Cognitive development is the foundation of intelligence, which is defined as the ability to learn, understand or deal with new situations.
Cognitive refers to the mental processes of understanding. As the name suggests, cognitive development in children simply means how children think. In other words, it refers to how a child acquires, organises, and learns to use knowledge.
These crucial skills help children process new information by taking that information and distributing it into the appropriate areas in their brain. Remember, though, cognitive development is a unique process and is specific to each child.
Decades of scientific research on cognitive development have led researchers to understand the developing mind as shockingly competent, active, and insightful from a very early age.
The most well-known and influential theory of cognitive development was created by French psychologist, Jean Piaget (1896–1980).
Understanding the Piagetian Theory
Jean Piaget’s paper, Cognitive Development in Children, altered the view of how a child learns. Trained in the areas of biology and philosophy, Piaget considered himself a genetic epistemologist. And as a biologist, Piaget was always interested in how an organism adapts to its environment.
Piaget analyzed children’s countless answers to why questions. He devised a variety of tests for assessing their intellectual stage and concluded that children do not think like adults. Through his studies, Piaget identified four stages in cognitive development.
Sensorimotor stage (Infancy): In this period, intelligence is demonstrated through motor activity without the use of symbols.
Pre-operational stage (Toddler and Early Childhood): In this period, intelligence is demonstrated through the use of symbols, language, memory, and imagination.
Concrete operational stage (Elementary and early adolescence): In this stage, intelligence is demonstrated through logical and systematic manipulation of symbols related to concrete objects.
Formal operational stage (Adolescence and adulthood): In this stage, intelligence is demonstrated through the logical use of symbols related to abstract concepts.
What Are Some of the Cognitive Skills for Preschoolers
Cognitive ability has multiple facets. Psychologists distinguish between fluid intelligence (the rate at which people learn) and crystallised intelligence (acquired knowledge).
More often than not, when we’re talking about cognitive skills in children, they would always refer to attention, memory, and thinking.
Attention: The ability to concentrate on one task or conversation for an extended period of time.
Memory: The ability to retain what a child has learned and experienced and therefore build a future base of knowledge.
Thinking: The ability to reason. With today’s rapid speed of change, children need to be able to do much more than repeating a list of facts.
The table below describes cognitive developmental milestones in preschool children. These milestones are not rigid rules. The chart should serve as a guide to help parents expect certain skills or behaviours to emerge in their child.
|Age 3||Age 4||Age 5|
|Plays make-believe with dolls, animals, and people||Understands the idea of counting||Counts 10 or more things|
|Does puzzles with 3 or 4 pieces||Starts to understand time||Can draw a person with at least 6 body parts|
|Understands what “two” means||Remembers parts of a story||Can print some letters or numbers|
|Copies a circle with a pencil or crayon||Understands the idea of “same” and “different”||Copies a triangle and other geometric shapes|
|Turns book pages one at a time||Draws a person with 2 to 4 body parts||Knows about things used every day, like money and food|
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013). Developmental Milestones. An electronic resource available from: http://www.cdc.gov/NCBDDD/actearly/pdf/checklists/AllChecklists.pdf
The table below describes possible warning signs for preschool children. The chart should serve as a guide to help parents to expect certain skills or behaviours to emerge in their child.
|Age 3||Age 4||Age 5|
|Can’t work simple toys (such as pegboards, simple puzzles, turning handle)||Has trouble scribbling||Doesn’t respond to people, or responds only superficially|
|Doesn’t play pretend or make-believe||Shows no interest in interactive games or make-believe||Can’t tell what’s real and what’s make-believe|
|Doesn’t understand simple instructions||Doesn’t follow 3-part commands doesn’t understand “same” and “different”||Doesn’t play a variety of games and activities can’t give first and last name|
|Doesn’t draw pictures|
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013). Developmental Milestones. An electronic resource available from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/watchmetraining/module2.html
Activities to Promote Cognitive Skills
Children naturally want to learn how things work, and they learn best through play. Play is a vital part of childhood. All children are born with a natural drive to play. And they can play anywhere. At home. At school. Anywhere.
Whether it pretends play or fantasy, the play has been investigated both as an indicator and facilitator of symbolic functioning in young children.
What kind of play are we talking about here? Rough-and-tumble play. Rough play is when children do things like climb over each other, wrestle, roll around and even pretend to fight. Rough-and-tumble play helps children learn self-control and compassion. They can also learn to work out social relationships as they play roles, contributing to their cognitive skills development.
According to this study, the mechanisms involved in the rough play are every bit as cognitive as are those associated with math seat-work.
If you’re wondering what are some other activities to promote cognitive skills at home, the following are examples of some of the top activities to incorporate into your child’s daily routine. A child of any ability will benefit from any activity that promotes active learning.
Practise the alphabet: Sing along to the alphabet song or use play dough to form letters. Better yet, get your child to finger paint the letters. A more hands-on approach to learning stimulates sensory development.
Practise shapes and colours: Our world is made up of colours and shapes. Naming colours may be second nature to us, but it is a cognitively complex task for young children. Start with the most common shapes such as squares, triangles, circles, and rectangles. Use everyday household items. Not only are they educational, but also fun and cost-effective.
Play games: Peek-a-book if your child is younger. Board games, puzzles and hide and seek if your child is older than 6. These activities promote problem solving and creativity. Playing board games, for instance, stimulates brain areas that are responsible for memory formation and complex thought processes for all ages.
Why Preschool Is Important for Children to Develop Cognitive Skills
First and foremost, children learn so much in preschool. And children learn best through daily experiences and interactions. Not forgetting academic subjects such as math, science, social studies, language and literacy, art, and technology.
All these areas of learning seek to develop children’s cognitive skills. At Q-dees, children go through the Starters Thematic Programme.
The programme has 5 areas of learning for toddlers.
English Play Imagination: Imagination builds a variety of skills, including problem-solving, language, social and communicative skills.
Memory & Logical Training: Recognising this as a crucial period, we have created specific subjects for our Early Discovery Programme (EDP) to train our children to focus their attention and memory recall.
Self-help Skills and Fun Exercises: Q-dees’ Pre-GymFlex Programme, through its fun exercises, develops and refines children’s fine and gross motor skills.
Math and Science: We bring the joy of learning math and science through our teaching methodology that involves learning through exploration and experimentation.
Character Building: There is no better way to teach good character than to model it. This is exemplified in all our dedicated teachers, and in-built in every one of our books and songs.
One of the most remarkable characteristics of human beings is how much our thinking evolves with age. We end this article with a quote that perfectly encapsulates cognitive development in young children.
It was an answer to a question. Taken from an interview between one of the authors of the ground-breaking book, Scientist In The Crib, Psychologist Andrew Meltzoff and ascd.org, Marcia D’Arcangelo.
When the author was asked, When we think of scientists, we think of methodical approaches to solving problems. How is that approach similar to what young children do cognitively?
He answers, there seems to be a deep kinship between adults doing science and children learning. Some of the principles are the same: forming hypotheses, making predictions, doing experiments to test ideas. Even babies have theories of the world, very simple theories, but cognitive structures about how people, things, and language work. When a child goes through stages of development, he or she abandons an old theory and adopts a new one. That new theory leads children to make new predictions and to be open to new information and to collaborative studies.
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