Sometimes, toddlers and preschoolers respond to being dropped off at day care with tears or temper tantrums. Usually, it’s just separation anxiety, which is normal for this age group (Reference 1). These little displays of protest can, however, leave parents wondering about the effects that day care has on their children. Rest assured that quality child care centers are beneficial to child development in numerous ways and promote healthy development of important abilities — such as cognitive skills.
Day care centers that offer developmental learning programs provide meaningful opportunities for toddlers and preschoolers to develop cognitive skills. Curriculums vary by center and age group, but structured learning programs usually include activities and experiences that promote cognitive development — among other essential developmental domains — in some way. Circle time promotes language, early literacy and prediction skills through storytelling with books that feature pictures and textures (Reference 2, pg. 53). Activities that involve arts and crafts promote creative thinking skills, while science-based learning through simple experiments promotes problem-solving skills and an understanding of cause-and-effect.
Day care centers provide children with a steady, daily routine. Not only is the structure of routine meals, naps and playtime healthy for children’s growing bodies and minds, but a structured routine also promotes cognitive development. When a child grows accustomed to a steady, unchanging routine, he is able to comprehend and predict sequences of events — understanding, for example, that after lunch comes naptime.
Cognitive theories of social learning acknowledge the connection between a child’s environment and her ability to learn and develop cognitive skills (Reference 3, pg. 18). Within the day care setting, toddlers and preschoolers learn by observing caregivers and other children perform tasks, with either success or failure. Watching a caregiver model a task, such as how to thread macaroni on a piece of yarn, for example, teaches children how to coordinate fine motor muscles to achieve the objective. Seeing another child trying an unsuccessful method, on the other hand, can teach a youngster how to attempt the objective in another way. These instances of observation promote decision-making and problem-solving skills. Interacting with caregivers and peers also promotes language skills, which are associated with cognitive development.
The goal of quality child care centers is to promote active learning through play. Imaginative activities such as dress-up, puppet shows and doll play are common in toddler and preschool rooms, and they promote cognitive development by encouraging abstract thinking, language skills and event sequencing (Reference 2, pg. 53). These types of unstructured, symbolic play also encourage children to direct games and activities, which fosters decision-making and problem-solving skills. Play that involves toys such as puzzles and blocks also promotes cognitive development by encouraging children to develop solutions and gain an understanding of spatial relationships (Reference 2, pg. 54).