Developing Cognitive Flexibility

Strong cognitive flexibility starts with young children’s early experiences

Classroom with babies and toddlers. Teacher holds a toy, and a toddler boy pretends it is a microphone.

At a Glance

Cognitive flexibility is being able to adjust your thinking to meet the demands of your environment. Toddlers are just beginning to develop cognitive flexibility. Educators can help children by giving them extra time and support to “shift gears” to adjust to a change, approach a new task, or apply their knowledge to something new.

What It Looks Like

A quick glance at how you can help children develop their cognitive flexibility

Support Creative Problem Solving

Offer materials and manipulatives that give young children opportunities to flex their mental muscles. Notice how block play encourages this child to think flexibly, as he tries out different ideas and solutions.

Practice Flexible Thinking

Play games that prompt children to shift their focus and attention from one movement to another. Notice how the educators provide support by restating directions and modeling each new action.

Help Children Shift Gears

Providing reminders, like this educator does before the timer goes off, helps children to successfully “shift gears” as they transition from one activity to another.


From Head to Toe

Written and illustrated by Eric Carle, this book encourages children to think flexibly as they pretend to be different animals.

From Head to Toe book cover

Activity Cards for Toddler Classrooms

Part of the STREAMin3 curriculum, activity cards provide simple and fun ways you can encourage creativity with toddlers
Bubbles Activity Card label
quick thinking


Children think flexibly as they try different ways of popping bubbles.

Follow the Music Activity Card label
music and movement

Follow the Music: Tempo

As children listen to music, they find different ways to match their movements to the tempo.

Singing Songs Activity Card label
using music

Singing Songs

Adding variety to the simple activity of singing together lets children practice their cognitive flexibility.

We're A Zoo Activity Card label
Act it out

We're A Zoo

Children can get creative as they act out different zoo animals with their bodies.


Get our Resource Guide

Includes questions and activities to guide your use of the videos, book suggestions, and activity cards featured for each of the Core Skills