Unlocking Your Child’s Potential: How to Stimulate Cognitive Growth at Every Stage

Babies are wired to learn.

During their first few years, their brains form over a million new neural connections every second.

Genetics and environment both play an integral role in cognitive development. This guide will help you support your child’s cognitive development at every age. 

What Is Cognitive Growth?

Cognitive growth or development refers to how kids progress from basic mental skills to more complex thought processes.

Children must grasp basic concepts, like memory and self-awareness, before moving on to complicated logic. Each level builds on the knowledge and skills of the previous one.

Kids progress through the phases as their minds become ready. Genetics and their environment determine their progression pace.  

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All Ages

While you don’t have any control over your child’s genetic predispositions, you have some power over their environment. The activities you choose, experiences you support and settings you provide all shape your kids’ cognitive growth. 

Since each stage of development builds different skills, you must challenge your child and encourage their growth as they age. However, many factors are beneficial at any stage of cognitive development. 

Healthy Diet

Eating a well-rounded diet with an extra focus on omega-3s will help improve mental capacity and memory. Foods like blueberries, walnuts and salmon support healthy neural connections. 

Adequate Sleep

The brain repairs itself and solidifies connections during deep sleep. Getting enough rest is vital for long-term cognitive development. Researchers found a lack of sleep in preteens slowed the expansion of grey matter in parts of the brain concerning attention and memory.  

Reading Together

Reading out loud is an excellent activity for any age. Infants learn to recognize voices and sounds, while young children are exposed to new words and begin to link letters with sounds. Imaginative stories and informational books help kids of any age learn about their environment and inspire creativity.

Doing Puzzles

Moving large wooden puzzle pieces is perfect for little ones in the sensorimotor or preoperational stages. As they get older, you can increase the number of pieces and complexity of the picture while decreasing the size of each piece. 

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Sensorimotor Growth (0-2 years)

Sensorimotor cognitive skills are the focus of this stage. Use intentional interaction and new experiences to stimulate their minds. Get your little ones to use their senses as much as possible. 

Narrate Your Life

Your baby benefits from frequent exposure to your voice. Talk to them as you go about your day and discuss everything you’re doing. They’ll learn to tie meaning to objects you interact with. 

Engage With Your Baby

Infants use a system of serve and return to learn about their environment and engage with their families. They smile or coo, and you respond by smiling back or talking to them. When you return their attention, it firms up neural pathways in their brains. 

Provide Sensory Time

Babies need free time to explore with all of their senses. Provide safe ways to touch different textures, hear new sounds, see patterns and colors, taste fun flavors and smell the world around them. 

Preoperational Development (2-7 years)

Your child’s imagination will explode into wild adventures in this stage. Offer plenty of opportunities for play and exploration. 

Encourage Role Play

Role play lets your kids pretend to be someone else. It will help them learn to view the world differently and work through new ideas. 

Supply Open-Ended Toys

Open-ended toys can become anything. They can be props on a pirate voyage, buildings in a miniature city or a way to practice counting. The opportunities for learning and imagination are endless. 

Play With Manipulatives

To prepare kids for the next stage and encourage skills from the previous one, use sensory manipulatives like playdoh, clay or slime. They’ll enjoy getting their hands messy and experimenting with shapes and values. 

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Concrete Operational (7-12 years)

Your kids will start to form and test their hypotheses about the world. They can see relationships between concrete objects and ideas. Give them chances to experiment to help their cognitive growth. 

Trial and Error

Making mistakes is the best way for kids this age to learn and grow their cognitive skills. Avoid stepping in to solve all their problems. Let them use their beginner logic and see the results. You can support critical thinking with these decision-making opportunities

Hold Family Meetings

Family meetings give everyone a chance to voice their opinions. Your child can also hear multiple perspectives on an issue and work as a team to come to a compromise. 

Set Up a Builder Station

In this stage, kids like experimenting with the physical world, creating new inventions and using their hands. A builder station is a supply area with scrap cardboard, glue, tape, popsicle sticks and any other found materials. Your kids will grow their brain power by cutting and making all sorts of things straight from their imagination. 

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Formal Operational (12-18 years)

Your child is in the final stage of cognitive development. They can finally reason and form abstract thoughts, solving some problems without the need for trial and error. Give them new responsibilities and challenges to stimulate their growth.   

Travel Abroad

Since this final stage comes with the ability to see the world from other perspectives, it’s a good time to show them that world. Take them to a new city or across the world to experience new cultures. Have your teen keep a travel journal documenting their experience and writing questions they have about what they saw. 


With their increased ability to reason and think critically, teens can get egocentric. Volunteering as a family will bring their egos down a notch and teach them about the needs of others. 

Help Your Child Explore the World

With each stage of cognitive development, your children will learn new skills and build on the foundations from each previous phase.

You can encourage and stimulate their minds to set them up for success throughout their lives. 

Julie Higgins
Julie is a Staff Writer at momooze.com. She has been working in publishing houses before joining the editorial team at momooze. Julie's love and passion are topics around beauty, lifestyle, hair and nails.