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Back to basics
Cognitive development


Every child depends on the environment and interactions with people to expand intellectual skills. Cognitive development is a continuous process of observing, discovering, sorting, classifying, evaluating, understanding, and using information to solve problems. These cognitive tasks enable children to anticipate possibilities, make predictions, and evaluate the consequences of activities and interactions. Help children develop cognitive skills by keeping in mind these typical behaviors.


Hear and respond to different sounds—including voices.
See and follow slowly moving objects like mobiles, hand-held toys, and your face.
Respond to different smells and turn away from unpleasant odors.
Learn about objects by mouthing them.
Imitate actions and behaviors like smiles, finger movements, and another baby’s cries.
Use preverbal gestures like reaching, pointing, and pouting to influence others’ behaviors.


Seek and discover hidden objects.
Know the location of significant people—and note their absence.
Use play and imagination to explore social and emotional interactions.
Understand that some objects go together and can be used in sequence. For example, they can put a doll in bed, cover it with a blanket, and say “Shush” with a finger to the lips.
Begin to use experiences and observations to try new ways to solve a problem or achieve a goal.
Begin to assert independence and develop unique preferences based on experiences.
Enjoy dancing, singing, and looking at picture books with adults.
Rely on routines and rituals for constructing order in the environment and with other people.
Can name everyday objects with a vocabulary of up to 300 words for people, animals, foods, events, and feelings.


Follow the sequence and story line of age-appropriate books and stories.
Base their judgments on how something seems at the moment.
Have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality.
Draw circles, squares, some letter forms, and symbolic representations of things they know.
Understand basic shapes and can describe and point out the shapes in the environment.
Count objects out loud—sometimes accurately.
Sort objects by characteristics such as color, size, shape, and function, and begin to identify objects with multiple similar attributes.
Are adept with picture puzzles of 10 to 40 pieces.
Enjoy words, nonsense language, riddles, and rhymes.
Have a vocabulary of up to 2,000 words, and can create simple and compound sentences with 6 to 10 words.


Begin to decode and use complex environmental symbols like clocks, calendars, and written words.
Can follow multi-part directions and sequences.
Can use toys and action figures to act out their own feelings—both aggressive and nurturing.
Begin to recognize that the views and interests of others may not be the same as their own.
Rely on rich conversations for language and vocabulary exploration.
Incorporate cause and effect and logical consequences in making behavioral choices.
Enjoy trial-and-error experiments and projects. Repeated failures may result in frustration and negative behavior; successes are gleefully shared.
Begin to employ a cognitive-moral code that reflects an internal sense of justice rather than external rules and expectations set by adults.