreach. 1998.