Four Activities That Encourage Cognitive Development Through Play

Four Activities That Encourage Cognitive Development Through Play

I’m no teacher and am definitely not an expert on anything having to do with education. However, since I’ve been home with my girls – my 2 year old is home full-time and my 4 year old goes to preschool 3 days per week – it’s been important for me to see them engage in activities that are not only fun but also help with their cognitive development. It’s no secret that I allow my kids to have screen time, but I try to balance it out with some brain exercise so their minds don’t become total mush and they can one day become contributing members of society. Here are four of my favorite activities that encourage cognitive development in preschoolers (and even older kids). Don’t worry, I validated my list with research. ūüėČ

Jigsaw Puzzles

We currently only have one of these but my kids are obsessed with it and I love that they love it so much. It’s fun to watch their wheels turn, so to speak, while they try to figure out which piece goes where. Watching them match colors and shapes to form one big picture is exciting, especially when they finish it without any help. The Child Development Institute says jigsaw puzzles help with fine and gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination, problem solving, memory, shape recognition, and more.¬†One of the many reasons puzzles are beneficial is because they cause¬†children to analyze the task and create a strategy to complete it. The Child Development Institute also says,¬†As a child works on a puzzle, he or she will often develop a strategy to work the puzzle faster and more efficiently. He or she may do all the edge pieces first, for instance, or sort all the pieces into piles according to colors or shapes. This helps a child learn to achieve small goals as a means toward a larger goal.

Memory Games

You know these games – cards that are all in rows and flipped upside down that you have to match up from memory. My 2 year old hasn’t quite grasped the concept of this game but my 4 year old is getting pretty good. She used to get frustrated and give up but the more she does it the better she gets which is a confidence booster for her and reassurance to me that it’s a good use of her time. According to Let’s Play Please, memory games provide the following benefits:

  • Improved concentration
  • Enhanced cognitive skills
  • Boosted brain functionality
  • Visual memory training
  • Increased short-term memory
  • Increased attention span and focus


The messiest on the list, no doubt, but one of the cutest. I love getting my girls’ oversized “paint shirts” on them and seeing what they come up with. Sometimes it’s a picture of Mommy that looks like a blob of mixed paint and sometimes it’s a bunch of random brush strokes and dots. Painting allows my girls to experiment with color while also working on their fine motor skills (holding and controlling the brushes, for example). While we paint, we talk about what colors we’ll make if we mix any two together. My favorite part is having a masterpiece or two to display on my refrigerator at the end. Beth, preschool educator extraordinaire from Days with Grey, has a great post about painting here.

Design & Build Toys

I saved my favorite for last. I love these because they’re super fun for me, too! I’ve decided that if I were good at math, my calling in life would have been architecture. Design and build toys are amazing because the possibilities are endless and I love watching what my girls create. My girls have traditional stacking blocks and interlocking blocks but we recently discovered magnetic Stick N’ Stack tiles, Shape Mags, and I have to be 100% honest and say we. love. them. Because they’re magnetic, they can build almost anything they want, which allows their imaginations to run wild. Being the princesses they are, my girls like to build castles a lot but they always look different and their minds really go to work. I’ve mentioned before that I’m an observer, I find a lot enjoyment in watching my girls play than getting down and playing with them. Design and build toys like Shape Mags are great because I can sit back and watch them create.

These toys also encourage cooperative play (my girls can build together) while also providing an avenue for independent play. I’ve personally witnessed their concentration levels increase while building, and my two year old likes to call out the shapes and colors of the pieces while she works. I’m confident that Shape Mags are not only fun, they’re helping prepare my girls to be successful in school.

I mentioned earlier that I’m no expert so don’t just take my word for it; Miriam Beloglovsky, author of Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children¬†[affiliate link], offers the following nuggets of goodness (huge thanks to Beth for the recommendation):

  • When children spend time¬†connecting and disconnecting objects, they are developing problem-solving skills and coming up¬†with creative solutions to¬†attach items together.¬†
  • When children work to connect loose parts, they learn¬†about¬†the association between cause and effect.
  • Children‚Äôs curiosity grows when provocations that involve discovery, exploration, asking questions, testing theories, making plans, and thinking deeply are included with the environment.¬†

Also, I was chatting with early childhood development guru, Eryka Spera, about Shape Mags and she said, [Shape Mags] are great for fine motor while placing the magnets together during building. They also encourage cognitive development since the child must think through what pieces will fit where and how to build their creation.

Mommy University says, Building toys help kids enhance their visual-spatial skills which is crucial for reading readiness.

So there you have it. Fun and super beneficial.

What other activities do you love to do with your kids to help them develop? Tell me in the comments below!

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  1. May 17, 2017 / 3:23 pm

    These are one of my sons favorite too. I love that they are so interactive, and keep him entertained for a long time.

    • Shannnon
      May 17, 2017 / 10:23 pm

      Yes! I agree! My girls love them! My husband and I do, too! ūüôā

  2. May 17, 2017 / 2:12 pm

    Memory games were always my favorite growing up. I’ll have to try some with my daughter!

