Cognition and learning

How you can help your child with their thinking and learning.

What you might observe about the child

  • Little involvement and low levels of concentration.
  • Gives up easily.
  • Little motivation, enjoyment or sense of achievement.
  • Unable to express or explore their own ideas and thinking.
  • Cannot make links, for example between experiences at home and nursery.
  • Rigidity in play and does not choose how they would like to do things.

What can adults do?

  • Show a playful attitude and sense of fun when playing with children.
  • Play alongside the child copying what the child does.
  • Model possible ways to develop the play (for example child holds a doll, adult holds another doll picks up a spoon and pretends to feed it).
  • Use reassuring physical cues – facial expression, body language, gesture, sign and so on to encourage effort, no matter how small.
  • Provide a simple play narrative using key words only for example 'Teddy jumps'.
  • Use specific, meaningful praise when a child persists at or achieves something new.
  • Verbal and visual encouragement.
  • Visual support such as photos, symbols, choice boards, now and next boards to suggest and support development of play sequences or routines.
  • Use specific motivators – learn what the child really responds well to (often food) and include it in play situations.
  • Model the use of simple statements such as 'I wonder' or 'what if' rather than question.
  • Make links between experiences or objects explicit using simple language, Makaton signs or photographs.
  • Be patient with repetitive play as some children need to over-learn before being able to move on.
  • When appropriate, always offer a choice (for example between bubbles or glitter in a water tray) even if you know that they will always choose the glitter.
  • Try to use objects or pictures to make a choice from if the child is non-verbal.
  • Ensure the child sees other children playing in different ways.

More information

If you would like to learn more about this topic, or if you are a professional working in early years, you can find information on Tools for Schools: Cognition and learning.