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1.13: Creating Environments to Enhance Cognitive Development

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    Learning Objectives


    What is Cognitive Development? The Massachusetts Early Learning Guidelines for Infants and Toddlers (2010)[1] define cognitive development as

    “… the process of learning to think and reason. Young children are learning not only knowledge, skills, and concepts, but also acquiring “learning to learn” skills” (p. 46).

    Early Learning Guidelines are for Infants and Toddlers as, the infant or toddler will:

    • Refine reflexes into purposeful actions (Infants)
    • Develop memory skills.
    • Demonstrate an awareness that predictable things happen as a result of actions..
    • Develop problem solving skills.
    • Explore materials and discover mathematical concepts.
    • Develop early scientific skills through exploration and discovery.
    • Discover creative expression through music, drama, dance and art experiences.
    • Become aware of family and others in the community the foundations for social science.
    © 2017 Brain Building in Progress
    Brain Building in Progress is a Massachusetts statewide campaign to raise public awareness and involvement in young children’s healthy development and early learning. See:

    How will you foster cognitive development?

    How will you individualize the support you provide to promote cognitive development? For example, a 6-week-old child’s cognitive development is dependent on sensory-motor input and a 15-month-old’s learning is linked to the child’s level of trust and through relationships. How would you facilitate ball play with a 6 month old? With a 15-month old? For infants and toddlers, all developmental domains—— physical, cognitive, language, social and emotional—- are connected. Watch the video below for examples.

    Video: Toddler Approaches to Learning

    7 minute video published on May 15, 2014 by All About Young Children to see examples of how children are learning to pay attention to people and things for ages 8 months to 18 months. Did you observe the toddlers using making choices and decisions; solving problems; interacting with others; pursuing their interest; building language and literacy skills; discovering mathematical concepts; and experiencing themselves as capable, competent, successful learners? How were the teachers intentional?

    • What can it do?
    • How does it move?
    • How does it feel?
    • What does it look like?
    CC0 Creative Commons

    Photo from available from Pixabay:

    Creativity, shared meaning, and relationships. Look for the answers to these questions:

    1. How can we assist infants and toddlers in their search for the meaning of things and the meaning of life?
    2. How can we respond to their constant questions, their ‘whys’ and ‘hows,’ with eyes that don’t see them as helpless or unknowing, but rather with eyes that acknowledge the quest to learn and to know?

    School Readiness for Infants and Toddlers? Really? Yes, Really!”. explains the foundations of learning or habits of mind which include:

    • Curiosity
    • Attention
    • Memory
    • Problem Solving
    • Persistence
    • Information Gathering
    • What is the most intelligent thing I can do right now?
    • How can I learn from ______________?
    • How can I draw on my past successes with problems like ______________?
    • What resources do I have available or need to generate?
    • How might I look at the situation in another way?
    • What do I know or not know?
    • What questions should I ask?
    • What strategies are in my thoughts?
    • What feelings or emotions might be blocking or enhancing my progress?
    • What can I learn from others that would help me become a better problem solver?

    Which habits of mind are easy for you? Which do you struggle with? How will you encourage children to develop effective habits of mind?

    Teaching Tips

    weekly activity plan and floor plan parts of the classroom design project.


    Beyond Twinkle, Twinkle: Using Music with Infants and Toddlers, think about the ways you might use music to support cognitive development.

    Infants and Toddlers Exploring Mathematics, focus on how intentionally using learnable moments to foster mathematical thinking. What language and questions might you use?

    ECLKC and in this chapter I included information about 2 specific articles. The first ECLKC article is Supporting Early Math Learning for Infants and Toddlers. Much of mathematical learning during infancy and toddlerhood involves vocabulary and language skills. Can you think of examples from observations of infants and toddlers where the educator or caregiver effectively used math concepts or math talk? I challenge you to make a list of math talk words and phrases.


    News You Can Use: Early Science Learning For Infants And Toddlers. After reading the article, think about promoting the skills of inquiry with infants and toddlers? How did you answer the questions at the end of the article, in particular:

    • Reflect on your experiences with science learning. Were they positive or negative? Can you say why?
    • How might your personal feelings about science affect how you support early science learning for infants and toddlers?
    • How might early science learning look the same or differently for young infants, older infants, and toddlers?
    • How do you or will you support early science learning for infants and toddlers?

    The Arts

    Children’s Developmental Benchmarks and Stages: A Summary Guide to Appropriate Art Activities. is a helpful chart to help you plan music, movement, theater or dramatic play, and visual arts to your weekly plan. Can you think of activities and materials that will support learning about movement and dance, music, theater (dramatic play), AND the visual arts?

    Let’s Get Messy: Exploring Sensory and Art Activities with Infants and Toddlers available on Blackboard and at the BSU library. What arts and sensory ideas might you try? The articles are available on Blackboard and at the BSU library.

    Social Studies

    Social Studies in Today’s Early Childhood Curricula which offers an overview of social studies for children from infancy through school-age so you will know how the skills you foster with infants and toddlers will be helpful to later learning. When reading, focus on answering:

    • How will you build on what children already know and capitalize on their interests?
    • How will you develop concepts and processes of social studies?How will you provide hands-on activities?
    • What will you add to your weekly planner?

    Social Studies: From a Sense of Self to a Sense of the World. First read, It Takes Two. In the article, Gillespie discusses the importance of self-regulation to learning to be an effective group member. Next read, Museum Babies: Linking Families, Culture, and Community where you can learn about using community resources and specific activities to include in your weekly plan. The last article to read is Using Children’s Books as a Social Studies Curriculum Strategy. What books might you add to your classroom library to promote learning social studies concepts? The articles are available on Blackboard and at the BSU library.



    References and Resources

    Early Science Learning for Infants and Toddlers. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Head Start.

    News You Can Use. Supporting Early Math Learning for Infants and Toddlers (October, 2012) Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Head Start.

    Young Children, 39-42. Available on Blackboard

    YC: Young Children, 70(3), 94-96.

    YC: Young Children, 70(3), 40-47.

    YC: Young Children, 67(4), 26-34.

    YC: Young Children, 70(3), 48-53.

    Beyond the Journal, NAEYC.

    Beyond the Journal: Young Children

    Young Children, 65(2), 14-19.

    Young Children, 10-13

    Concepts for Care (pp. 21-23). San Francisco, CA: WestEd.

    1. Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care. (2010, November). Massachusetts early learning guidelines for infants and toddlers. Boston, MA: Author
    2. Lally, J. R. (2000). Infants have their own curriculum: A responsive approach to curriculum planning for infants and toddlers. Head Start Bulletin, 67, 6–7. Retrieved January 4, 2008, from ecdh/eecd/Curriculum/Definition%20and %20Requirements/edudev_art_00101_072305.html

    This page titled 1.13: Creating Environments to Enhance Cognitive Development is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Susan Eliason via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.