14+ Activities that Help With Prefrontal Cortex Development

If you wonder why your child’s first reaction to a clean living room is to dump a bin of LEGOs on the floor or why you must ask them 25 times to get their shoes on before leaving the house, the answer lies in their prefrontal cortex. Understanding the prefrontal cortex development helps you point your child to the right activities for their age. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is a part of the brain that helps with decision-making, problem-solving, and social skills.

As parents and caregivers, you play a vital role in your child's prefrontal cortex development. Our Raleigh child development programs focus on activities that inspire mental growth and healthy prefrontal cortex development in toddlers and babies. Join us as we share information about this part of your child's brain and activities you can engage in with your baby or toddler to aid in healthy prefrontal cortex development.

What is the Prefrontal Cortex

The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain behind the forehead. It’s responsible for higher-order brain functions, including:

  • Emotional Control
  • Logic and reasoning
  • Problem-solving
  • Memory
  • Focus and attention
  • Impulse control
  • Transitioning from one task to another

Since the brain develops from back to front, the PFC is one of the last areas to mature, often fully developing in the early 20s. It's important to remember that toddlers and young children are still developing these skills and may act impulsively or have trouble focusing. This is a normal part of their development and not something to be overly concerned about. 

Prefrontal Cortex Development Age

The prefrontal cortex undergoes significant growth from birth through early adulthood. A child’s brain is about 80% of its adult size by age two, with the most rapid growth between ages 2 and 6. That age gap is the most crucial time to start making neural connections to help with thinking and learning. 

Prefrontal Cortex Development Stages

From Birth to Age 6

  • Infancy (0-2 Years): The brain forms essential structures. Babies learn basic skills like recognizing faces and sounds and forming many neural connections.
  • Early Childhood (2-6 Years): The brain’s “wiring” strengthens. Kids develop language, social skills, and better control over their actions. 

Ages 6 to 25

  • Middle Childhood (6-8 Years): The brain eliminates weaker connections, making thinking more efficient. Kids improve in problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Adolescence (8-25 Years): The PFC continues to mature. Teens and young adults enhance their planning, organizing, and abstract thinking skills.

Prefrontal Cortex Development Stages: Male vs. Female

Boys and girls generally follow the same pattern, but some studies suggest girls might develop specific skills, like language and social interactions, a bit earlier than boys. Educators and parents can support each child's journey by tailoring activities to individual needs, fostering resilience and adaptability.

Activities to Boost Prefrontal Cortex Development

Engaging in various activities can significantly enhance your child’s brain development, particularly the prefrontal cortex. Here are some effective strategies.

Fun and Educational Games

  • Memory Matching Games: These help improve memory and flexibility in thinking. Simple matching games can assist your child in remembering and connecting different objects or pictures.
  • Puzzles: These are great for developing problem-solving skills and logical thinking. Start with easy puzzles and gradually increase the difficulty. 
Mother and child playing with blocks together and working on prefrontal cortex development

Physical Play

  • Outdoor Activities: Outdoor activities like obstacle courses or scavenger hunts can help with planning and decision-making, encouraging kids to think about their next move and achieve their goals. 
  • Team Sports: Sports teach children how to work together, follow rules, develop strategies, and build social skills in a fun way.

Creative Play

  • Arts and Crafts: Drawing, painting, and other creative crafts boost creativity and fine motor skills. They also help children express their emotions and improve focus.
  • Role-Playing: Pretend play helps with social behavior and language skills. Encourage your child to create stories and act out different roles. 

Music and Rhythmic Activities

  • Musical Instruments: Playing musical instruments enhances a child’s ability to process sounds and develop fine motor skills. Instruments like the drums, piano, and xylophone are great for young kids.  
  • Singing and Dancing: These activities improve memory, coordination, and social interaction. Singing songs and dancing to rhythms are fun and beneficial for prefrontal cortex development.

Building and Construction Toys

  • Blocks and Legos: Building with blocks and Legos helps to develop spatial awareness, fine motor skills, and creativity. These activities encourage planning and problem-solving. 
  • Sand and Water Play: Playing with sand and water offers a sensory-rich experience that helps develop fine motor skills and creativity. Creating shapes and structures in sand or experimenting with water flow can stimulate curiosity and cognitive development.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Activities

  • Use Stories to Teach Empathy: Reading stories and discussing characters’ feelings helps toddlers develop empathy, enhancing emotional understanding and social awareness. 
  • Guided Practice to Regulate Feelings: Teaching calming techniques like counting and deep breathing helps children manage big emotions effectively, fostering emotional regulation skills. 
  • Developing the Ability to Follow Multi-Step Directions: Engaging in activities that involve following multi-step directions promotes cognitive flexibility and problem-solving while encouraging cooperation and teamwork.
  • Try Goal-Oriented Games: Games such as Simon Says, Red Light/Green Light, and Follow the Leader promote executive function development, social interaction, and cooperation while providing opportunities for physical activity.

Why Environment and Social Interaction Matter for Prefrontal Cortex Development

A supportive environment and positive social interactions are crucial for prefrontal cortex development. Experiences like responsive parenting, learning opportunities, and social engagement help children develop essential skills.

How to Create a Supportive Environment

  • Be Responsive: Engage with your child through positive interactions. Listen to them and provide emotional support to build a secure attachment.
  • Enriched Learning Places: Provide educational materials and interactive activities. Create areas that encourage curiosity and exploration.
  • Encourage Socializing: Get your child involved in group activities, playdates, and community events. Positive peer interactions help with learning cooperation, negotiation, and conflict resolution.

Role of Nutrition in Prefrontal Cortex Development

  • Balanced Diet: Ensure your child gets a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. These nutrients are crucial for brain development.
  • Hydration: Keep your child hydrated. Dehydration can affect cognitive functions, so ensure they drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Limit Sugar: Excessive sugar intake can impact attention and energy levels. Opt for healthy snacks like fruits, nuts, and yogurt.

Importance of Sleep

  • Consistent Sleep Schedule: Establish a regular sleep routine to ensure your child gets enough rest. Sleep is vital for brain development and overall health.
  • Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment: Make the bedroom a calm and comfortable place for sleep. Limit screen time before bed and encourage relaxing activities like reading.

Schedule a Tour of Our 5-Star Preschool in Raleigh Today

Understanding the stages of prefrontal cortex development and engaging in targeted activities can profoundly impact your child's cognitive abilities. At Primary Beginnings, we are dedicated to helping children learn and develop in a safe, nurturing environment. We are proud of our five-star childcare rating and provide the highest quality care at every stage, from infant and toddler through preschool and pre-kindergarten. Contact us at   919-790-6888 or fill out the form below to schedule a tour at one of our three North Raleigh locations.