Hide and seek games teach object permanence.

Toddler Cognitive Checklist

by Alice Drinkworth

There is a lot going on inside a toddler's brain, which is developing just as fast as his more-obvious motor and language skills. Your toddler is learning how the world works, and more importantly for him, how he can manipulate it. You may notice him playing with his toys in a new way or putting together a puzzle. Here is a peek into the mind of a toddler and what he is learning these days.

Pretend Play

As a baby grows into her second year, she no longer mouths everything she can get her hands on. She uses objects how she sees you using the same item. She brushes her hair or pushes a vacuum across the floor. As she grows, this pretend play will get more sophisticated. She will involve others by brushing her doll’s hair, or yours, or the dog’s. By the time she is 3 years old, her play could involve several steps that happen in a logical order. She will give her doll a bath, dry it off with a towel and then brush its hair.

Hide and Seek

A toddler’s understanding of object permanence is established. Now she knows an object still exists even if she can’t see it. This will help her with separation anxiety, but make it more difficult to distract her. If you pocket a piece of candy, not only will she know that candy hasn’t disappeared, her memory is long enough that she will remember you have it in your pocket for a long time. By the time she is 3 years old, she might know about your other hiding places, too.

Cause and Effect

Young toddlers enjoy figuring out how things work by pushing buttons, twisting knobs and flipping switches. All that experimentation teaches him the concept of cause and effect. By age 2, a toddler can predict what will happen before he flips a switch. However, he will still test his newly formed theories with repetitive play, like turning on and off the lights over and over.

Solving Puzzles

Toddlers begin to understand objects and their relationship to each other. He can fit shapes into their respective holes, put together a puzzle and understand the meaning of numbers. The tricky part for you is giving him the right kind of challenge. Give him a puzzle that is too hard, and he won’t be interested. Give him one that he loved at 11 months, and he might roll his eyes and tell you that one is so last month.


Toddlers can understand the concept of time. He might not understand what yesterday or tomorrow means, but if you promise he can watch a show after lunch, he knows that isn’t a long time. He might even stop asking to watch and dutifully eat his lunch, secure in his knowledge that his show is coming on soon.

About the Author

Alice Drinkworth has been a writer and journalist since 1995. She has written for community newspapers, college magazines and Salon.com. Drinkworth earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Wisconsin and won a media award for her in-depth coverage of local politics. She is also a certified master gardener.

Photo Credits

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