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16 Essential Cognition-Boosting Activities for Young Learners


Elevate your homeschooling journey with cognition-boosting activities for young learners. Unleash the full potential of your homeschool with these exciting ideas!

Crop kid sitting on floor and writing in notebook

How do I know my homeschooled child is being challenged?

As a homeschooling mom, it's really hard to have it all together all the time. I'll be honest, I rely on the online platforms a lot more than I feel like I should. Not that these are bad, but I'm aware that there's a stark difference between memorizing facts and learning how to develop a brain that is adept at absorbing, integrating, and using information. So I've dove into this search of learning more about learning, or metacognition. Being aware of the ways that we develop the actual process of learning in our kids is important, and it allows us to filter through the resources that we use and honestly evaluate whether or not they are instilling in our kids active learning skills or if they are simply encouraging rote memorization.

I know that I'm constantly doubting whether my kids are learning anything at all, if any of it will stick, if we're learning at a rigorous enough pace…you name it I've dwelled on it. The last thing I want is to be going through the motions doing all kinds of passive learning activities, where they are not actually learning much of anything and therefore we're just wasting precious time (so so precious omg). So what exactly is cognition and why should we care about it in the homeschooling setting?

Why does cognition matter?

Cognition in early childhood refers to the mental processes and abilities that children use to learn, understand, and make sense of the world around them. It encompasses a wide range of skills, including memory, attention, problem-solving, language development, and decision-making. These things are obviously essential for effective learning! Developing these cognitive skills during the early years is crucial because they form the foundation for your child's future learning and intellectual growth.

You may also like: Schedules that Nurture Developmental Goals.”

Here are some key aspects of cognition in early childhood; later, we'll dive into how they can be nurtured and developed:

Memory Skills

Memory is the ability to store, retain, and retrieve information. Children develop memory through repetition, routines, and exposure to new information. Engaging in activities like reading, storytelling, and playing memory games can help improve memory skills. Working memory is especially foundational for being able to take in information accurately, because it's our ability to hear/see the input, and hold onto it long enough in order to be able to apply it.

Person Reading A Book
Reading and storytelling are great ways to develop cognitive skills.

For instance, think of hearing a phone number, and being able to remember those numbers long enough to be able to dial them on the phone. That is working memory at work! It's obviously crucial for spelling words, reading stories, and literally everything else.

Attention Span

Attention is the ability to focus on a task or activity. In early childhood, attention spans are typically shorter, but they can be improved gradually through activities that require sustained focus, like puzzles, art projects, or listening to stories. It's important to note that the 4-6 year old age range is naturally hyperactive, and if you have concerns about your child having ADHD, it's probably worth waiting until they are past the age of 6 before you seek a formal evaluation, as this will give you the most accurate results (I often recommend Occupational Therapy for ADHD kids anyways, as many issues stem from sensory processing issues; if your child appears to have attention problems, an OT evaluation could give you helpful strategies and you don't even need to have any kind of diagnosis).

Problem-Solving

Problem-solving involves finding solutions to challenges or puzzles. Encourage children to solve age-appropriate problems, whether it's a simple jigsaw puzzle or a more complex math problem. Provide guidance and support when needed, but allow them to think independently. As a parent, it's natural to want to intervene when you see your child fumbling through something, but those struggles where they are mentally wrestling with concepts is where they will naturally gain the most in the realm of independent and critical thinking. Embrace the struggle! Within reason, of course.

Concentrated black child with figure brain teaser
Puzzles encourage problem solving skills and independent thinking, both of which nurture cognition.

Language Development

Language is fundamental to cognition. Engage in conversations, read books, and expose children to a rich vocabulary. Podcasts and audiobooks are a great thing to incorporate early in order to help your child learn to process auditory information well. Additionally, encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings, and provide opportunities for them to learn new words and sentence structures.

Child in Yellow Jacket and Blue Denim Jeans Standing on Dirt Road
Encourage language development in your child by reading and listening to books, engaging in dynamic conversations, asking open-ended questions, and incorporating written communication activities.

Activity Ideas to Nurture Cognition

Educating your children at home comes with its unique set of challenges, and finding the right balance between learning and fun is key. Below are some incredible cognition-boosting activities that will engage your children's minds and make learning at home an enriching adventure.

