Updated on May 5, 2020 by Lyric Fergusson
The best cognitive activities include memory games and things that involve concentration, attention, and understanding. We have listed some of our favorites that you and your little one can do from the comfort of your own home.
We have 7 free cognitive activities for toddlers at the end of the article that’ll give you even more ideas without spending a dime.
21 Engaging Cognitive Activities For Toddlers
Music is great for children’s development and teaching your little one to sing along to songs will incorporate that with word recognition and memory skills. Your toddler will love singing and dancing to fun nursery rhymes or Disney songs and it will be entertaining and pressure-free.
Memory and recognition games are great cognitive activities for young toddlers and a fun way to combine these things is to teach your little one different animal sounds. This toy is wonderful for this activity because it allows them to play independently while still getting all the same benefits from this game.
It’s never too early to start building a strong basis in letters with your little one. Young toddlers can benefit greatly from practicing their letters with flashcards and other memory devices. Parents can work on them with their toddlers or they can work with them on their own and either way it will help with memory and attention.
This book is one of my favorite ways to teach my little one numbers. It allows them to learn independently as they hear and see the numbers and memorize which is which. Young toddlers love books so this is a great way to combine different cognitive activities into one great afternoon.
Shapes and spatial recognition are important developmental skills for toddlers and a shape sorter is a fun and pressure free way for them to practice both. As a bonus, brightly colored toys are great for keeping their attention as they learn and practice their shape skills.
Two-piece puzzles are a great way to let your toddler practice matching, an important cognitive activity at this age. Not only do these puzzles help with practicing matching, but they also aid in honing their hand-eye coordination skills. The best part of two-piece puzzles is that they are not overwhelming for a young mind.
Learning colors is fun and important for toddler’s development and a great way to make it feel like play is to let them explore a color sorter. This Mellissa and Doug toy is great because it combines color exploration with the ability to practice their dexterity.
Cognitive activities don’t have to be complicated. In fact, sometimes the simpler they are, the better. Button toys are fun and entertaining for young toddlers and at the same time it helps them to build a strong basis in cause and effect. Bright colors and fun sounds are a bonus to help keep your little one’s attention while they play.
Sidewalk chalk is a wonderful way to incorporate arts and crafts into your little one’s day without having to worry about the mess. Your toddler can enjoy creating brightly colored works of art while they practice fine motor skills and dexterity, both of which are crucial for cognitive development at this age.
Letting your little one play with blocks and allowing them to stack them as high as they can teaches hand-eye coordination and balance. The bright colors and fun shapes make this a stimulating activity for your little one and will keep them entertained while they learn.
Learning about different textures is a fun cognitive activity for young toddlers and touch and feel toys are a great way to introduce this to your child. With these wooden puzzles, your little one can enjoy feeling the different textures while also putting all the different pieces together.
Busy boards are a fun way to let your little one hone2 their dexterity and fine motor skills while keeping them entertained. They can play with the different buttons, clips, and zippers and practice maneuvering the pieces in a way that just feels like play. This activity also helps them to prepare for getting themselves dressed as they grow up and become more independent.
Soft cognitive skills like imagination, creativity, and problem solving can be formed and improved through imaginative play. Giving your little one play food and dishes and allowing them to come up with their own creative combinations is a great way to make this a fun learning activity.
When you think of cognitive activities, you may think of the brain instead of brawn, but physical activity has just as much of an effect on your little one’s cognitive development as mental activities do. Balance bikes are a wonderful way to incorporate physical cognitive activities into your toddler’s routine and it’s a great way to encourage outdoor play.
Having your little one run around searching for items indoors or outdoors can help them with many cognitive skills including following instructions, object recognition, and attention skills. This is a fun activity for them as well as something that your toddler can do mostly on their own without too much help from you.
Obstacle courses are a fun way to encourage active play indoors and it teaches balance and problem solving among other important cognitive skills. Your little one will love climbing and exploring these large, soft blocks while they learn and play.
