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Cognitive Development. What is cognitive development?. Expressed by (Berk. 2004) as “children actively construct knowledge as they manipulate and explore their world.”

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what is cognitive development
What is cognitive development?
  • Expressed by (Berk. 2004) as “children actively construct knowledge as they manipulate and explore their world.”
  • Cognitive Development has been categorized into four main stages when dealing with children, these were founded by the main theorist for this topic, Jean Piaget.
stage one of cognitive development
Stage one of cognitive development

1: Sensori-motor period (0-2 years)

Actions are performed on the world in terms of their five senses. Initially the child’s behaviour is governed by simple reflexes. This stage is sub-staged into six parts.

The child cannot understand that the toy is still there even though it has been covered by a sheet of paper

the sub stages
The sub-stages

Substage 1:(0-1 months) modification of reflexes

Substage 2:(1-4 months) primary circular


Substage 3:(4-8 months) secondary circular


Substage 4:(8-12 months) coordination of secondary

reactions attainment of object performance

Substage 5:(12-18 months) tertiary circular reactions

Substage 6:(18-24 months) representational


stage two of cognitive development
Stage two of cognitive development

2: Pre-operational stage ( 2-7 years)

  • The emergence of language, modelling and memory are key features. It is in this when, that according to (McGurk. 1975, p.36-37) ‘the child’s internal, cognitive representation of the external world is gradually developing and differentiating but many serious limitations are also in evidence.’
stage three of cognitive development
Stage three of cognitive development

3: Concrete operations period (7-11 years)

According to Piaget, this stage is when children begin to understand the relationship between things in the world but still cannot think in abstract terms. Although their thinking has greater flexibility, they are capable of operational groupings only with concrete objects.

if you have two five inch sticks laid parallel to each other, then move one of them a little, the child may believe that the moved stick is now longer than the other.

stage four of cognitive development
Stage four of cognitive development

4: Formal operations period (11+ years)

The individual moves from a less to a more mature level of functioning. McGurk(1975, p. 39) notes that ‘[t]he hallmark of this stage is the child’s ability to reason abstractly without relying upon concrete situations or events.’

cognitive development in infancy
Cognitive development in infancy
  • In the first 18 months of life, infants are maturing not only physically but cognitively as well. ‘Piaget describes the first two years of life as a time of rapid growth in the child’s ability to think, reason and understand the world.’ (Slee,P. 2002, p.142-143). Infants belong within the Sensori-motor period in which they are using their sensory systems and motor activity to help them to acquire knowledge about the world.
cognitive development in early childhood
Cognitive development in early childhood
  • Belong in the Pre operational stage of development.
  • ‘most obvious change is an extraordinary increase in representational, or symbolic activity.’ (Berk. P.216, 2004)
  • Eg. The child pushes the block along the floor saying ‘broom broom’, they know that the block is not a car but the block signifies something to the child.
cognitive development in middle childhood
Cognitive development in middle childhood
  • During Primary school years, children make significant strides in terms of their cognitive development.
  • Piaget places them within the concrete operations period.
  • ‘Children begin to understand the relationship between things in the world but still cannot think in abstract terms’ (Slee,P. p.331, 2002)
  • Thought is more logical, organised and flexible than in early childhood.

A child in middle childhood will know that If you pour the mild from the short, fat glass into the tall, skinny glass, that there is the same amount of milk as before, despite the dramatic increase in mild-level!

cognitive development in later childhood
Cognitive development in later childhood
  • Piaget places these individuals in the Formal operational stage where these children develop the capacity for scientific abstract thinking.
  • In this stage children progress dramatically in the way of understanding and having the ability to think in a mature and sophisticated manner.
other cognitive processes
Other cognitive processes
  • Piaget also included accommodation, assimilation and organization in his theory of cognitive development.
  • Accommodation: adapting to the environment
  • Assimilation: incorporating experiences into cognitive structures
  • Organization: the way cognitive acts are grouped and arranged to form sequences, mental “folders” or schemata.
jean piaget
Jean Piaget
  • Piaget’s proposal of the four stages of cognitive development created a revolution in the study of cognitive development.
  • During the 1970s and the 1980s his study dominated the study of any other theorist and put new meaning to the child’s acquisition of early literacy and numeracy skills.

“Jean Piaget was born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, on August 9, 1896 .” (C.George Bueree para.1, 2006)

Piaget proved to quite accurate in his study of cognitive development as this graph shows. The only problem with his study is that it was biased. Most of his experiments were performed on his own children and not on a variety of different children from all walks of life.

lev vygotsky s cognitive theory
Lev Vygotsky’s Cognitive theory
  • His research stretched from 1896 till 1934
  • Stressed the significance of the environment and culture in the learning process.
  • Disagreed with Piaget’s view on the structures of cognitive development.
  • Argued that children’s cognitive abilities were formed and progressed by interacting with the environment.
  • ‘Scaffolding’, or teacher-guided learning of repeated or relevant behaviour, is one of his key concepts.
  • He was born in the same year as Piaget in Russia

For him, the individual’s development is a result of his or her culture. Development, in Vygotsky´s theory, applies mainly to mental development, such as thought, language and reasoning process. These abilities were understood to develop through social interactions with others (especially parents) and therefore represented the shared knowledge of the culture.

He states:

“Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of ideas. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals (Vygotsky, 1978, p.57).” (Sólrún B. Kristinsdóttir, para.1, 2001)

theories and today s understanding
Theories and today’s understanding
  • In the 21st century when trying to define the theory of cognitive development Piaget is the one whose detailed and extensive theory stands out amongst the others.
  • Although his experiments were biased and he faced many constraints when trying to conduct his study, his final analysis in the topic proves to be the most accurate and still taught as THE theory of cognitive development in schools today.
  • Bueree, C (1999). Personality theories.
  • Kristinsdóttir,B (2001).
  • Berk, L (2004).Development through the lifespans- 3rd ed. United States of America: Pearson
  • Slee. P (2002). Children adolescent and family development. Australia: Cambridge University Press
  • McGurt, H (1978) Issues in childhood social development. London: Methuen