Child writing on desk

How to encourage intellectual growth.

What is cognitive or intellectual development?

Cognitive or intellectual development means the growth of a child’s ability to think and reason. It's about how they organize their minds, ideas and thoughts to make sense of the world they live in.

Some intellectual development milestones you may notice in five and six-year-olds include:

  • Vocabulary increasing to 2,000 words, sentences of five or more words.
  • Can count up to 10 objects at one time, can copy complex shapes.
  • Begin to reason and argue, uses words like why and because.
  • Understand concepts like yesterday, today and tomorrow.
  • Are able to sit at a desk, follow teacher instructions and do simple assignments independently.

Some intellectual development milestones you may notice in seven to 11-year-olds include:

  • A longer attention span and willing to take on more responsibility such as chores.
  • Understand fractions, money and the concept of space.
  • Can tell time and name months and days of week in order.
  • Enjoy reading a book on their own.

Adolescents aged 12 to 18 are capable of complex thinking. This includes the ability to:

  • Think abstractly about possibilities.
  • Reason from known principles, forming own new ideas or questions.
  • Consider many points of view, comparing or debating ideas or opinions.
  • Thinking about the process of thinking, being aware of the act of thought processes.

Learn more about children's intellectual growth and development milestones.

How can I encourage intellectual growth in my five to 11-year-old?

It is important that parents and caregivers understand their child’s current intellectual stage so they can offer activities to support their child’s cognitive or intellectual growth. Creative and artistic play helps with learning and development by letting children engage in problem solving where there are no right answers. With creative activity, the process is more important than the end product.

  • Visits to the library will increase their vocabulary, imagination and desire to learn. A library card is a great way to introduce the concepts of borrowing and responsibility to a child.
  • Introduce your child to museums, new neighbourhoods and exhibitions.
  • Spend as much uninterrupted one-on-one time with your child as you can.
  • Avoid prolonged viewing of television, video and computer games.
  • Set up a homework space and routine in your home.
  • Talk to your child’s teacher if you are concerned about your child’s progress.

What kinds of intellectual growth occur in adolescence?

A child in early adolescence:

  • Uses more complex thinking focused on personal decision-making in school and at home.
  • Begins to show use of formal logical operations in schoolwork.
  • Begins to question authority and society standards.
  • Begins to form and speak own thoughts and views on a variety of topics. You may hear your child talk about which sports or groups they prefer and what parental rules should be changed.

A child in middle adolescence:

  • Expands thinking to include more complex, philosophical and futuristic concerns.
  • Often questions more extensively, analyzes more extensively.
  • Thinks about and begins to form his or her own code of ethics (What do I think is right?).
  • Thinks about different possibilities and begins to develop own identity (Who am I?).
  • Begins to systematically consider possible future goals (What do I want?).

A child in late adolescence:

  • Uses complex thinking to focus on less self-centred concepts and personal decision-making.
  • Has increased thoughts about global concepts, such as justice, history, politics and patriotism.
  • Often develops idealistic views on topics, may debate and develop intolerance of opposing views.
  • Begins to focus thinking on making career decisions and their emerging role in adult society.

Learn more about children's intellectual growth and development milestones.

How can I encourage healthy intellectual growth in my adolescent?

As children get older, they grow more sophisticated in the way they think, becoming more logical and systematic in their thought processes. To enhance their cognitive development at this stage:

  • Include them in discussions about a variety of topics, issues and current events.
  • Encourage them to share ideas and thoughts with you.
  • Encourage them to think independently and develop their own ideas and set goals.
  • Challenge them to think about possibilities for the future.
  • Compliment and praise them for well-thought-out decisions.
  • Assist them in re-evaluating poorly made decisions.