    • Shannnon
      May 17, 2017 / 10:24 pm

      I used to love them, too!

  3. ktgoff3
    May 17, 2017 / 1:31 pm

    This is so cool and looks so fun! Great ideas!

    • Shannnon
      May 17, 2017 / 10:26 pm


  4. We're the Joneses
    May 17, 2017 / 12:40 pm

    My son loves to play with the mag tiles! And I agree about the puzzles, he’s loved doing puzzles since he was little and it’s so good for his problem solving skills!

    • Shannnon
      May 17, 2017 / 10:27 pm

      They’re so fun! My 4 year old finished a puzzle all by herself today and she was SO proud of herself; I was proud of her, too!

  5. May 16, 2017 / 11:12 pm

    I love how these are fun as well as educational. I want a set for my son when he is older!

    • Shannnon
      May 16, 2017 / 11:55 pm

      I love them, too! They’re my kids new favorite thing to play with!

    • Shannnon
      May 16, 2017 / 7:48 pm

      Me too! I especially love it when they can do it independently, too! Thanks!

    • Shannnon
      May 16, 2017 / 4:06 pm


  6. May 16, 2017 / 10:42 am

    Love this post! These are my kids favorite activities too!

    • Shannnon
      May 16, 2017 / 4:06 pm

      Thank you! So fun and so beneficial!

  7. May 16, 2017 / 9:50 am

    I love all of these activities. There is a book called Mix It Up you should look into as it is all about colors and painting and it is 100% for kids- my son is obsessed with it. Would make a great edition to your painting!!

    • Shannnon
      May 16, 2017 / 4:07 pm

      Oh what a great idea!! I’ll look into that! Thanks!

  8. xokerry
    May 16, 2017 / 9:47 am

    We played with shape mags at our children’s museum and my daughter loved them! I’ve never seen them for sale but I think I may need to get her some now!

    • Shannnon
      May 16, 2017 / 4:07 pm

      Yessssss! You totally need some!

  9. May 16, 2017 / 1:40 am

    This is a great list of activities! My 3 yr old loves the magnet shapes, puzzles and the memory game. I love how he thinks we are just playing when it is actually something that will further benefit him.

    • Shannnon
      May 16, 2017 / 7:40 am

      Yes! That’s one of the best parts for sure!

  10. May 15, 2017 / 11:32 pm

    I need to get some of those shape mags for my girls. They would love them!

    • Shannnon
      May 16, 2017 / 7:39 am

      You totally should! Mine ask to play with them every day!

  11. May 15, 2017 / 8:35 pm

    What a great list! My 17 month old is just coming up on the age where he’ll be able to do some of these things, so I’m pinning this for later!

    • Shannnon
      May 15, 2017 / 8:43 pm

      Oh awesome! He can probably already use the Shape Mags!

  12. May 15, 2017 / 3:09 pm

    My daughter loves her Shape Mags. The opportunities for being creative with them are seemingly endless. I even like playing with them!

    • Shannnon
      May 15, 2017 / 7:05 pm

      Me too, girl! I may or may not have built one of the structures in these pics! ūüėāūüôą

  13. May 15, 2017 / 1:36 pm

    So fun and these are all really great ideas. We have played with magnets like that at our library and they are so cool!

    • Shannnon
      May 15, 2017 / 7:04 pm

      They’re really so much fun! I definitely build stuff when the kids aren’t around. ūüėČ

  14. May 15, 2017 / 11:35 am

    Shape Mags! Those are on my dream list for little man. I’m currently watching him build and tear down with his mega blocks. He loves to problem solve and figure out how the blocks go. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching him discover this over the past couple of months.

    • Shannnon
      May 15, 2017 / 11:52 am

      They are SO worth it! My girls have asked to play with them every day since we got them!

  15. May 15, 2017 / 11:00 am

    These look so cool! I love that it comes with a car platform too! so fun!

    • Shannnon
      May 15, 2017 / 11:51 am

      My 2 year old is obsessed with the car platforms! She loves the little people that came with, too!

  16. Eryka
    May 15, 2017 / 8:30 am

    Well done! You can scaffold a child’s learning with many toys, it’s knowing what to show them or ask of them with that particular toy. Love those magnetic blocks!

    • Shannnon
      May 15, 2017 / 9:16 am

      You’re so right! I love these 4 because they can play independently and still learn. Independent play is my fave. LOL

  17. May 15, 2017 / 7:39 am

    These look really awesome! My daughter loooves memory and is really really good.

    • Shannnon
      May 15, 2017 / 8:08 am

      She must be a really smart cookie!

  18. May 15, 2017 / 6:45 am

    Those Shape Mags look so fun! I’ll definitely be incorporating these ideas for the summer!

    • Shannnon
      May 15, 2017 / 8:07 am

      Girl we love them! My girls play with them every day!

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