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Cognitive Development in Early Childhood Education

by Elizabeth Nuttall

There are various aspects to a child's development including emotional, physical and cognitive development. As a parent, it is important to understand the different ways that your child develops so you can track progress, support development and identify problems. Cognitive development impacts your child's education and by understanding the different stages, you can be supportive of any educational providers working with your child and in turn, play an active part in your child's development at home.

Understanding Cognitive Development

According to an article by Kendra Cherry published on Net Places, cognitive development is the acquisition of mental processes that are needed for thinking and making sense of the world around you. This includes a number of skills including logical reasoning, interaction and processing, and storing and using information. To understand cognitive development and how it relates to a child's education, parents, teachers and academics draw on the research of psychologists like Jean Piaget.

Piaget's Cognitive Theory

Saul McLeod, writing for "Simply Psychology" in 2009, gives an overview of Piaget's Cognitive Theory, which consists of three basic components. The first is schemas, which are the building blocks of a child's knowledge and how he processes and categorizes information. For example, a child has a set of information about horses that he can retrieve when he sees one that helps him identify it as a horse. He may initially categorize a zebra as a horse as it fits with the information he possesses. However, when he learns that this is not the case, he will store additional information, such as that a zebra has stripes. Then, he will create a new category. The second component includes the processes that take place for the transition to take place from one stage to another. Finally, the third component includes the stages of development themselves.

Stages of Cognitive Development

McLeod goes on to explain the four different stages of cognitive development in more detail. Piaget defines the cognitive developments that take place at each stage for the average child, although he acknowledges that children develop at different rates. However, he also suggests that these stages occur universally and are not affected by different cultural experiences. The first stage, from birth to the age of 2, is called the sensorimotor stage and focuses on creating a basic motor response through sensory stimuli. The second stage is the preoperational stage between the ages of 2 and 6, when development focuses on the use of language. Next is the concrete operational stage from the age of 7 until a child is 11, when they begin to develop knowledge of mental operations. The final stage, from 12 to adulthood, involves the development of abstract concepts, such as logical reasoning and systematic planning. This is called the formal operational stage. It is the first and second stages that are the most relevant to early childhood education.

Supporting Cognitive Development

According to Parents.com, you can support the cognitive development of your child in several different ways. Firstly, you should interact with your baby on a daily basis by talking to him, singing, reading and smiling. Secondly, they suggest you provide your baby with toys, mirrors and activities that he can interact with which will stimulate his senses. Finally, teaching your child the concept of cause and effect through educational activities will also help cognitive development. One example is to fill containers with sand or water and then empty them again.

About the Author

After a 12-year career in education, Elizabeth Nuttall became a professional writer in 2010. Her areas of expertise include parenting, education, celebrations, entertainment, health and the social sciences.

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