thinking skills

Parent Wishes #15: Supporting Cognitive or Thinking Skills for Young Children

When asking parents if they had one wish for kids at school or daycare, one mom wished for more ways of supporting cognitive or thinking skills. Parents want what’s best for their children, phsically and mentally. An earlier post talked about some ideas to promote physical development. This post looks at how to encourage mental skills.supporting cognitive development

Learning and thinking involve input and output. Young children take in much of their information thru their senses. Babies put everything in their mouth so they can learn about it. They are collecting sensory data. Once brains have information, kids need to process it. This is called cognition or thinking.

We can support development of thinking skills by giving kids lots of sensory experiences. We say that ears hear, eyes see, noses smell, tongues taste, and skin touches. More accurately, ears collect the information and the brain process it. Noses might detect a smell in the kitchen, but it’s the brain that says, “Oh, I smell cookies.” As part of the thinking process, the brain also remembers cookies taste wonderful.

science fun cookies

Collecting, processing, and remembering are all part of the thinking package. Language is part of the package too. Brains need not just hundreds and hundreds of words, but millions and millions. A low input of words is about 3 million a year and a high input of words is over 10 million! This means as parents and caregivers we need to talk, sing, and share books and stories. And other family members and friends too.

We can help develop memory by talking with kids about something that has happened. What do they remember seeing and hearing?  When we create  memories, the brain forms new connections and builds on old ones. When kids are able, they might like to draw pictures of special things that happened. Photos can trigger memories.

Being able to pay attention and ignore distractions is part of processing information. As kids play, they are stretching their attention skills. Imagination is another aspect of thinking. Reading books, making up stories, and play are ways to strengthen imagination.thinking cognitive skills play

Play is the brain’s favorite way to learn. It’s both input and output. Supporting cognitive or thinking skills means ensuring kids have time and space to play. Can these ideas inspire some play today for your child?


Dragon Categorizing Activities with “Dragons Love Tacos”

The books Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and Not Your Typical Dragon by Dan Bar-el helped us with some dragon categorizing activities and food fun. These stories both really appealed to the kids and sparked some play ideas. (pun intended)

dragon children's books

In Dragons Love Tacos, the dragons gobble up tacos but they hate salsa. All kinds of salsa. Hot, spicy foods gives them a tummy ache and they snort sparks from their nose. Unfortunately, at a taco party, the mild salsa has some bits of jalapeno and the dragons accidentally burn down the house. The good news is they help build it back up again.

children's dragon books

The dragon in Not Your Typical Dragon has a different problem. He is trying to create fire and so eats as much as he can that’s hot and spicy, like chili, curry, and salsa. His breath comes out not as flames but red party streamers.

These two stories talked about food that’s hot and spicy. I asked Little Sister what foods might be good for dragons to eat so they can breathe fire. She thought of a few things, like salsa of course, and some spicy dishes she doesn’t like. We went to the grocery story that afternoon, so she added in some foods that were red and orange, such as strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, cherries, apples and peppers. She asked me what the red things were that grew in the garden that were kind of hot. I guessed a few things but couldn’t figure out what she meant. She looked around the store to see if she could find them and show them to me. She found some small red potatoes and hollered, “Radishes!” They were close enough to be a visual reminder to give her the brain-link to the word.

Radishes fit the category of hot foods for dragons. Of all the foods she could think of, Little Sister was sorting out the ones to make fiery breath. This involves a lot of thinking and analyzing. The skill of making groups is an important one for kids. It’s one of children’s early brain tools, shrinking huge amounts of information into smaller chunks. When we got home, just for a brain challenge, I set out some items for a sorting activity. One group was red and orange foods, the color of fire. The second group was hot and spicy.categorizing activities

The peppers, apple, orange, carrot and salsa were in the colors group, and the wasabi and green chilis in the hot group. Hmmm…what about radishes and salsa? Would they go in the colors or the hot? They are both.

categorizing activities

When making groups, younger kids will put the items into one or the other, but preschoolers a little older might realize the items can belong to more than one group at the same time. The solution? The groups can share. Do you remember doing Venn diagrams at school? Young kids can do it too. They understand sharing.


