Cognitive Development

While a baby’s cognitive ability and senses develop, his or her ability to interact with the people and environment around him or her increases.

Beginning around one to two months of age, babies will turn their head towards and take an interest in objects and people. By three months, this interest evolves into an ability to anticipate familiar things and to react to them.

During the fourth month of life, your baby's vision will improve, and most are able to link the senses of sight, taste, hearing and touch together to form an identity of one object or person, called sensory integration. Between six and nine months of age, babies begin to recognize those familiar sights, sounds and touches. They are also able to better understand absence and create memories, a skill called object permanence.

After gaining a better understanding of what is familiar, babies around nine to twelve months of age become more prone to watching others and exploring objects and environments. Personality, curiosity and emotion become more apparent during this age.


Cognitive Development

BIRTH TO THREE YEARS OLD Sensorimotor investigation of environment is predominant Development of concepts is rapid Develops a sense of object permanence Develops language May use some number and color words but may not understand them

THREE TO FOUR YEARS OLD Follows instructions of two commands Makes impulsive judgments and frequent mistakes Develops vocabulary rapidly Uses numbers without understanding Has difficulty differentiating fantasy and reality Begins to classify, especially by function Begins to use some functional abstract words "Why?" questions are constant Thinking is very egocentric

FIVE TO SIX YEARS OLD Shows a growing attention span Is able to seriate objects Is able to group objects Is more deliberate, less impulsive in judgments Differentiates between fantasy and reality Uses language aggressively, in categorization Is aware that words and pictures represent real objects Becomes interested in numbers and letters Knows names of colors Does not spontaneously use rehearsal in memory tasks Follows three unrelated commands May begin to conserve number, length

SEVEN TO EIGHT YEARS OLD Differences in reading and language abilities widen Transition to concrete operational thinking begins Talking and discussion are important Is able to plan Can sustain interest over long periods of time Begins to understand cause and effect Develops a growing understanding of time, money Uses slang and profanity Understands and uses more abstract terms Expresses more awareness of community, world

Title of work: Introduction to early childhood education; preschool through primary grades, 6th ed. (2007) Section: Extracts from Introduction to early childhood education: preschool through primary grades pp. 15--28 Author/editor of work: Brewer, Jo Ann.


  • smiles and laughs

  • looks toward direction of sound  

  • eyes track slow moving target for brief period

  • looks at edges, patterns with light/dark contrast and faces

  • imitates adult tongue movements when being held/ talked to  

  • learns through sensory experiences  

  • repeats actions but unaware of ability to cause actions

EYLF Outcome 4: Children are confident and involved learners - Children transfer what they have learned from one context to another. E.g. “Develop ability to mirror, repeat and practice the actions of others, either immediately or later.” (p.36)


  • swipes at dangling objects  

  • shakes and stares at toy placed in hand  

  • becomes bored if left alone for long periods of time  

  • repeats accidentally caused actions that are interesting

  • enjoys games such as peek-a-boo or pat-a-cake

  • will search for partly hidden object  

  • able to coordinate looking, hearing and touching  

  • enjoys toys, banging objects, scrunching paper

  •  explores objects by looking at and mouthing them

  • develops preferences for foods 

  • explores objects with mouth

EYLF Outcome 4: Children are confident and involved learners - Children develop dispositions for learning such as curiosity… E.g. explore and “express wonder and interest in their environments”(p.34)

8 – 12 MONTHS

  • moves obstacle to get at desired toy  

  • bangs two objects held in hands together  

  • responds to own name  

  • makes gestures to communicate and to symbolise objects, e.g. points to something they want

  • seems to understand some things parent or familiar adults say to them

  • drops toys to be retrieved, handed back, then dropped again/looks in direction of dropped toy

  • smiles at image in mirror  

  • likes playing with water  

  • shows interest in picture books

  • understands gestures/responds to ‘bye bye’

  • listens with pleasure to sound-making toys and music

  • notices difference and shows surprise

EYLF Outcome 4: Children are confident and involved learners - Children develop a range of skills and processes such as problem solving, enquiry, experimentation, hypothesising, researching and investigating. E.g. “Provide babies and toddlers with resources that offer challenge, intrigue and surprise, support their investigations and share their enjoyment.” (p.35)


  • repeats actions that lead to interesting/ predictable results, e.g. bangs spoon on saucepan  

  • points to objects when named  

  • knows some body parts

  • points to body parts in a game  

  • recognises self in photo or mirror  

  • mimics household activities, e.g. bathing baby, sweeping floor  

  • may signal when s/he has finished their toileting  

  • spends a lot of time exploring and manipulating objects, putting in mouth, shaking and banging them

  • stacks and knocks over items  

  • selects games and puts them away  

  • calls self by name, uses ‘I’, ‘mine’, ‘I do it myself’  

  • will search for hidden toys

EYLF Outcome 2: Children are connected with and contribute to their world - Children develop a sense of belonging to groups and communities and an understanding of the reciprocal rights and responsibilities necessary for active community participation. E.g. Broaden their understanding of the world in which they live. (p.26)


  • builds tower of five to seven objects  

  • lines up objects in ‘train’ fashion  

  • recognises and identifies common objects and pictures by pointing  

  • enjoys playing with sand, water, dough; explores what these materials can do more than making things with them  

  • uses symbolic play, e.g. use a block as a car  

  • shows knowledge of gender-role stereotypes

  • identifies picture as a boy or girl

  •  engages in making believe and pretend play

  • begins to count with numbers

  • recognises similarities and differences  

  • imitates rhythms and animal movements  

  • becoming aware of space through physical activity  

  • can follow two or more directions

EYLF Outcome 5: Children are effective communicators - Children engage in a range of texts and gain meaning from these texts. E.g. “Take on roles of literacy and numeracy users in their play.” (p.41)


  • understands opposites (e.g. big/little) and positional words (middle, end)

  • uses objects and materials to build or construct things, e.g. block tower, puzzle, clay, sand and water

  • builds tower eight to ten blocks

  • answers simple questions

  • counts five to ten things

  • has a longer attention span

  • talks to self during play - to help guide what he/she does  

  • follows simple instructions  

  • follows simple rules and enjoys helping

  • may write some numbers and letters

  • engages in dramatic play, taking on pretend character roles

  • recalls events correctly

  • counts by rote, having memorised numbers

  • touches objects to count - starting to understand relationship between numbers and objects  

  • can recount a recent story  

  • copies letters and may write some unprompted  

  • can match and name some colours

EYLF Outcome 5: Children are effective communicators - Children express ideas and make meaning using a range of media. E.g. “use language and engage in play to imagine and creimagine and create roles, scripts, and ideas.” (p.42)