Cognitive development refers to the development of knowledge, skills and dispositions, which help children to think about and understand the world around them. It is important that you as a parent begin to foster your child's cognitive development as soon as she is born because doing so provides the foundation for your child's success in school and later in life. For example, research shows that children who can distinguish the building blocks of speech at 6 months are better at acquiring the skills for learning to read at 4 and 5 years of age.
When your child is one year old, you can expect that he will begin to explore objects in many different ways, such as shaking, banging, throwing and dropping. Other behaviors that you might start to notice in your child at this age include: finding hidden objects easily; looking at the correct picture when the image is named; imitating gestures; and using objects correctly (e.g., drinking from a cup; brushing his hair; dialing a phone). As your child approaches age two, you might notice that he is starting to sort by shapes and colors and engage in make-believe play.
It is important for you as a parent to understand that while the above list of developmental milestones represents a typical child, there is a range of what is considered normal development. Children develop at their own pace, so it's impossible to tell exactly when yours will learn a given skill. If you do have concerns about your toddler's development, however, you should contact your pediatrician. An additional resource, the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center, lists early intervention programs by state.
To promote your toddler's cognitive development, it is important that you engage in quality interactions with her on a daily basis. Expose your toddler to print and materials (e.g., books, puzzles) that foster her understanding of concepts. You should also make an effort to expand on your child's interests in specific learning activities. For example, your toddler might show an early interest in dinosaurs, so you can take her on a trip to the natural history museum to learn more about the time that these creatures roamed the earth.
Another way that you can foster your child's cognitive development is to provide him with choices and prompt him to make thoughtful decisions. You should also allow your toddler to explore different ways of solving problems. While you may want to provide some gentle guidance and encouragement, allow him some time to figure out things (e.g., a new puzzle). This may require some patience on your part, but it will ultimately help him to learn.