Shaking rattles and drumming with drumsticks improves dexterity and is a fun activity for toddlers at every stage. Music is also an important tool for cognitive development for young children and whether you let them play along with music or by themselves, it will be a great way to entertain your little one and stimulate their mind.
Fine motor skills are important cognitive skills for young toddlers to learn and there are luckily many ways to make learning and honing them fun and entertaining. Activity cubes are a great way to incorporate this into their day because it has enough variety that it will keep a busy toddler’s attention for a long period of time and it’s a mess-free option that parents will love.
Rolling toys, such as toy cars, are a fun way to teach your little one fine motor skills as well as encourage imaginative play. Your toddler will love pushing their toys around and creating different stories while they play, and it might even inspire them to be creative. Don’t be surprised if your little one starts building ramps or other devices to play with their toys on.
Flashcards are a wonderful learning tool for practicing cognitive skills and learning about different emotions is no exception. While toddlers don’t fully understand others’ emotions, it is never too soon to start allowing them to recognize the different types in themselves as well as others. You can show them the flashcards and tell them “she looks sad” or “he looks happy” and also ask them what emotion they see.
Toy cleaning supplies are a surprisingly fun activity for young toddlers. This is because they like to emulate things that they see their parents or older siblings do. It is a great cognitive activity that teaches dexterity, responsibility, and how to follow instructions and, as a bonus, it might allow you some hands-free time to get stuff done.
7 Free Cognitive Activities for Toddlers
Sometimes it’s handy, and even necessary, to be able to create activities at a moment’s notice which means using items that you already have around your house. We’ve come up with seven cognitive activities that you can do without buying any extra supplies that will help your toddler to learn in a fun way.
1. Do Sing-Alongs
You can do a sing-along without any extra supplies by just playing some nursery rhymes on your phone or computer. After a couple of times listening to the same song, your little one will recognize the words and the melody and will be able to sing along at least a little bit. This activity is great for word recognition, memory skills, and simply building a love of music.
2. Practice Counting
You can let your little one practice counting with almost any items around the house. If they are not choking sized, you can set one to ten items out around your toddler and let them practice lining them up and counting. This is great, not only for learning to count, but also could help your little one learn organization skills.
3. Ask Them Questions
An unexpected cognitive activity is to simply ask your toddler questions at regular intervals. These questions can range anywhere from “What do you want for lunch?” to “What sound does a cow make?”. This activity lets your little one practice problem solving and critical thinking and it can be done intermittently throughout the day. It is also great to give your toddler choices and let them make decisions for themselves as it teaches autonomy.
4. Play a Matching Game with Pots and Pans
A great activity for your little one is to set out some of your pots and pans along with their lids and let your toddler match the lid to the pot. This teaches spatial awareness, critical thinking, and problem solving and it could even turn into a musical activity if they start banging on the pots and pans when they get bored.
5. Play with Cups in the Bathtub
Giving your little one a cup during bath time and letting them fill it up and pour it out can help with fine motor skills as well as simply being a fun activity to entertain them during an otherwise monotonous activity.
6. Let Them Play with a Remote
Button toys are great for fine motor skills and dexterity development. Most toddlers would jump at the opportunity to play with a remote, an otherwise off-limits object, so if you can take the batteries out of the remote and let your toddler press buttons and use their imagination, this will make for an entertaining activity.
7. Stack Dishes
Letting your little one get into your Tupperware cupboard may come in handy when you are looking for free cognitive activities. Stacking dishes has all the same benefits as stacking blocks so it’s a great way to incorporate spatial awareness and building skills into your little one’s day without having to buy the blocks. If they are contained to one area, cleanup should be minimal.
Cognitive activities may sound like they have to be complicated to be effective, but it’s quite the opposite. Simple activities will teach your little one crucial cognitive skills without overwhelming them in the process and may even give you a little bit of hands-free time. As a parent, we all want to set our kids up to have their best chance at success in life and these activities are a fantastic place to start.