Category Archives: Cognitive

The importance of my 2-year-old endless “why”

After hitting the 24-month mark, you might notice that your toddler’s verbal and cognitive skills have developed so much and so quickly, that she is starting to be increasingly interested in understanding how things work, especially how they relate to one another. In fact, you might have become so accustomed to hearing the “why” question coming out of your little one’s mouth, that you even hear it in your dreams. Although sometimes it might be complicated to answer a young child’s emerging questions all day-round, the answers they receive are precious to them as they are their main source of information to understand the world.

Following the American Academy of Pediatrics guides about early childhood development, the endless “why” inquiries mean that your daughter is working on building cognitive skills that will later allow her to solve problems and think using abstract concepts and categories.

In fact, many cognitive psychologists wondered about how asking questions can help children’s development. In 2007, Michelle Chouinard from the University of California analyzed the way children formulated questions and what they did with the newfound knowledge. She found that kids between 2 and 5 years of age indeed ask questions with the intention of understanding something, it’s not just to get an adult’s attention for a moment. She also discovered that the type of questions and the complexity of the answers a kid deems satisfactory changed over time. Older children have more developed conceptual and abstract thinking skills that allow them to seek answers that go beyond describing something. They actually inquire about cause-and-effect relationships. Amazing, right?

Can my preschooler distinguish appearance form reality?

As adults, our understanding of the world relies on our ability to differentiate appearances from reality. We know from experience that not everything is what it seems. For young children this is not always as clear, as they sometimes seem to confuse reality with appearances. Can my 3-year-old girl already tell the difference between them? Let’s take a look at what developmental science says about it.

In 2006, psychologist Gedeon Deák from the University of California at San Diego investigated the extent to which preschool children understand the difference between appearances and reality, as well as between reality and fantasy. He discovered that as early as 3 years of age, children are capable of discriminating reality from misleading appearances in multiple tasks. What was interesting was that he observed that preschoolers could easily and accurately describe real and fantastical or fake aspects of an object or situation, but their failing to do so depended not on their cognitive capacities, but on how understandable and clear were the questions about the objects. This led him to suggest that, even if 3 or 4-year-olds can seem challenged to represent reality in their minds, they are, in fact, naturally and flexibly describing appearances and an independent and different reality. Your young child’s mind is already capable of more than what’s easily assessed! Impressive, right?

You want to read more about your preschooler’s capacity for differentiating between reality and fantasy? Here you can read the full article referenced above:
http://cogdevlab.ucsd.edu/files/2013/05/DeakTCS2006.pdf

How kids learn to match objects by their shape and function

Have your ever wondered how did that your 3 or 4-year-old develop his understanding of characteristics and proprieties? When your little one pinches soft food with a fork and feeds himself, does he actually understand how eating utensils are used or is this behavior pure imitation? In what moment is this cognitive milestone achieved? In this article, we’re going to talk about how preschoolers develop their ability to find relationships and patterns between objects, their physical characteristics and their abstract proprieties.

Around the 3 years mark, children are still learning to identify and classify objects by their shape and color, amongst other physical characteristics. Between 3 and 4 years of age, kids start to develop a more complex understanding of objects and their abstract qualities, like how they are used and what are they for. Older children and adults, on the other hand, think effortlessly in terms of function and complex cause-and-effect relationships.

A team of psychology researchers from the University of California in San Diego, Vanderbilt University and the University of Minnesota investigated when and how preschoolers start using abstract information to relate the daily life objects that surround them. In 2002, they conducted a study in which they presented common kitchen utensils to 3 and 4-year-olds, instructed them to match the objects by shape or function, and then observed the kid’s responses.

They found that 4-year-old kids had no problem following either rule, but 3-year-olds got lost when trying to identify objects by their function. Nonetheless, if no instruction was given, 4-year-olds tended to match by shape unless prompted otherwise. This showed that by this age, most kids can understand both shape and function of objects to which they are frequently exposed to. They concluded that kids around 36 to 48 months are developing their conceptual and abstract thinking skills, and that their cognitive abilities are measurably different in this short lapse of moths.

If you want to dive deep into the research on preschooler’s cognitive development, here’s the article mentioned above:
http://cogdevlab.ucsd.edu/files/2013/05/DeaketalDP2002.pdf

Problem-solving with tools

Young children are the definition of fast learners! When they are just 12 months old, they are already taking in as much information as possible about the world that surrounds them and the objects within it.