  1. Nature Exploration: Step outside and explore the wonders of nature. This hands-on experience stimulates curiosity, observation, and critical thinking skills. Encourage your kids to ask questions about the world around them and foster their sense of wonder.
  2. Brain-Boosting Puzzles: Challenge your children's cognitive abilities with puzzles and brain teasers. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and jigsaw puzzles are excellent choices. These activities enhance problem-solving skills and logical reasoning.
  3. Cooking Adventures: Turn your kitchen into a culinary classroom. Involve your kids in meal preparation, and discuss the science and math behind the recipes. Cooking not only boosts cognitive skills but also provides delicious rewards!
  4. Creative Arts and Crafts: Encourage creativity through arts and crafts projects. These activities develop fine motor skills, problem-solving abilities, and the freedom to express themselves. Plus, it's a chance to bond over shared creative experiences.
  5. Science Experiments: Hands-on science experiments are a homeschooler's best friend. These engaging activities spark curiosity, critical thinking, and a deeper understanding of scientific concepts. Whether it's a volcano eruption or a simple chemistry experiment, the possibilities are endless.
  6. Storytelling and Writing: Stimulate your child's imagination with storytelling and writing exercises. Let them create their own stories or journal about their daily experiences. These activities enhance language skills and foster a love for storytelling.
  7. Imagination and Creativity: Encouraging imaginative play, such as pretend games or creative arts and crafts, helps children develop their creative thinking. Imagination is closely linked to problem-solving and abstract thinking.
  8. Social Interaction: Interaction with peers and adults is essential for cognitive development. It helps children learn to understand and navigate social cues, emotions, and cooperation. Encourage playdates and group activities to foster social development.
  9. Exploration and Curiosity: Foster a sense of curiosity in children. Provide opportunities for exploration, whether it's in nature, through science experiments, or by introducing them to new experiences. Encourage questions and exploration. It can be so hard to not squelch the constant questioning, but it is a natural part of the developmental process! Lean into it as much as you can, and don't be afraid to turn the question back to them: “What do you think the answer is?”
  10. Structured Learning: While play and exploration are important, structured learning activities, such as educational games, reading sessions, and educational apps, can also support cognitive development.
  11. Balanced Screen Time: In the digital age, it's important to manage screen time. While some educational apps and content can be beneficial, it's essential to strike a balance with hands-on activities and face-to-face interactions.
  12. Educational Board Games: Board games that combine fun and learning are perfect for homeschooling. Choose games that challenge their cognitive abilities, strategic thinking, and decision-making skills. It's a win-win for both education and entertainment.
  13. Gardening Adventures: Gardening is a wonderful way to teach responsibility, biology, and patience. As your kids nurture plants and watch them grow, they develop a deeper appreciation for nature and its processes.
  14. Mindful Movement: Incorporate physical activities into your homeschool routine. Whether it's yoga, dance, or fun exercises, getting the body moving also boosts cognitive function. It helps kids stay alert and engaged in their lessons, and helps improve memory, as they can create neural pathways that are deeper whenever concepts are tied to a motor movement.
  15. Problem-Solving Games: Introduce your children to problem-solving games and activities. Whether it's riddles, brainteasers, or logic puzzles, these challenges stimulate their minds and enhance their ability to think critically.
  16. Encouragement and Patience: Children may progress at different rates in their cognitive development. It's essential to be patient, provide positive reinforcement, and create a nurturing learning environment where they feel safe to make mistakes and learn from them.
Clear Glass Bottle With Yellow Liquid
Hands-on learning can be a great mode of developing deeper thinking as well as improving memory and decision-making skills.

Are your homeschool activities improving cognition?

In summary, cognition in early childhood is a complex process involving various mental skills. Encouraging exploration, problem-solving, language development, and social interaction can help children develop these skills. Providing a supportive and stimulating environment is key to nurturing their cognitive development and setting the stage for a lifetime of learning. In every activity you do in your homeschool day, it's worth considering: is this something where my child is passively trying to get information to stick, or are they actively engaging their cognitive skills in a way that will serve them for a lifetime of learning?

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