The preschool period is an important developmental phase, especially for children’s cognitive abilities and self-regulatory skills. They learn to imagine, guess, describe, and wonder about different objects and situations around them. They also learn new words and phrases, experience emotions, and acquire basic skills and knowledge. While there are numerous ways to help improve a child’s cognitive development, books are one of the most simple and effective.
Children who are introduced to learning materials like books and educational toys are likely to develop strong cognitive skills that result in future academic success. Between the ages of three and five, children’s thinking skills undergo tremendous change. Their ability to use representational ideas and symbols for objects, people and events, becomes more complex and diversified.
One way for parents, teachers and caregivers to improve preschoolers’ thinking skills is through books that promote different aspects of cognition. These include recognition, reasoning and problem solving, symbolic play, metacognitive knowledge, memory, and social involvement.
4 Ways Books Encourage Cognitive Growth in Preschoolers
Here are a few ways books can help develop your child’s cognitive development and encourage constructive learning.
Memory is the ability to gather, store, and recall incidents or experiences across time. This becomes easier when a child is a participant instead of an observer, or when something makes a significant impression on their mind. A preschooler’s ability to remember images of people or events is strengthened when they have previous knowledge about the subject at hand. In short, they’re better at remembering new concepts when they learn through pictures, words, or hands-on experiences.
A few things that parents and mentors can do while reading books to children include:
- Looking at the illustration on the cover before opening the book to try to arouse interest in your children. Point out the characters, objects, and colours.
- Drawing connections from the story to their everyday activities or experiences. For instance, while reading Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, ask them to recall a time when they might have seen an owl.
- Asking questions about what has happened so far. For example, when reading Five Little Ducks, you can ask, “How many ducks are there?” or “Where did they go swimming?”
- Repeating important words and phrases. Children learn through repetition, so repeating new concepts will help them learn and memorize them.
Parents and mentors might also introduce children to real objects prior to reading a book related to them. For example, if you’re reading We’re Going to the Farmers’ Market by Stefan Page, first show them real vegetables like carrots, potatoes, or beans. This will give them sensory experiences about different vegetables (like how they feel and look), which will boost their capacity to learn and remember.
2) Symbolic Play
Symbolic play is the ability of children to use actions, ideas, or objects to mimic other objects, actions, or ideas as play.
For example, a child can sometimes play with a box pretending it to be a toy car or a toy telephone. Pretend play should be encouraged both by parents at home and by teachers at school.
Since most children can easily identify with written characters, reading stories or poems that show characters engaging in pretend play is a good way to foster their imagination and creativity.
You may also ask your child to act out scenes from a book using regular objects as props. For instance, they may pretend to be a chef using kitchen utensils. Basic cooking and cleaning concepts are learned when they play a chef, whereas empathy is fostered when imitating a doctor or nurse.
3) Metacognitive Knowledge
Metacognitive knowledge is when a person thinks about their thinking. As children acquire metacognitive skills, this helps them better understand their life experiences and develop meaningful relationships. One study suggests that children who learn to use metacognitive strategies early on are more resilient and successful, both academically and socially.
Preschoolers understand that it is easier to remember two colours instead of 10, but would not spontaneously use a rehearsal strategy to remember all of them. It is not until beyond 3-4 years of age that preschoolers acquire strategic knowledge that affects their own memory and learning. You can encourage metacognitive skills in children by asking them to enact a particular scene or character in the story or poem after you’re done reading it to them. For example, if you read ‘The Lion and the Mouse’, ask them to show how the sleeping lion was infuriated when a mouse started running up and down his body.
4) Social Cognition
Social cognition refers to the way we think, process, recognize, and use experiences in social contexts to predict our own behaviour and that of others. By 3-5 years of age, children start acquiring this skill and can hence realize why others feel, behave, or act the way they do.
They can learn a lot about social understanding from books. Read books that emphasize feelings; also focus on interactions between characters and discuss them with your children. Talk about positive feelings like love and appreciation and negative feelings like fear and panic so they know the difference. This will help them relate to various thoughts and behaviours and act accordingly.
As you can see, reading is an important aspect of childhood development. Acquiring cognitive skills during the preschool years helps them improve their social interactions and achieve academically. Using proper knowledge, planning and training, parents and Montessori teachers can promote cognitive growth in preschoolers that they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives.