Your baby’s mental activities include learning, remembering, and using knowledge. Interactions and experiences stimulate her brain’s wiring to develop pathways that allow areas of her brain to communicate with each other. Your baby’s cognitive pathway overlaps with her six other pathways of whole learning. When she moves her arms, tastes a banana, smiles at you, listens to your voice, watches a butterfly, or bounces to music, she makes connections in her brain and learns through these activities. Her cognitive pathway includes curiosity, memory, and problem solving.
Cognitive skills enable your baby to understand the world and to function purposefully in it. She starts with lower mental functions that are reflexive and reactive. As she matures, she becomes deliberate through her higher mental functions. Her cognitive development in her early years has a positive correlation to her level of success later in life.
You can help your child develop use of her cognitive pathway by creating an environment that stimulates her intellect. Talk to her, play games that encourage thinking, ask her questions, and get involved with ideas together.
Curiosity is an internal desire to learn through exploring, discovering, and figuring out how the world works. From birth, your baby is interested in understanding new things. The more learning opportunities she has, the more her curiosity grows. The joy of discovery reinforces her desire to learn and to know more.
When you encourage your child’s curiosity, you build her self-esteem and her confidence in the learning process. On the other hand, when your child receives negative reinforcement for her curiosity, her desire to learn can diminish.
When you encourage your child’s curiosity, you build her self-esteem and her confidence in the learning process. On the other hand, when your child receives negative reinforcement for her curiosity, her desire to learn can diminish. If you express disapproval or impose unnecessary limits, she may withdraw and feel too uncomfortable to reach out and discover. A fearful environment can make her anxious about trying new experiences.
When you get down on your child’s level and share in the discovery of nature by involving her while cooking, doing art projects, or taking outdoor adventure walks, you model interest in the world. You can help her develop her pathway of curiosity by providing an environment that has novel and interesting opportunities for discovery. Rotate her toys, the pictures on her wall, and her books. Provide toys that are not electronic and evoke open-ended experiences with dramatic play, art, and nature. Follow her lead, and encourage interests that she initiates. Make sure that she has some unstructured playtime so that she can follow her imagination.
Memory is the ability to recall and recognize experiences and objects. Your child’s memory gives her a record of her unique history and helps her link her past experiences to potential future actions. Without memory, she could not develop a sense of meaning in life.
Memory is foundational to all learning. Your baby needs memory to develop concepts, to understand cause-effect relationships, to learn language, and to solve problems. With memory, your child can learn from her mistakes and adapt her behavior for future experiences.
You can help your child develop her pathway for remembering by being fully present with her in your experiences and by pointing out events, objects, or situations with attention and focus so that she becomes aware of what is happening and can remember it later. Repetition and meaning help your child develop her memory. For instance, when you repeatedly talk about the sounds that animals make, they stick in her mind. When she has a strong feeling that is related to an experience, she can remember it easily.
Problem solving begins when your baby is hungry or needs her diaper changed and she cries until someone takes care of her need. She learns about logic and problem solving through cause and effect and through trial and error. Without memory, she will forget the relationship between causes and effects. To solve a problem, it is necessary to identify the goal, the current condition, and the gap in between.
For instance, if your child wants to get a cookie out of the jar, she may have obstacles to overcome. If the cookie jar is on the counter and out of her reach, she may move a chair to stand on and thus reach the cookie jar. If your child only encounters routine experiences, her brain repeats habits and patterns. On the other hand, when she is presented with problems to solve, her brain has the opportunity to learn something new. In addition, problem solving is basic to learning logic and mathematical skills.
When your child has the opportunity to try, fail, and try again, she learns to be persistent and to solve problems.
If you overindulge your baby and she does not have the chance to struggle and to figure out solutions on her own, she will not learn how to think for herself. When your child has the opportunity to try, fail, and try again, she learns to be persistent and to solve problems. These skills, in turn, enable her to adapt, to focus, and to be successful and confident.
You can help your child develop her pathway of problem solving by taking time to let her do things for herself—to get at a toy that is out of reach, to feed herself, and to walk on her own. Provide challenges, and ask her opinions about how to face them. Respect your child’s intelligence when you talk to her. Give her responsibility, get involved with her projects, and let her lead the way. When you are teaching her to do something, explain the steps in a simple order that she can understand. Model problem-solving skills, and be creative in finding solutions by thinking out of the box. Give your child toys that help her connect shapes and patterns, organize her thoughts, and think conceptually.