10 cognitive activities to boost your toddlers brainpower

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Written By Olivia Miller

Author at Montessori Expert.

Have you ever noticed your child engrossed in building a block tower, their brow furrowed in concentration? Or perhaps their eyes sparkle with curiosity as they intently sort a pile of colorful beads.

These seemingly simple moments are bursting with cognitive development! Every action, every choice your child makes during play strengthens the foundation for critical thinking, problem-solving, and memory.

Preschoolers are naturally curious and eager to learn! These 10 easy cognitive activities use everyday materials and help develop important thinking skills like problem-solving, memory, and sorting.

Activity 1: Shape Sorting Surprise

shape sorting activity
shape sorting activity

Age Group: 3-5 years old

Materials: Muffin tin, construction paper (cut into different shapes), pom poms (or cereal)

How to Perform: Transform a muffin tin into a sorting challenge! Draw and cut out different shapes (circle, square, triangle) from construction paper. Place each shape in a muffin tin compartment. Provide your child with pom poms or cereal pieces and encourage them to sort the objects by matching them to the correct shape in the muffin tin. This activity strengthens shape recognition, fine motor skills, and problem-solving skills.

Area of Development: Shape recognition, Fine motor skills, Problem-solving skills

Activity 2: Memory Match Up

memory match activity
memory match activity

Age Group: 3-5 years old

Materials: Construction paper, markers, stickers (optional)

How to Perform: Challenge your child’s memory with a homemade matching game! Draw or stick pairs of matching pictures on construction paper (fruits, animals, shapes). Turn the cards face down and take turns flipping over two cards at a time.

Try to remember where the matching pictures are and see if you can find all the pairs! This activity strengthens memory skills, concentration, and visual recognition.

Area of Development: Memory skills, Concentration, Visual recognition

Activity 3: Button Sorting Extravaganza

button sorting activity
button sorting activity

Age Group: 3-5 years old

Materials: Buttons (in various sizes and colors), bowls or containers

How to Perform: Sorting buttons is a colorful learning activity! Collect buttons in different sizes and colors. Provide bowls or containers for your child to sort the buttons by color or size. This activity strengthens sorting skills, fine motor skills, and color recognition.

Area of Development: Sorting skills, Fine motor skills, Color recognition

Activity 4: Counting Carnival

counting cheerios activity

Age Group: 3-5 years old

Materials: Cheerios (or similar cereal), pipe cleaners, muffin tin

How to Perform: Make counting fun with a colorful carnival! String Cheerios (or similar cereal) onto pipe cleaners. Bend the pipe cleaners to create different shapes (circles, squares) and place them in a muffin tin.

Count the cereal loops on each pipe cleaner together and sing counting songs. This activity strengthens counting skills, fine motor skills, and color recognition (if using colorful cereal).

Area of Development: Counting skills, Fine motor skills, Color recognition

Activity 5: Pattern Power!

Age Group: 3-5 years old

Materials: Buttons, beads (in different colors or shapes), pipe cleaners

How to Perform: Introduce basic patterning with a hands-on activity! Provide your child with buttons, beads, or other objects in different colors or shapes. Show them how to create simple patterns on a pipe cleaner (ABAB, red-blue-red-blue).

Let them copy your pattern or create their own! This activity strengthens patterning skills, fine motor skills, and color/shape recognition.

Area of Development: Patterning skills, Fine motor skills, Color/shape recognition

Activity 6: Silly Sounds Sorting

Age Group: 3-5 years old

Materials: Empty boxes or containers, pictures from magazines (cuttings of objects that make noise), noisemakers (optional)

How to Perform: Turn recycled boxes into a noisy sorting game! Find pictures in magazines of objects that make noise (cat, drum, car). Glue the pictures onto separate empty boxes or containers. Collect noisemakers or household items that make noise (pot lid and spoon, rattle).

Encourage your child to sort the noisemakers by matching them to the pictures of the objects that make similar sounds. This activity strengthens auditory processing, sorting skills, and fine motor skills (picking up noisemakers).

Area of Development: Auditory processing, Sorting skills, Fine motor skills

Activity 7: Sink or Float?

sink or float activity
sink or float activity

Age Group: 3-5 years old

Materials: Large bin or tub, water, various objects (plastic toys, metal spoon, cork)

How to Perform: Spark scientific curiosity with a sink or float experiment! Fill a bin or tub with water. Collect a variety of objects made from different materials (plastic toys, metal spoon, cork). One at a time, place the objects in the water and see if they sink or float. Talk about why some things float and others sink (weight, material). This activity strengthens scientific exploration, observation skills, and vocabulary development (sink, float).

Area of Development: Scientific exploration, Observation skills, Vocabulary development

Activity 8: Color Mixing Magic

color mixing magic activity
color mixing magic activity

Age Group: 3-5 years old

Materials: Shallow dishes or bowls, washable paints (primary colors), water, cotton swabs

How to Perform: Explore color mixing with a touch of magic! Put small amounts of primary colored paints (red, yellow, blue) in separate shallow dishes. Add a little water to each dish to make the paint easier to mix. Give your child cotton swabs and watch as they mix the primary colors to create new colors (green, orange, purple). This activity strengthens scientific exploration, creativity, and color recognition.

Area of Development: Scientific exploration, Creativity, Color recognition

Activity 9: Teddy Bear Picnic Counting

Age Group: 3-5 years old

Materials: Stuffed animals, snacks (cut into bite-sized pieces)

How to Perform: Make counting fun with a pretend picnic! Gather some stuffed animals for a teddy bear picnic. Set out healthy snacks cut into bite-sized pieces (pretzels, goldfish crackers). Count the stuffed animals together and then count out the same number of snacks for each teddy bear. This activity strengthens counting skills, fine motor skills (picking up snacks), and social interaction (setting up the picnic).

Area of Development: Counting skills, Fine motor skills, Social interaction

Activity 10: Story Time Sequencing

story time sequencing activity
story time sequencing activity

Age Group: 3-5 years old

Materials: Children’s book with pictures

How to Perform: Nurture reading comprehension with story sequencing! Read a simple children’s book together with pictures. After reading the story, talk about the events in order. You can even cut out pictures from the book and have your child sequence them in the correct order to retell the story. This activity strengthens listening comprehension, memory skills, and story sequencing.

Area of Development: Listening comprehension, Memory skills, Story sequencing

cognitive activity image use for pinterest

Conclusion

By incorporating these cognitive activities into your child’s day, you’re not just keeping them entertained – you’re nurturing a lifelong love of learning and setting them on the path to cognitive success. Remember, play is their work! So, let’s get them playing, thinking, and growing!

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