The Role of Play in Cognitive development

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What is cognitive development?

Cognitive development, simply put, refers to how children make sense of their world (Isenberg & Jalongo, 2010). It is the building of thought processes, including remembering, problem solving, and decision making, that begins in childhood and continues through adolescence to adulthood.

When playing, children are actively engaged in problem solving, mental planning, self-monitoring and evaluation (Isenberg & Jalongo, 2010).

For example, imagine that your child is playing with blocks and building a tower. Many cognitive skills are necessary for and involved in this common play activity:

  • The child plans what to build and what kinds of blocks they will need.
  • The child monitors how successful they are – Did my tower stay balanced, or did it fall?
  • The child tries to solve their problems if they wish to succeed – Why did it fall? What do I need to do to keep it balanced this time? Do I need a different block?
  • And they evaluate whether they reached their goals – Does it look like the tower that I wanted to build?

The above scenario is just one example of how cognitive skills are developed and used through play, but these skills are learnt through many other different forms of play as well and are necessary for a child’s success in later life. If you think about it, as adults, how often do we need to problem-solve, mentally plan, self-monitor and evaluate? With the daily life activities of work, meal planning, financial planning, child-care, etc. etc. I would say the answer is that we need these skills every day!

Up next: The Role of Play in Physical and Social Development

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This is a series of guest posts by Raquel Marshall, a registered Clinical Psychologist in Barbados providing counselling and psychoeducational assessment services for children and adults. You can visit Raquel’s professional Facebook page here.

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