Category: Cognitive skills

Building Your Toddler’s Cognitive Skills

Posted on:
By:

You consider yourself a good parent, right? You try to limit TV time for your toddler, buy organic whenever you can, and download only the most educational apps to keep your little one entertained while you fold laundry or get dinner started.

But if you’re like the rest of us, sometimes you wonder what else you could be doing now to help your toddler excel later. Should they be playing an instrument already? Learning Japanese? Doing baby yoga?

Not necessarily.

Everyone wants their baby to grow up to be healthy, happy and smart. You’re probably doing enough to promote the first two already. But what about the latter? What can you do now to help your child avoid struggling academically later? You can start by building a foundation of strong cognitive skills.

What are cognitive skills?
“Cognitive skills are the core skills your brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, reason and pay attention,” says Tanya Mitchell, Vice President of Research & Development for LearningRx’s (www.LearningRx.com), personal brain training company with 80 centers across the United States. “Working together, they take incoming information and move it into the bank of knowledge you use every day at school, at work, and in life. In babies and toddlers, we may not see these weak skills manifesting yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start targeting these foundational brain skills.”

Each of your cognitive skills plays an important part in processing new information. That means if even one of these skills is weak, no matter what kind of information is coming your way, grasping, retaining or using that information is impacted. In fact, most learning struggles are caused by one or more weak cognitive skills.

Here’s a brief description of each cognitive skill, as well as the struggles your child could experience once they start school, if that skill is weak:

Attention
What it does: Sustained attention enables you to stay focused and on task for a sustained period of time. (There’s also divided and selective attention.)
Common problems (once your child starts school) when this skill is weak during school years: Lots of unfinished projects, jumping from task to task

What to do with your toddler now: Buy age-appropriate wooden puzzles.

Memory/Working
What it does: While working member enables you to hang on to information while in the process of using it, long-term memory enables you to recall information stored in the past.
Common problems (once your child starts school) when these memory skills are weak: When memory is weak, they may have to read the directions again in the middle of a project, have difficulty following multi-step directions, or forget what was just said in a conversation. They may forget names, do poorly on tests and forget things they used to know.

What to do with your toddler now: Play age-appropriate memory match games.

“Although there are different types of memory, working memory plays an especially large role when your child enters preschool,” explains Mitchell. “That’s because it’s the age at which children expand their ability to follow multi-step directions.”

Logic & Reasoning
What it does: Enables you to reason, form ideas, and solve problems
Common problems (once your child starts school) when this skill is weak: Frequently asking “What do I do next?” or saying “I don’t get this,” struggling with math, feeling stuck or overwhelmed

What to do with your infant now: Show them a stuffed toy, then place it under a towel right in front of them. Then encourage them to find it, which will help their understanding of object permanence.

Auditory Processing
What it does: Enables you to analyze, blend, and segment sounds
Common problems (once your child starts school) when this skill is weak: Struggling with learning to read, reading fluency, or reading comprehension

What to do with your infant and toddler now: Read to them. Studies indicate that reading to infants and toddlers can promote thought development and help with phonemic awareness.

“Contrary to what many parents believe, letter knowledge is NOT the foundation to reading,” explains Mitchell. “Reading skills are built on phonemic awareness, such as sound blending and segmenting. In fact, studies show a 90 percent decrease in reading problems if children are first introduced to sound analysis activities. In addition to reading to your child, you can also build sound analysis skills by practicing rhyming, which forces the dissection of sounds.”

Visual Processing
What it does: Enables you to think in visual images
Common problems (once your child starts school) when this skill is weak: Difficulties understanding what you’ve just read, remembering what you’ve read, following directions, reading maps, doing word math problems

What to do with your toddler now: When they get old enough to understand, tell them stories using descriptive words. Then ask them questions, such as, “What color was the dog in that story?”

Processing Speed
What it does: Enables you to perform tasks quickly and accurately
Common problems (once your child starts school) when this skill is weak: Most tasks are more difficult. Taking a long time to complete tasks for school or work, frequently being the last one in a group to finish something

What to do with your toddler now: Add a timer to games and tasks that challenge cognitive skills, such as doing puzzles or playing the match game alone to see how fast they can find all the pairs.

Build a Smart Mom’s Toy Box for under $20
Stock your toddler’s toy box with simple, inexpensive toys that can build cognitive skills. A few ideas:

  • A deck of playing cards for memory match: Just spread out all the cards face down and have them try to find pairs. If they draw two cards that aren’t the same number or face card, they go back in the same spot face down. Builds memory and attention skills. ($1)
  • A geometric-shaped magnet set with board: Create a simple design and have your child replicate it. Builds logic & reasoning, visual processing and attention. ($5)
  • Rhyming words domino-like cards: Use these double-sided cards with words and pictures to teach rhyming. Builds sound segmenting, rhyming and auditory processing. ($3)
  • A wooden shape sorter: Encourage children as young as two to sort shapes. Builds logic & reasoning, visual processing and attention. ($9)
  • A timer: Add a timer to any task then encourage your child to beat their own time. Builds processing speed. ($1)

“When cognitive skills are strong, learning is fast, easy, efficient and fun,” says Mitchell. “Toys that work these skills are a step toward creating strong learners.”

If you’d like to learn more about building a foundation of strong cognitive skills, contact your local LearningRx center (www.LearningRx.com).

Try Brain Training for Yourself!

aAre you ready to give your brain a workout? One of the best ways to boost your brain power is to stress your brain with intense mental exercise, kind of like you might work out a muscle. When you do this, it strengthens the brain’s core cognitive skills, which happen to be the same skills your brain uses to think and learn.

This six-minute video walks you through the first couple levels of a LearningRx brain training exercise. There are many more levels of this exercise that our trainers can get you to. And this is just one exercise! LearningRx brain trainers have more than a hundred exercises and levels to choose from as they customize every workout to give you a faster, smarter, more efficient brain.

Read More

Use the Holidays to Develop a Critical Part of Your Child’s Brain

iStock_000017348857_LargeThe holidays provide a great opportunity for developing an important part of your child’s brain. And, no, we’re not talking about filling winter break with hours of extra homework. Between family gatherings, meals, shopping, gift wrapping, scheduling, and everything else, the last thing you want to do is carve aside time for extra math or reading—and the good news is that you don’t have to! In fact, the hustle and bustle of the holidays is the very thing you can use to help develop the frontal lobe of your child’s brain.

The frontal lobe is the part of the brain that thinks, plans, makes decisions, controls emotions, pays attention and gets things done. And the more opportunity your child has to exercise that area of the brain, the stronger and more efficient those skills become. You can give your child these kinds of opportunities by involving him or her in tasks like planning meals, creating and following a gift-giving budget, prioritizing holiday tasks, following a recipe, writing the family holiday newsletter, or planning a dinner party.

Read More

Should You Make a Big Decision on a Warm or Cold Day?

cold dayDid you know that temperature affects complex decision making?

Say you’re vacationing in Texas in the dead of summer and you run to the store to buy something you need. There are two choices: one is a more familiar option and the other is unfamiliar and a little more complicated. Studies say you’re more likely to buy the familiar product on that particular day than you would in the dead of winter. This is because on a hot day you may not have the cognitive resources to make a more complex decision.

Read More

ComprehendRx

ComprehendRx

We read for meaning. But for some kids (and even adults), reading comprehension is a struggle.

For some, decoding the words on the page takes so much energy that fully comprehending the meaning of the words takes a back seat. For others, the meaning is grasped but not retained. In fact, research by the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that one out of four eighth grade students, when asked to read age-appropriate material, can’t understand what they just read.

Read More