With all the information they gathered in their first years of life, kids around 3 and 4 years old are ready to start understanding that objects have specific functions, and how to use them properly. You might be witnessing this when your preschooler starts using a fork to feed herself or when she starts playing with mechanical toys and understands how to make buttons, levers, and moving parts work. When your young child uses daily objects with an objective, that’s an indicator that she is setting the bases for what will later be the understanding of cause and effect.

Researchers from the Cognitive Development Lab of the University of California at San Diego have found that between 3 and 5 years old, children acquire the understanding of the abstract concept of “function”, learn that every created object is defined by its use and that the same object can be used for multiple purposes. This age marks a very important developmental mark for your child’s learning of how the world works.

You can encourage your daughter’s intentional use of objects and her problem-solving skills with some of the following ideas:
• Encourage playing with mechanical toys or with the mobile objects in the playground.
• Have your child play with simple puzzles or with peg-puzzles.
• Notice buttons and levers in your daily life and point them out to her. You can, for example, go to an accessible cupboard and ask your little one “How can I open the door to the cookies?”.

Boosting my child’s conceptual reasoning

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that, between 36 and 48 months of age, children start developing their conceptual reasoning skills. These set is crucial for categorizing the information they get from the world, and for organizing it according to the characteristics of every object.

A big part of conceptual reasoning involves understanding the implicit mathematical ideas behind the differences, similitudes and relationships of more vs less. Around this age, your child is working hard at understanding the concepts of size (big vs small), distance (close vs far), speed (fast vs slow), height (high vs low), weight (heavy vs light) and order (first vs last). Apart from pointing out these characteristics, so that your child starts noticing them, it’s important to support his understanding of the numerical concepts organizing these ideas.

Here are some tips and ideas on how to use implicit math concepts when talking about your day or describing something you are seeing:
• Point out numbers you see in your everyday life, like those on your cellphone, clock, addresses, on signs on the street, etc.
• Count steps, houses, trees, etc.
• Use a grow chart to mark your kid’s height and describe what you are doing and how, as he grows, the numbers goes bigger as well.
• When cooking or baking, have your son help with simple tasks like filling and mixing with close supervision, while describing how you are measuring and what is the order you follow when adding the ingredients.
• Talk about activities that happen at certain moments of the day, like “when its dark outside we eat dinner and then we go to bed”, to help develop your child’s sense of time and of progression.
• Play games that encourage noticing shapes, colors and sizes, like “I Spy”.
• Have differently shaped foods for a meal and notice together how the shape of the square crackers are different from those of the banana slices, or the string cheese, etc.

The importance of conceptual reasoning skills

According to the Cognitive Development Lab of the University of California at San Diego, children go through some dramatic cognitive changes during their preschool years. Approaching 4 years of age they have already developed enough mobility, physical strength, emotional independence and vocabulary to process a vast new array of information about their world: their name and age, who is part of their family, what games they like, who are their favorite characters, the routines they have during the day, etc. But in order to continue their development, they now need to gain the necessary skills to organize all that new information.

We all organize what we take in from the world as categories and concepts, but these cognitive skills take years in the making. Kids start developing their conceptual reasoning skills around 48 months old and this allows them to understand the characteristics of the objects that are around them in a way that, afterwards, will allow them to solve everyday problems. Understanding concepts is what allows young children to discriminate between things that are edible and things that are not, the implications of hot and cold, and that birds fly in the sky but they can’t do so below the ocean.

There are lots of things you can do to support and encourage this important developmental process in your child! One idea could be labeling things you see in daily life and connecting the word to its characteristics so that your child notices the connection. For example, depending on your child’s age, you can start small and simply help her notice characteristics by saying “What a pretty insect! Insects are small”, or “Oh! It’s cold today! Let’s have a hot breakfast”, and then move to more complex things like “Look, it’s a bird! Birds fly in the sky, like we walk on the ground”.

Developing my daughter’s early math skills

An important aspect of your kid’s cognitive development between the age of 3 and 4 is the development of different aspects of her reasoning skills, like her ability to apply math concepts in different areas of her life. This is called numeracy, also known as math skills.

Before reaching the 48-month mark, many children know three or four numbers and have a pretty good understanding of counting. That might allow them to answer simple questions like “how many cookies are there?”. According to the Raising Children Network, kids start learning the bases for what will later be their math skills from the day they arrive into the world, both by watching and by playing.

