Two adults reading a book to two young children.

Parenting the Preschooler: Intellectual Development Overview


July 11, 2022 - Kylie Rymanowicz, <>, <>,

Ages & Stages

Preschooler A child who is 3 to 5 years of age.

Young child A child who is 0 to 8 years of age.

Minding Our Language

In this series we have chosen to use the inclusive words they, their, and them as singular, nongendered pronouns.

Families and parents come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. A family may include people who are related by blood, by marriage, and by choice. Parents may be biological, step-, foster, adoptive, legally appointed, or something else. When we use the words family and parent in these materials, we do so inclusively and with great respect for all adults who care for and work with young people.

For preschool-aged children, intellectual development (also called cognitive or thinking development) occurs mostly through play. Playing with objects that are different shapes, colors, and textures gives them a chance to learn how things are the same and how things are different. They can learn about spatial relationships by manipulating blocks or learn about time through daily activities. Opportunities to explore different objects, participate in dramatic play, and observe the world around them are also important parts of intellectual development.

This unit of Parenting the Preschooler focuses on the range of thinking skills and knowledge that children need to be prepared for school. The concept sheets in this unit offer information that will help you help your child learn:

  • Concrete information about shapes, colors, numbers, and other knowledge of objects
  • Problem-solving skills
  • How things work
  • About the physical and social world they live in

Playing, having fun, and trying new things are also vital to your child’s brain and thinking development, and to their school readiness. Therefore, the unit offers tips on creating opportunities for new experiences for your child and helping them build on their previous experiences.

Intellectual Development Concept Sheets

Brain Development

    • 01-Scaffolding—How do you help your child learn?
    • 02-General Brain Development—How do you help boost your child’s brain development?
    • 03-Types of Intelligence—What does your child do well?
    • 04-School Readiness—How are you preparing your child for school?


  • 05-Playing to Learn—How do you make play time fun for your preschooler?
  • 06-Colors and Shapes—How do you help your child learn about colors and shapes?
  • 07-Time—How do you help your child learn about time?
  • 08-Math—How do you make learning math fun for your child?
  • 09-Spatial Relations—How do you help your child see things from different perspectives?
  • 10-Learning From the Environment—How do you interest your child in the things around them?

Find Out More

MSU Extension provides the following resources for parents and caregivers of preschoolers and young children at no or low cost. Be sure to check out these and other MSU Extension resources available at

  • Extension Extras (—These compilations of news articles, activities, parenting tips, and advice are published online Monday through Friday. The resources are designed for parents and caregivers of young children who are home all day during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Each day has a theme: Mindful Mondays, Tips on Tuesday, Working Wednesdays, Thinking Thursday, and Fun Fridays.
  • Extension Extras Enrichment Kits (—These kits feature five or six early childhood activities with learning goals focused in areas such as social and emotional health, literacy, and STEM; a supply list; suggested children’s books; introduction letters explaining how to use the materials; and an evaluation. The kits are available as free downloads.
  • Early Childhood Videos (—These short videos offer parents and caregivers of young children information on parenting topics. Titles include “Perspective Taking,” “Family Movies,” “Goals of Misbehavior,” “Using Thinking and Feeling Words,” “The Waiting Game,” and “When Siblings Fight.”
  • Building Early Emotional Skills (BEES) in Young Children (—This page provides links to a variety of free online parenting courses, workshops, and events offered by MSU Extension for parents and caregivers of young children aged 0 to 3.
  • Mindfulness A to Z: An Alphabet of Fun & Calming Activities (—The “Mindfulness A to Z” book and activity cards include 26 fun, delightfully illustrated mindfulness activities for children ages 3 to 12. From A (Alpaca Breathing) to Z (Zipper Stretches), children learn to slow down, calm down, and relax so they can focus and feel better. The book and activity cards are available for sale from

This is a revised edition of the Parenting the Preschooler curriculum that was originally published by Michigan State University Extension in 2006. The authors of this edition would like to thank the authors of the first edition for leading the way.

Parenting the Preschooler: Intellectual Development Overview © 2022 Michigan State University. These concept sheets may be copied for purposes of 4-H and other nonprofit educational programs and for individual use with credit to Michigan State University Extension. 1R-1P-Web-04:2022-RM/CFD WCAG 2.0 AA



Accessibility Questions:

For questions about accessibility and/or if you need additional accommodations for a specific document, please send an email to ANR Communications & Marketing at