Category Archives: Cognitive

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.

Imaginary friends

You might be wondering why your child suddenly has an imaginary friend or why this fantastical company is still around now that your kid is old enough to start going on playdates. Why is she playing with an imaginary friend if there are so many real-life positive socializing opportunities daily?

First of all, having an imaginary friend is completely normal. In an article published in 2008 by the American Journal of Play, psychologists reviewed research interviews with children, from toddlers to second graders, and found that the creation of an imaginary friend is a healthy and common type of pretend play, in which children invent stories and characteristics about their imaginary pals that they are happy to share. Jacqueline Woolley of the University of Texas at Austin stated in her 1997 publication in the journal Child Development that, even though kids can get very involved in their play, research has found that having an imaginary companion doesn’t hinder nor compromises a developing child’s capacity to distinguish pretend from real. After all, being a young child is difficult and what little girl would turn down an opportunity to be accompanied by someone completely under her will, someone that is not a rival competing for her toys, attention of parents, food, and that is completely non-threatening and controllable?

Most of imaginary play-pals appear when a child is between 2 and 3 years old. Depending on the child, an imaginary friend might be ever-present around your kid or an occasional house-guest. Imaginary friends come in all shapes and sizes: from a fairy-godmother to a giant red dog. They can be animal, adult, peer or a fantastical creature –imagination is the limit!

Children have imaginary friends for all sorts of reasons. One kid might use one to encounter his developing personality, as a safe way to explore emotions or as an outlet to express complicated feelings or words, while other kid might have one that acts as an alter-ego to test parents and limits, and place blame for misconducts. It might be that a child creates a pal that’s a perfect peer to keep him company or give extra moral support.

Marjorie Taylor is a leading psychology researcher of the Imagination Lab at the University of Oregon, and, since the 80s, she has been exploring the relationship between imaginary friends and children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development. According to her book Imaginary companions and the children who create them, up to two thirds of children will have an imaginary friend between the ages of 3 and 8. Her research team has found only small statistically significant differences between kids with and without imaginary friends, but these differences are actually positive. Children with imaginary companions appear to be good at understanding the perspective of others, have a slightly larger vocabulary and seem to be less shy.

If you understand the importance of your child’s imaginary companion, but could use a few tips on how to react around it, here are some of the recommendations developmental psychologist Tracy Gleason, from Wellesley College, gives to parents:
• Don’t make fun of having an imaginary friend and avoid attracting negative attention to it.
• If your kid likes to report to you on her imaginary friend, tell you about their adventures together, about its likes and dislikes, or where it comes from, listen and be interested. An imaginary friend is often a way for children to participate in conversations where they are the experts on something.
• Be hospitable. Just like you would do in other cases of imaginary play, you can agree to say good morning to your daughter imaginary friend at breakfast if your daughter asks you, but inside the limits of what would be acceptable for pretend play.
• Remember that having an imaginary friend is not a cause for concern on its own, but if you notice your child appears unhappy or withdrawn, talk with your pediatrician about it or ask for a psychologist referral.

If you want to read more about this, here’s a link to a good article about imaginary friends by New York Magazine:

The perks of helping my kid learn about money and managing an allowance

Most of us would agree that being money-wise and a good savings manager is a crucial skill for life, but this might never prove as true as when you become a parent. We all know how challenging at times can be to navigate around finances and would therefore like to raise money-wise children into successful adults. But are preschoolers ready to learn about handling a small amount of money? Are there real benefits of doing so? And, what’s the best way of learning about finances for small children?

Developmental and social psychologists have stated that the kid’s first and intuitive experience of money is shaped by how it is managed inside the family. Also, frequently, their first encounter with personal money is through a small fixed allowance that is given to her periodically, usually granted that she has been on good behavior.

Beyond functioning as a reward system for helping around the house, giving a young child the responsibility of deciding what to do with her savings has its benefits. Receiving an allowance does influence spending behavior in school-aged children. For example, in 1991 researchers from the University of Toronto studied kids that were given 4 dollars, either in cash or in a store credit, as an allowance and kids who weren’t. The children that didn’t receive an allowance at home spent more money when they received a credit card than when they received cash, while the kids that had experience with self-managing an allowance spent the same amount whether they received a credit card or cash. This effect was equally strong regardless of age, meaning that the 6-year-olds that had experience with an allowance where more sophisticated about money than the 10-year-olds that didn’t.

Four years old is a good moment to start teaching your daughter about managing her finances. Here we offer some tips and insights into how you can use your child’s allowance to foster her understanding of cause and effect, patience, hard-work, generosity, and planning ahead:

• Divide money for “saving”, “sharing” and “spending” using 3 separate piggy banks or money-jars. Show your little girl how to divide equally her allowance into the three jars and what use does the money inside each jar has. For example, the saving jar could hold money until a small toy can be afforded, the sharing jar can be used for donating for a cause that she likes or for helping a sibling or friend who is saving for something, while the spending money can be used for buying stickers.
• Help your kid set a goal like buying a toy she wants. Choose something that is not too expensive or she´ll get frustrated after a month of saving. It is normal for preschoolers to struggle with tolerating frustration, so help them build patience by setting an attainable goal with a small timeframe.
• When a goal is reached, remember the small steps it took and celebrate the patience and the importance of working and waiting.

As an added value, teaching your daughter about money has many developmental perks! It will help your child’s cognitive development and exercise her abstract reasoning, conceptual thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as the socio-emotional aspects of experiencing and tolerating delayed gratification and sharing with others, among other things.

If you like the topic and want to learn more about your child’s math skills, you can check out these links:

Exploring Money in Pre-K

My young child was born a scientist! Ideas for fostering discovery at home

If you’ve ever watched a young girl engaging with her surroundings spontaneously, you’ve noticed that young children approach daily life activities and objects with the curiosity of a postdoctoral scientist. Be it in the kitchen or in the playground, they are intuitively observing avidly, testing ideas, asking creative questions and inventing.

What can you do to foster your toddler’s natural inclination towards discovery? Here we propose some easy and fun activities that you can do to encourage her in the quest of exploring the world she is growing in:

• Classify. Sort out day-to-day objects around the house in categories. For example, fruits with edible skins vs those that have to be peeled.
• Explore magnetic forces with a fridge magnet. What is attracted by a magnet and what isn’t?
• Encountering her shadow. You can interact with a shadow in many ways to see what happens, like trying to step on it, noticing its size and shape, and its relationship to the sun or to light.
• Do a night-time puppet-show using your hands to cast shadows.
• Explore motion and gravity. What rolls like a wheel? You can use soda bottles, rocks, apples, books, leaves, etc.
• Look out the window and note the weather. Measure rainfall on a jar outside if it looks like it’s going to rain in the morning. Before breakfast, set a time for “weather-watching” and discuss cause-and-effect between the weather outside and what clothes it might be better to wear that day.
• Explore small things or details using an unbreakable magnifying glass.
• Make a bird feeder by coating a large pine cone with peanut butter mixed with corn meal, and then rolled in birdseed. You can watch the birds fly for a snack.
• Observe an animal going home. For example, watching where birds go, in bushes or in high trees? Or follow an ant when it takes supplies into the anthill. You can then discuss what are some similarities between your home and that of different animals.
• Arrange objects. First from smaller to larger, and then, a more difficult level of doing so, from largest to smaller.
• Watch the clouds. You can both roll back and observe their shapes and the different types of clouds. Are all of them similar in shapes, size or color?
• Press flowers inside books.
• Make leave prints.
• Paint stones as paperweights, emphasizing if there’s a kind of stone that is easier to paint on.

If you’d like to explore some additional resources on this topic, you can check out this link: