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What Is Cognitive Development?
Cognitive development is the growth of intellectual skills, such as language, imagination, mathematical concepts, and problem-solving. Skills in this area include:
- Identifying physical properties of people, places, things, and events
- Grouping, classifying and matching
- Comparing, identifying likes and differences
- Ordering, seriating, patterning, and sequencing
- Number concepts
- Trial and error
- Cause and effect
Children develop understanding of concepts about themselves, others, and the world around them through observation, interacting with people and real objects, using all of their senses, and seeking solutions to concrete problems. Learning about math, science, social studies, health, and other content areas is integrated through meaningful activities such as:
- Building with blocks
- Measuring sand, water, or ingredients for cooking
- Observing changes in the environment
- Working with wood and tools
- Sorting objects for a purpose
- Exploring animals, plants, water, wheels, and gears
- Singing and listening to music from various cultures
- Drawing, painting, and working with clay
A child’s cognitive development is measured not only by what information the child knows but also includes whether a child has the self-confidence and skills to explore, try out new ideas, and take on new challenges.
Piaget’s Cognitive Development
Piaget theorized that cognitive development occurs in the process of biological maturity and interaction with the environment. He wasn’t interested in measuring I.Q. but rather how concepts such as number, time, and quantity emerged during the children’s learning. The chart below gives examples of how Piaget’s theory would look like in the learning environment:
Piaget’s Cognitive Abilities – Observation in the Learning Environment
Classification The child can sort things into groups of the same and different. – For example, give the child some objects and ask him or her to put them in two piles of things that are the same and things that are different. Describe what you observed a child sort and what were the attributes of the piles.
One-to-One Correspondence The child can match two groups of objects, lining up one object of one group with one and only one of the other group. – Ask a child, for instance, to put one glass for snack for each chair at the table. Describe what you observed a child match and whether he or she could match one-to-one and only one.
Conservation of Number The child understands that the way the objects are arranged does not affect their quantity. – For example, put a bunch of 5 colored bears together and spread 5 more colored bears in a line. Ask the child which group has more bears? Record what the child does and says. Try again with different objects or one cup of water in a wide jar and one cup in a tall, narrow jar.
Seriation The child can arrange objects or ideas sequentially, according to a specific attribute. – For example, ask a child to arrange a set of Cuisenaire rods from the shortest to the tallest. Record what the child says and does.
Causality The child has some comprehension of cause and effect relationships, such as the relation between the weather and how one dresses or how baking transforms dough into cookies. – Record incidents in which you observe children understanding or not understanding cause and effect.
Artificialism The child assumes natural things were created for human means, such as the sun is shining so we can go on a picnic today. – Record the child’s conversations or comments that suggest a sense of artificialism.
Space The child has some awareness of how things are located in space and in relationships. – Record the child’s experiences with space and relationships.
Time The child has some awareness of past, present, future, and duration. – Does the child have a sense of before, during, after? Record an example.
Cognitive Skills in the Learning Environment
Cognitive development promotes the child’s ability to think, reason, and solve problems. Every experience leads to stimulation of cognitive development. Through their natural curiosity, children explore their world and act upon what they find. The educator’s goal should be to provide a learning environment that nurtures and stimulates this process. Are they allowed to explore their world or is it stored out of reach? Adults have a common misconception that children think like adults. Allowing them to explore real objects and role-play develops their understanding of the abstract. They begin to ask “what if…” and begin to move away from the literal.