Activities to Stimulate Cognitive development in Infants and Toddlers

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To what extent do you think your newborn is conscious about the world around her? Well, more than you can imagine. With their ability to gather information, babies not only discover the world and the people around them but also become more and more aware about themselves. Like their physical developments, babies achieve their cognitive developmental milestones in different stages of early childhood.

Sensorimotor stage is the earliest stage of cognitive development that facilitates understanding and situational learning in infants’ and toddlers’ through knowledge of sensory experiences and object manipulation. This developmental stage remains for a very brief period of time, i.e., from birth to two years of age. Children’s object manipulation and sensation seeking behaviours at this stage are majorly characterised by movements, sucking, touching, grasping, looking and listening.

Stages of Sensorimotor Here are six different sub-stages to give a better understanding of the cognitive skill development of a child:

  • Reflexes (birth to 1 month) – During this phase the newborn starts gaining environmental insight by looking and sucking.
  • Primary Circular Reactions (1 to 4 months) – This phase involves the coordination of sensory experiences, received from environment accidentally, through purposeful repetition. For example, if an infant accidentally puts thumb inside mouth, she will continue sucking , if she finds it pleasurable.
  • Secondary Circular Reactions (4 to 8 months) – In this phase the infant continues with any behaviour purposefully to receive sensation and pleasure out of it. This phase is basically triggered by the earlier primary stage. For example, when an infant finds pleasure in sucking thumb, she will try to put a toy or an object of varied sensation purposefully into mouth to seek pleasurable sensation out of that object.
  • Coordination Reaction (8 to 12 months) – At this phase infants are on the verge of becoming toddlers, and they are more keen in exploring the world around them. During this phase the baby starts developing the concept of simple objects from her environmental exposure. For example, the infant now understands the toys she plays with. She can differentiate between the toy that makes sound and the one which does not. Here the infant also tries to observe more and tries imitating sounds and behaviours from her surroundings.
  • Tertiary Circular Reactions (12 to 18 months) – The infant has turned into a toddler now, and her interest in exploration with trial-and-error experimentation with different objects around has grown. A toddler, at this stage is about to develop various new skill sets through her object manipulation and actions. Hence, she needs more attention from parents and other care-givers.
  • Early Representational Thought (18 months to 2 years) – This is the final sub-phase of sensorimotor stage. During this phase the child tends to be little more independent and develops understanding of the world through mental operation rather than only actions. This is a crucial phase, as during this time children start developing concept of Object Permanence. In other words the child becomes aware of the constant existence of any particular object even if it ceases to be there in front of  her eye-sight. With the understanding of this concept, the cognitive faculties of the child are all set to pick, choose, learn new things and actively implement that learning in daily life circumstances.

Simple Home Activities to develop Sensorimotor Cognitive skill in Infants & Toddlers

There are many fun activities that can be played with the child during late infantile and early toddler phase of development (9 months to 1.5 years of age), when she has just began ideating the object permanence concept. Below mentioned is one of such most commonly played household games with the child, which even UNICEF has also added in it’s Early Childhood Development Activity Guide Kit (July, 2009)

Activity 1 –  Explore and Find

Materials Needed : Simple toys ( preferably ones which make sounds), piece of clothes to cover and hide, a place safe for your child

Complexity level – Simple 

Process-

  • Take any toy that makes sound. 
  • Place in front of your baby and make it sound. Let your baby reach out to grab or hold it and try to make it sound.
  • Clap and encourage the baby while she is initiating this play with you. 
  • Then cover the toy with a piece of cloth. Observe how she looks for the toy. Pretend to find the toy with her. Then at once remove the cloth and pretend to be happy to find the toy again. 
  • Repeat this couple of times and then watch if your baby tries to do the same. 
  • Encourage her if she is able to find the object from next time onwards. 
  • Once your baby has learnt the game rules, try doing this activity with different objects and hide them in different safe places for baby’s reach.

Areas of learning stimulated by this activity: Sensory-motor co-ordination, understanding object constancy, and kinetic development

Benefits of practicing this activity: This  activity enhances the child’s gross and fine motor skills , movement skills, visual and auditory skills, attention skill. It also develops curiosity and interest in children.

Activity 2 – Coordination through manipulation

Materials needed-

  1. Plastic bowls of different sizes and various attractive colours
  2. Sensory stimulation ingredients available at home (crystal sugar granules, salt, ice cubes/chilled water, room temperature water, hot water, colourful sponge balls, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger pieces, lentils, etc.)

Complexity level – Simple 

Process-

  • Place the sponge balls and the other ingredients inside the colourful bowls in front of your child. Let her reach out for those objects, observe how she tries to grasp and hold them. 
  • Pretend play with your child the same way and talk to her for making the activity more engaging. Observe your child looking at you, hearing your voice. Signal her to touch any one particular object to feel the texture. Don’t worry if she tries to put them inside mouth, the ingredients are all safe, and will help her develop as well as integrate taste senses. 
  • While playing this way, take the colourful bowl of any aromatic ingredient like cinnamon or cardamom or ginger; first make some sound with the bowl to draw her attention to it then smell from it. Hold the bowl in front of your baby to make her learn your action of smelling. Continue the same with different other objects to help her integrate the visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and gustatory senses through manual motor manipulation.

Areas of learning stimulated by this activity Sensory-motor integration, cognitive development, kinaesthetic skill enhancement, physical adaptability.

Benefits of practicing this activity:  Object knowledge development, understanding related to differentiation of stimulus, sensorimotor skill enhancement, insight development on bodily reactions based on stimulus property.

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