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Preschool Stage: Nurturing Cognitive Development

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Kip Soliva · Updated Nov 20, 2022

Preschool Stage: Nurturing Cognitive Development

Understanding the cognitive development of preschoolers will help parents better support and nurture them.

Preschool and kindergarten are exciting times for children. At 2 and a half to 6 years old, kids are starting to be more dynamic in how they interact with the world around them.

This is further encouraged by their opportunities to socialize with other kids their age as they start going to school.

A Preschooler’s New Environment

At this stage, parents and teachers alike encourage kids to play which allows them to develop in many crucial developmental aspects. 

Due to being surrounded by other kids and other people, they develop their social, language, and communication skills. This is seen in their interactions upon initiating playtime and within playtime.

In interacting with people that aren’t immediate family, they also develop a wider range of emotions since not everyone surrounding them is always going to be looking out for what they are feeling and adjusting accordingly as they will be surrounded by other preschoolers, after all.

Upon entering a new environment through school, a child will also develop physical and motor skills. Exploring areas and places they haven’t been before is crucial to their physical development since the way they learn at this age is physically interacting with their surroundings.

All of these contribute to the cognitive development of preschoolers. As the child grows and matures physically, it’s important to make sure that their mind and their skills mature at the same pace. 

In this article, we explore the specific skills, activities, warning signs, and milestones for a holistic evaluation and reflection about cognitive development of preschoolers. 

Cognitive Development of Preschoolers: Skills Learned

As mentioned above, kids at this age learn by exploring the world hands-on and interacts with their environment. Through this interaction, they acquire a number of skills. 

Spatial Relationships

This is evident when kids touch and hold things or even turn them around that, may cause a lot of mess but is how they learn how things work.

Asking Questions, Problem solving

Kids at this age are also very curious and develop the skill of questioning and problem-solving. This means they will start to take initiative to clarify their understanding by asking things and being vocal about how they understand or don’t understand things.

Problem-solving is developed if it is encouraged from questioning. This means they take the initiative to investigate, experiment, and even collaborate with other kids to find answers instead of simply asking adults.

Socialization and Collaboration

Being thrust into socialization with kids their age helps them develop in the collective sense. This is where a child learns how to imitate or imitation. Preschoolers love to mimic their peers and parents.


A key skill developed in cognition is memory. As more people become regular presences in a child’s life, they learn how to tell them apart from one another. The same goes for objects and places. On top of this, they learn schedules and routines. This provides structure and routine.

Number sense, classification and symbolic play

  • Number sense is understanding quantities or how many things there are and their relationships or how they are ordered.
  • Classification is learning how to use their perception to differentiate things like sorting or grouping or categorizing things.
  • Symbolic play is connecting an object to have a correspondence to some other object. This is usually seen when kids play with home appliance toys that they are familiar with at home.

How to Promote the Cognitive Development of Preschoolers

There are certain activities and concepts that help in developing these skills and in fact might be something that your child will enjoy learning.

Here are some common preschool cognitive development activities!

  • Learning the alphabet or sounding out the letters when they see the symbol. This aids with memory and diction for when they communicate.
  • Counting and learning colors and shapes help with most intellectual skills. But especially number sense for counting and classification for colors and shapes.

Cognitive Development of Preschoolers: Milestones and Warning Signs

Now that we know the skills that they develop, here are some tangible milestones to expect and warning signs to look out for in early, middle, and late preschool years. 

Playing Make-Believe

In early preschool years, expect your child to be starting to play make-believe. They may also start putting together 3- to 4- piece simple puzzles. On top of that, their number sense will allow them to start counting as far as three.

Fine Motor Skills: Scribbling and Turning Pages

Along with the cognitive development of preschoolers, expect their motor skills to improve as well. Their motor skills would also allow them to copy scribbles and circles, as well as turning book pages one by one.

Counting skills

In middle preschool years, the cognitive development of preschoolers greatly improves. Part of this is their number sense. This means that it’ll be easier for them to learn how to count to 10 or making sense of time.

Listening skills

Their communication and comprehension skills also develop enough for them to be able to tell and listen to stories. At this point, their classification and memory skills will develop to be able to tell what is the same and what is different.

Cognitive Development of Preschoolers: Warning Signs

  • having trouble scribbling, handling or using writing materials
  • a lack of interest in interacting
  • does not like playing with other kids
  • not being able to tell what is the same and what is different
  • Difficulty with basic toys, pretending, and simple instructions at the age of 3
  • This will help you gauge how effective cognitive development activities for 3-4 year olds turn out to be.

    Late into the preschool years, their number sense continues to improve as they count beyond 10 and start writing letters or numbers. Their motor skills will allow them to copy simple shapes and figures like triangles and draw people with features.

    At this point, they’d have integrated into their environment by knowing about regular things and having a sense of their schedule. If at this point, they still cannot tell apart what is imagined and what is real or can only play one game or refuse to draw, you may want to consult with child experts.

    Key Takeaways

    In conclusion, this is a time for a child to learn their people skills and their basic intellectual skills.

    As long as supervision is present in most parts and progress is rightly tracked and celebrated, these are wonderful, high-energy times for you and your child.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


    Written by Kip Soliva · Updated Nov 20, 2022

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