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Activities to promote preschool cognitive development

Not all preschool cognitive development activities are created equal.

This is why it’s so important for early childhood educators to choose the right activities so children develop cognitive skills, including language skills, gross motor coordination and critical thinking skills to their fullest potential.

It’s been well-documented that the preschool years are critical for building the foundation for learning in the K-12 school years. During this foundation-building preschool time in childhood development, your child will begin to play games that will develop cognitive skills and cognitive function. Preschoolers start to form a whole new understanding as they expand their experiences with the world around them.

Preschoolers are eager to learn how the world works, and the best way for them to learn at this age is through play.

If you’re asking yourself how children can improve their cognitive skills, the following are examples of some of our top activities to incorporate into your daily routine to promote preschoolers’ cognitive development.

Preschool activities for cognitive development

Wondering what are some activities to build cognitive skills and promote cognitive development in the classroom? Here are some examples:

Memory matching

Memory matching games or simple card games like Go Fish allow preschoolers to intellectually work through a problem to find the answer or a solution which will boost cognitive development.

There are hundreds of memory matching activities to choose from, but no matter which one you choose, they all involve developing the same cognitive skills:

  1. Identify an item or several items.
  2. Remember the items.
  3. Look for a matching item.
  4. Identify when a match is found.

Finding a match can be incredibly gratifying and make a child very proud of their discovery, which is why many preschoolers love memory matching cognitive development activities.

Trains matching game

A child’s fascination with trains is understandable. They symbolize adventure and travel, and they move super fast! This game increases a child’s capacity for memory while connecting with a genuine interest, which will improve the child’s cognitive abilities. It can also be easily modified to suit a number of age groups. All aboard!

Christmas memory game

This adds a novel twist to a typical memory game, due to its Christmas theme. Above developing their memory and self-regulation skills, it also invites children to share personal stories about the holiday season so that their self-concept skills and language skills are honed, promoting cognitive development.

Puzzles for a sense of accomplishment

Age appropriate puzzles provide children with opportunities to hone their problem-solving skills and promote cognitive development as they figure out where pieces fit or don’t. They teach preschoolers to solve problems and think in a more logical way.

Since there is only one way to solve a puzzle (a piece either fits or doesn’t), they also teach children how to be more patient. As an educator, pay extra attention and encourage children to continue searching for the right piece if they begin to get impatient.

All about me puzzle

This activity celebrates that wonderful preschool egocentrism as the children put together a picture puzzle of themselves. It can offer a glimpse to a child’s self-perception as they use their favorite colors or draw their most treasured clothes, all the while strengthening their cognitive and emotional growth.

Broken hearts puzzle

There’s a letter recognition element in this puzzle, as well as the use of sight words for older preschoolers. It can also be modified so that the pieces only fit in a specific way to form one word, or can be organized so that multiple words can be created with more than one fit.

Sorting and classifying for organizational skills

Categorizing plays a large role in a preschooler’s cognitive development. Through sorting, children begin to understand that certain things have similarities and differences. This type of logical thinking forms the foundation for future mathematical concepts and even everyday tasks.

Choose activities that encourage sorting and classifying items, such as sorting toys by color, type, or size.

Rainbow color sorting activity

This is sure to be a hit in your learning environment because it’s very interactive and colorful! The cause-and-effect element of dropping objects through a tube will be highly engaging, so get ready for lots of giggles while this is played. 

Body color sorting

In addition to the cognitive skills identified above, this activity can help children understand diversity via different skin colors. Research shows that children can potentially internalize racial bias as early as 2 years old so activities that highlight diversity as a natural part of the classroom can help counter some of this effect.

Problem solving for overcoming challenges

Problem-solving games are about developing soft skills that can mature with the children as they get older. Rarely is it solely about the game or the challenge in front of them. Instead, it’s about honing a more sophisticated thought process that can help children perform functional tasks such as putting their clothes on in the correct order. These activities can center around sequencing or symbolic play, to help the preschoolers grow from their preoperational thinking process.

Fill your hands activity

This activity relies on a trial and error process, as the children use differently sized shapes to fill out a 2-dimensional picture. As the educator, be sure to remain an observer. Let the preschoolers explore their thought processes and let them learn from their “mistakes”. There’s a higher value in that, as opposed to the end product.

Milk carton propelled boats

For older preschoolers who have a higher capacity for persistence and self-regulation, this can be really fun! It takes place in a water sensory bin which is instantly engaging. The problem-solving piece begins with the creation of the boats. What materials will float? How can they make the boat go faster? There’s sequencing as the boats are constructed and symbolic play as the boats are raced. 

During the preschool years, children are undergoing a period of rapid brain development. This is why it’s so crucial to choose activities that are developmentally appropriate, so their developing brains are properly nurtured.

Parents and educators can help maximize their preschoolers’ cognitive development by supporting children with certain types of experience and activities, as well as encouraging children to pursue interests and play that come naturally to them.

If you are interested in more cognitive preschool activities to promote healthy cognitive development with early childhood play, click below to visit our activities database and sign up to get weekly activities straight to your inbox!

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Activities to promote cognitive development

Ron Spreeuwenberg

Ron is the Co-Founder & CEO of HiMama, where he leads all aspects of a social purpose business that helps early childhood educators improve learning outcomes for children.


  • Wonderful Ideas ! Thanks for Sharing

  • Jenjo Games says:

    This is such an interesting list of activities that can help kids learn and develop new skills while growing up. I am sure kids would really enjoy playing these games. Thanks for sharing and explaining it so well. It’s very helpful!

  • Thanks for the tip about how memory games can also be great to play for preschoolers. I’d like to find a good preschool for my child because she is starting to prove to be quite a fast learner. Being able to start her education soon would probably give her an edge.