Here are some ideas on how you can help your daughter develop her early math skills, according to the 36-48 months recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics:
• Integrate counting into your daily life. You can play games of counting things when commuting, notice and count trees when walking, or count other kids when you’re at the playground.
• Use things your child loves to encourage her to count and be interested in what you are doing. For example, ask her how many dolls she is playing with, how many insects there are when you see some, how many hugs and kisses should you give her after saying goodnight, etc.
• Help your kid arrange some of her toys by color or by size.

If you want to check-out more ideas on how to boost your little girl’s early math skills, you can check out the Kinedu catalogue and search under “Conceptual reasoning skills”.

Your preschooler’s cognitive development

In the last couple of years, your child has been working very hard at learning postural control, moving more independently, trying out his language skills by speaking the celebrated first words and being more communicative with gestures. All the experiences your little one has had so far have contributed to his cognitive development, and there are very exciting milestones coming in the near future!

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, between 24 and 36 months of age your kid will start learning about the different characteristics of the objects that surround him, and will be able to identify and sort objects by their size, shape or color. At around 36 months old, you’ll start to notice how your son is very interested in how things work and will now enjoy playing with mechanical toys, completing simple four-pieced puzzles and will engage in increasingly complex imaginative play where he might ask you or other friends to partake in the fantastical adventure. Approaching the 48 months mark, your little one will be giving personal concerts by singing entire songs from memory, will be able to play simple board games with you, he will have mastered his attention skills to remember and retell parts of a loved story, and will have a clearer sense of time and of numerical concepts.

So, having refreshed all the amazing feats your child is working towards in his cognitive development, you can check the Kinedu app for some ideas on how to further boost your little one’s development.

Cognitive flexibility starts in early childhood!

According to a team of researchers from the University of Sheffield, cognitive flexibility is the ability we have to take into account new information that may arise in any give situation, and that may result in modifying a behavior that was usually done based on an initial and implicit rule. This important cognitive capacity is usually developed during the preschool years and marks a crucial moment in early cognitive development. The capacity to adapt and respond to new challenges and solve problems is essential to every aspect of human life.

To illustrate what this means, in 2006, University of Toronto’s professor of psychology Philip David Zelazo did an experiment in which he gave a group of 3 and 4-year-olds two sorting tasks. The first one was to sort colored shapes by one rule (either by their color or their shape) while the second task was to sort these same figures by another rule (color or shape, depending on which rule each kid had been given for the first task). He found out that both the 3-year-olds and the 4-year-olds were able to sort the shapes by a single rule, but after switching the rules to sort the shapes by another characteristic, only the 4-years-old were able to reliably take the second rule into consideration and sort the shapes according to the new information.

What developmental psychologists have found about the development of cognitive flexibility is that it develops between 3 and 4 years of age, and its emergence involves a wide set of cognitive skills developed around that age. According to a 2015 paper published in Journal of Child Development by developmental psychologist Emma Blakey and her team from the University of Sheffield the attention control, memory, impulse control and abstract and conceptual thinking are some of the capacities that allow preschool children to develop cognitive flexibility.

How to boost your 3-year-old’s memory

Although you have already seen a tremendous progress in your daughter’s capacity to recall events from the past, your little one’s brain is still very young. Toddlers can store information and memories, but because their brain, specially the hippocampus and cortex, is still developing, they have a much harder time than adults retrieving memories. This means that, although your 3-year-old might not be able to recall many aspects of daily life, memories are never truly lost. Psychologist Dima Amso from Brown University assets that every memory is essentially a unit of experience and even if specific memories are forgotten, the whole of our memory, even from a very early age, is the basis of every person’s identity.

As time passes and your little girl continues growing, her ability to process information, discriminate sensory information, understand concepts of time and use language to recall past experiences will grow as well, and all this will contribute to her memory skills.

Like with many other skills, there are many activities you can do to help and encourage your daughter’s memory development. Here are some ideas:
• Recall the day. Having the family share the events of their days during a mealtime or before bed is a good habit that can foster both linguistic and cognitive development by encouraging conversational skills.
• Two heads remember better than one. After an activity, a visit to a relative’s house, a playdate or an outing, sit down with your little one and recall the things that you did and saw. Prompt your kid with fun questions.
• Play memory games, like remembering cards with pictures.

Just remember never to scold or show frustration about your little one’s developing memory, its normal at this age for kids to forget things.