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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 4, Lesson 5

Critical Cognitive Skills

Critical cognitive skills that infants /toddlers must master include:

babies first steps
  • Intentionality - doing things intentionally and not discovering merely by change or random behaviors – Assist the infant/toddler by providing high interest toys, stimulating experiences that "pull" the child into a task, and allow the child time to complete the task.
  • Means-end Behavior - once infants/toddlers act intentionally they begin to notice and recall cause and effect actions and reactions - Assist this development by providing objects that can be activated, ie. gears or lights and by responding to the infant/toddlers signals for needed support or praise.
  • Trial-and-Error Exploration - ability to systematically explore their environment and learn from experiences – the beginnings of problem solving – Assist the child by providing simple motivating tasks to explore such as getting the wrapping off of the ice cream bar. Show or demonstrate only briefly if the child is frustrated in the process.
  • Object Permanence - realize objects and people still exist even when out of sight - Assist infants/toddlers by play peek-a-boo or hiding just around the corner and calling the infant/toddler to find you (if mobile).
  • Deferred Imitation - recreate a scene or verbalize an event that happened in the past and include some mental sequencing- Assist infants/toddlers through imitating games in which baby and adult take turns imitating each other and by asking questions, such as "Do you remember what we ate at lunch?", extending the time for recall to be greater and greater, i.e. start with what happened a few hours ago and extend to what happened yesterday, etc.

The following table presents some examples to be used in this lesson's activities and to enhance other content.

Selected Play and Daily Living Supports for Cognitive Development

Age Examples of Cognitive Play behaviors Typical Adult support with objects or others Adaptive Adult support with objects or others
Young Infants: Birth to 8 Months -follows slow moving objects with eyes
-hits or kicks object to make a pleasing sight or sound continue
-reaches for and grasps toys
-tries to cause things to happen
-move a train or other toy across the floor while the baby watches
-provide a variety of objects with different tastes, touches, sounds
-contingent responses to and praise baby to reinforce baby's attempts
-turn the baby's head toward a moving object
-move baby's foot to object to show baby what can happen if he/she kicks
-retrieve and provide objects in close range for baby to easily see and manipulate
Mobile Infants: 8 Months to 18 Months -searches for a toy under a cloth and persists searches for objects under other toys/cloth
-pushes foot into shoe, arm into sleeve
-handles cup and spoon
-identifies some body parts
-knows own name
-when toy winds down, continues the activity manually
-creeps or walks away to avoid something baby doesn't like
-begins to fantasize with real objects and engage in some role-play
-play hide and seek with objects and try hiding objects in different places
-leave extra time for dressing so baby can try to put on shoe or shirt
-provide dishes, cups, eating utensils that are safe for baby to use by self
-play - Where is (name of baby)? and look around for baby and have the baby come to adult
-provide more complex toys such as jack in box, Busy-body toys that have buttons and knobs to turn
-model the hide and seek game
- repeating multiple times and hide the object while the child watches
-provide some adult hand-over baby's hand help to try out object use and putting on shoes
-provide objects with multi-sensory experiences
-start with large-scale three-dimensional objects that are stimulating to baby's object choice and play style.
-use corresponding words to enhance and reinforce baby's actions upon objects
Toddlers and Twos: 18 Months to 35 Months -explores everything!
-identifies more body parts
-fits forms into form boards and can do simple puzzles
-uses terms for past & present, i.e. yesterday
-may count 1, 2, 3
-is more selective when working with ring-stack toys - only chooses from objects with hole in the middle that will fit on post.
-can do simple sorting of colors, hard-soft, big-little
-assertive with words and actions "Me do it!"
-provide a safe space to explore objects
-ask the child - "Where is your (body part)?"
-show, model, and then allow child a place and space to work with puzzles and simple games
-provide natural experiences such a putting napkins on table for child to count
-have collections of objects such as toy cars that the toddler can sort
-co-play with toddler at the water table to illustrate ways sand and water can be measured, compared, flow throw water wheels, etc.
-break down the task into smaller skills (use task analysis)
-employ a touch-demonstrate-say style for visual-spatial learners
-put knobs on puzzle pieces to make these easier to grasp
-make Velcro board for toddler to easily stick objects that go together on board
-make sure objects have multi-sensory capabilities to appeal to children and add stimulation
-limit and then add more objects to the sand & water tables to increase complexity of play as the toddler is ready

From: Brain Wonders (Bredekamp & Copple, l987; Frost, Worthington, Reifel, 2004; Gozalez-Mena, Eyer, 2004; Johnson, Christie, &Yawkey, 1999; Johnson-Martin, Jens, Attermeier, & Hacker, 1991; O'Brien, 1997).


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