Cognitive games for 1-3 year olds
In the toddler years our children’s brains are heavily at work. Often this cognitive learning and development doesn’t have a direct outcome that we can measure (like learning the alphabet or learning to read). It can be more subtle cognitive development through play schemas and explorative play.
When it comes to cognitive play we generally think of:
- Closed ended montessori style toys
- Toys that build awareness of basic concepts like colors, shapes, numbers and letters
- Board games that build concentration and social skills
- Music games that build concentration and rhythm
These are the type of toys that grandparents love to give and that we can get lost in trying to have every single type. Remember that play does need to be holistic and while these are great toys for learning, they are not more valuable that dolls or trucks or a great ball. Always focus on balance.
The following list are of our favorite toys based on experience. Feel free to use it as inspiration for other types of games if it doesn’t match your child’s specific interests.
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Cognitive toys for 1 year olds
Age 1 is a great time for cause and effect toys, exposure to colors, sizes and shapes and learning to match these. One year olds will also really enjoy music based play.
At this age we really want to expose without overwhelming our children. It is of course, fine for them to match the colors incorrectly the first 99 times until the penny drops and they have understood same and different. I would encourage you to not get too caught up in correcting them.
7 of the best cognitive toys for 1 year olds
- Wooden piece puzzles
- 2 – 4 piece puzzles
- Color matching game
- Shape sorting game
- Card matching game
- Musical toys
- Object permanence box
Cognitive games for 2 year olds
2 year olds are learning to name and match colors and shapes, build simple puzzles and create simple pictures. They are also learning to wait, turn take, and follow instructions. That is a lot of really important learning!
The following games might need to be adjusted or played in their simplest form with your two year old but they will learn so much from them and by practicing turn taking. Generally stick to 2 players where applicable.
7 great board games for 2 year olds
- Form boards and shape creating pieces
- 2-9 piece puzzles
- Simple card games
- Hoot hoot game
- Pop up pirate game
- Monkey tree game
- Pat bells
Thinking game for 3 year olds
By age 3 our children are really developing their ability to think and understand rules, follow instructions and play in a more cooperative way. They are also developing and learning to recognize and name numbers and more complex shapes.
They following are games and resources that we have loved. At this age you may be tempted to start thinking about early reading and simple maths. Always follow your child’s lead.
7 cognitive games for 3 year olds
- Dancing caterpillar game
- Card games for kids
- Yeti in my spaghetti
- Montessori sandpaper numbers
- Letter loose parts
- Number zingo
- Shape and number drawing board
Looking for more toy ideas for 1-3 year olds? Check out the ultimate gift guide