Little Sister first put the radish in the red group, but after a few bites she could get putting the radish into both at the same time.

categorizing activities

Grouping and categorizing skills are really more of a system for organizing information. Like other skills, they get better with practice. Kids need lots of experiences with categorizing activities. The stories and the grocery store were a golden opportunity for this brain play, or should that be a red hot opportunity?

Children’s Dragon Books: Same and Different with “Not Your Typical Dragon”

Welcome to Dinovember and some dragon fun activities—after all dragons are like dinosaurs and we’ll start with some children’s dragon books and stories. Since we’ve done some dinosaur activities before we thought we’d try something a little bit different. Dragons.

children's dragon books

Dragons can be pretty scary, although Mike the Knight’s dragon Sparkie, is quite friendly. Toothless isn’t terribly scary either. We don’t often talk about dragons, but Little Sister knew they breathed fire and roared. A great way to learn about something new is with books so we found some at our local library.

Not Your Typical Dragon by Dan Bar-el and Tim Bowers is a very funny story of a dragon with a special birthday. This is the day the dragon will breathe fire just like all the other dragons. Or will he? Somehow, what comes out is quite unexpected, like whipped cream, teddy bears, and bandaids. This is a surprise to the dragon’s family and, feeling like a disappointment, the dragon runs away. With a friend, he tries a variety of solutions, like research, and eating hot foods and spices. The road to acceptance is bumpy, but it does happen. The family is quite proud of their unique dragon.

children's dragon books

Little Sister has asked for this story over and over. Now, whenever we need something and don’t have it, we wish we had a dragon to breathe it for us. What a fun story with a great message. It’s okay to be different.

Same and different isn’t an easy concept for kids but it is an important thinking skill. The amount of information that our brains take in every day is overwhelming. The brain uses strategies to reduce this amount. One of these is same and different. For example, instead of remembering 10 details about dinosaurs plus 10 about dragons, we can remember the 10 about dinosaurs and add a couple of how dragons are different. That makes a smaller amount.

children's dragon books

I asked Little Sister how dinosaurs and dragons were different. She replied that dragons breathed fire and had wings. How they were the same was harder. She told me another detail about dinosaurs: they were big. I asked if dinosaurs had tails and listened as she told me about long tails. I followed up by asking if dragons had tails. She knew that they did. Together, we figured out that dragons and dinosaurs both have tails so that’s something the same.

Elmo and Abby talk about this. Kids need lots of experiences with same and different. The brain figures this out itself. We can support this learning by talking about same and different, showing it, and reading books. Do you have the same idea or a different one?

Off to School Toolbox: Categorizing Skills

Thinking involves organizing and dealing with information. One of children’s early brain tools to do that is categorizing skills. Like the movie “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” categorizing shrinks information into much smaller packages. It’s easier for brains to cope with these chunks than vast quantities of little bits. You may have noticed a very … Continue reading Off to School Toolbox: Categorizing Skills

Halloween Treat Learning Activities: Sorting & Categorizing

Halloween candy is more than a sweet treat; it’s also a treat to use for some learning activities with toddlers and preschoolers. Usually, the first activity with Halloween loot is to sort it into different groups. Sometimes, kids will use the word teams and they will have their own categories. Adults would likely sort the … Continue reading Halloween Treat Learning Activities: Sorting & Categorizing

How Does Color Taste Or At Home Fall Fair

This time of year, farmers’ markets have wonderful vegetables and fruits and many areas have Fall Fairs. We used some ordinary and unusual ones in an at-home fall fair and simple science experiment. Have you ever heard of a yellow carrot? Or, a purple one? How about orange and purple tomatoes? We tried some and … Continue reading How Does Color Taste Or At Home Fall Fair

Lego and Duplo: Work-out for Brains Part 2

Lego and Duplo can be considered as a sort of “gym-equipment” for building brain muscles. They help kids develop thinking skills and kindergarten readiness as they play and have fun. Part 1 talked about the strategy of problem-solving; this part will look at decision-making. It’s obvious that problem-solving is an important skill or strategy, but … Continue reading Lego and Duplo: Work-out for Brains Part 2