First thing’s first: what exactly are cognitive skills? Cognitive skills refer to memory and one’s ability to grasp new information, speech and written material, as well as one’s level of consciousness, problem-solving, motor skills, and analytical abilities—clearly all important abilities that a parent would want their child to excel in.
A lot of these abilities come in time, but there are definitely things that parents and families can do at home together to help improve these skills. By taking an extra 20 minutes a day with your child you can help, and here’s how:
Each week, pick out 2-3 age appropriate books that you can have a conversation with your child about. Your child should not have read these books before, as that would defeat the whole purpose of the exercise. Some good book examples would be “Rainbow Fish,” “The Little Engine That Could,” “Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” “The Snowy Day,” “Bark, George,” etc.
Step 1: Pick one of the books to read with your child. Show your child the cover of the book you will be reading and ask them what they think the book might be about. If they say “I don’t know,” you can lead them by asking “well, what do you see in this picture?” After they name some things, ask the initial question again to see if they have another guess. We are leading them, not giving them answers. We want to see their cognitive skills, not yours 🙂
Step 2: Read the first few pages to your child and then revisit your initial question by either asking them if they have an idea what the story might be about, or if they made a guess in the beginning, ask them if they were right in their guess.
Step 3: While reading, think of some leading questions you can ask your child before you turn a page. For instance, if you are reading Rainbow Fish, ask your child questions like, “how do you think the rainbow fish is acting? Is he being nice to his friends?” Before the end of the book, ask your child if he/she thinks the rainbow fish will give away some of his scales. We want kids to think critically, so it is very important to ask these types of questions while reading, instead of just reading the exact text from the book.
Step 4: On day 2, you will read the same book again. Before starting, ask your child if they remember what the story was about. Ask if they remember any character names. If there were a couple of prominent events in the book, pick out two and ask which of the events happened first in the book. At the end of the book, ask your child if they have any questions or if there is something they might like to know about the characters or story. Get your kid thinking!
A good time to work on this would be before bed when reading bedtime stories. This activity might not sound like much, but it is good practice for the future when your child will do similar exercises in school. Remember having to read short stories in school and then answer questions?