What Are Cognitive Skills?

Cognitive skills are a network of basic skills we use to think, analyze, and remember information so we can carry out all of the activities we do every day. The strength or weakness of cognitive skills determines your child’s ability to learn.

The cognitive skill network develops the mechanisms we use to learn, remember, and use our knowledge. Cognitive skills form a kind of ‘roadway’ in the brain with lots of interconnecting ‘roadways’ so we can process information. The information we process is more like a car driving along the roadway of cognitive skills. As we learn more and more information, the cognitive ‘roadways’ become more complex and better able to handle many different kinds of ‘traffic’.

The cognitive network needs all of the cognitive skills to be strong. One weak cognitive skill can cause difficulty learning because the entire cognitive network needs the complete combination to process incoming information and store it in memory. Similarly, if two highway lanes are blocked by traffic, cars in the other lanes have difficulty maintaining their speed.

When weak cognitive skills become like ‘blocked lanes’ in the cognitive roadway, moving information along the cognitive roadway becomes difficult. It is essential to strengthen any weak gap so that processing gets faster and easier.

Cognitive Skills in Children

Each of your child’s cognitive skills has a job in processing information, and each of them must combine with other skills for learning to be successful. Your child’s cognitive ability is created by the cognitive network of skills that enable the brain to complete tasks at school.

Learning in class requires using more than one cognitive skill. The cognitive skills must combine and work together to create an understanding more significant than any one skill for your child to succeed.

If only one of these cognitive skills is weak, your child can still struggle to learn – even if all of the other skills are strong. Cognitive strengths are important, but they cannot make up for weak skills.

Children who struggle with learning usually have one or two weak cognitive skills that hold them back from reaching their true learning potential. Teachers notice the academic subjects they are teaching, and they report how well your child is doing in reading, math, spelling, etc., on the report cards you receive. Low grades on the report card in reading, spelling, writing, math, etc., reflect your child’s inability to use their cognitive abilities well enough to keep up with the class.

Along with processing skills, your child’s cognitive abilities are the most critical part of learning because they create the ‘roadway’ in the brain your child will use to learn the information that the teacher is presenting.

What Are Some Examples of Cognitive Skills?

There are different types of cognitive skills that help your child learn. Each of them is important to the overall learning process and working to improve each skill builds on the others. 


Your child benefits from strong attention skills in the cognitive network to pay attention, focus attention, and sustain attention to incoming information.

Selective Attention is the ability to pay attention to the ‘correct’ thing.

Common difficulties: Your child is easily distracted. When the teacher presents a lesson, selective attention enables your child to pay attention to the presentation rather than classmates who may be causing distractions.

Sustained Attention is the ability to focus long enough to finish a task.

Common difficulties: When this part of the network is weak, your child may start playing with something and quickly move on to the next toy. They can be easily distracted by things around them and leave projects unfinished because something else catches their attention that looks more interesting. They can make simple mistakes in their school work because they missed part of the instructions, didn’t hear the complete explanation, or were focusing on something else in the classroom.

Simultaneous (divided) attention allows your child to handle more than one thing at a time and get back to what needs to get done.

Common difficulties: Your child forgets what they were doing and starts something else or makes mistakes in the information they know.


The three memory steps for remembering information are short-term, working, and long-term memory. All three are necessary for the memory process.

Short-term memory is the instantaneous remembering of a piece of information. 

Common difficulties: Your child forgets a three-digit number like 375 while copying it from the board.

Working Memory is the ability to remember one piece of information while using it or adding to it to complete something.

Common difficulties: Your child has difficulty remembering multi-step instructions like the steps for solving a three-digit multiplication problem or forgets the directions for completing an assignment.

Long-term Memory is the ability to remember and use information that your child has already learned.

Common difficulties: Your child learns spelling words but forgets how to spell those words correctly in written work, which is why they always seem to do poorly on tests despite studying hard.

Logic, Analysis, and Reasoning

Logic, Analysis, and Reasoning help your child organize and process information to solve problems.  

Phonemic Awareness helps your child learn the parts of words needed for reading. This skill is vital because we need to ‘hear’ the words in our minds while we are reading. 

Common difficulties: Your child has problems reading or guesses at words after reading the first letter.

Visual Memory helps your child picture and remember information. 

Common difficulties: Your child has difficulty answering comprehensive questions and can only remember one or two directions at a time.

Processing Speed is often included on a list of cognitive abilities because the efficiency and coordination of the cognitive skills within the whole network impact how quickly your child can process information, learn, and complete work.

Common difficulties: Your child’s school work takes longer than classmates, they need extra time to finish assignments, or they might be recommended for special programs.

The types of cognitive skills needed for success in elementary school become more complex as your child advances to middle school and high school. 

The cognitive skill network in elementary school is like your neighborhood street. The level of cognitive development needed in middle school is more like a city street. The level of development necessary for success in high school is like a highway. And, as your child grows into a young adult, the cognitive skill roadway will have developed into something more complex like a multi-lane freeway with clover overpasses and express lanes.

If your child is missing some skills developed during the elementary years of cognitive skill development, it will be challenging to keep up in middle school and beyond.

Work With Hardy Brain Training To Develop Cognitive Skills

Hardy Brain Training offers educational programs designed to help school-age children who struggle with learning, may be falling behind in school, or have not developed essential cognitive skills which are the foundation of learning.

We create a personalized learning program that improves cognitive and processing skills, so your child can make permanent learning improvements.

Contact us today to learn more about if Hardy Brain Training is a good fit for you and your child, and, as an additional resource to help, we also have a free online diagnostic quiz to help identify the key areas where your child may be struggling.