Intellectual and Cognitive Development in Children and Teens
When parents usually think about intellectual or cognitive development they are thinking more about learning academic skills and building a knowledge base. They usually limit their concept to knowing colors, recognizing shapes, learning the alphabet, and for sure the “3Rs” consisting of reading, writing, and arithmetic. However, cognitive and intellectual development is much broader than that. Cognitive development and intellectual development really focuses on the way changes in the brain occur related to how we think and learn as we grow. Children do not just know less than adults do, there are differences in the very way that they think about and understand their experiences. The Chart below provides a better picture of what we mean by cognitive development.
Early object permanence.
Follows an object out of sight, searches for
a partially hidden object.
Searches for an object completely hidden from view
Cause and effect
Realizes his/her action causes another action or is
linked to a response
Functional use of objects
Realizes what objects are used for
Pretends to use objects functionally on others,
Uses an object to symbolize something else during
Knows letters, numbers, shapes, colors, and counts
Understands conservation of matter, multistep
problem-solving; realizes there can be differing perspectives
Able to hypothesize, think abstractly, draw conclusions
Jean Piaget was a Swiss biologist and psychologist who developed theories of cognitive development based on his observation of children and through experiments with children to discover how they learn and develop and to determine at what age they acquire various knowledge and skills. Piaget saw intelligence as an active, constructive, and dynamic process. He stated that the mistakes children make in their thinking indicate the nature of their thought processes. As children develop, the structure of their thinking changes and these new modes of thought are based on the earlier structures which he named schemes.
According to Piaget’s theory, children are naturally curious and begin to explore and experiment and build their knowledge base and skill set as they move along. In a way children and like “little scientists”. At some point, a baby will touch an object like something on a crib mobile and will notice that it moves. He/she then try this with other objects. As their brain and physical development mature they have a greater capacity to explore their world. Through play and interaction with others in their environment, young children to learn new things and add them to their database because there is always a discrepancy between what they know and what they need to know.
Piaget theorized that there were two processes a child employs as they try to make more sense of their ever-expanding world. He defines these as (1) Assimilation in which they continue to discover new information which they try to fit into one of their schemes and (2) Accommodation is when the new information does not exactly fit into one of their schemes, the child modifies the scheme to accommodate the new information. This process repeats itself each time a child discovers something new.
Through his observations, Piaget identified four stages of cognitive development:
Sensorimotor stage (birth-2 years)
Preoperational stage (2-7 years)
Concrete operational stage (7-12 years)
Formal operational stage (12 years and older)
While Piaget thought that children were programmed to move from one stage to the next as their brain developed, another theorist, Lev Vygotsky stated that cognitive development takes place a result of social interactions with others. He refers to this as Social Constructivism. He described three ways in which knowledge and skills are shared with a child by a more experienced person. He defined them as (1) Zone of Proximal Development which is what a child cannot do alone but could do with a little assistance from a person with greater skills and knowledge, (2) Scaffolding which involves a more knowledgeable person helping the child to acquire new piece of information or learn a new skill and (3) Private Speech in which the child talks to himself, often out loud, to guide his own actions.
Parents may see their child trying to do something and come alongside and show them how to do it and then talk the child through the process until they are doing it on their own. In other situations, a parent may feel that a child is ready to learn something like doing a simple board puzzle or learning shapes and colors. They will present the child with the materials and let the child try on their own and if they are having difficulty they will guide them. During these experiences, the child is not only learning new things but continues to bond with the parent as well as socialize by which they develop socialization skills and language skills as well. When children start school they receive more formal instruction. Most schools base their approach to teaching based on the theories of both Piaget and Vygotsky.
The role of the parent is to spend time observing and interacting with their child and provide opportunities for them to learn and develop by exposing them to new things by taking them to interesting places or providing materials at home including a household object, toys, and books. Play with parents, solo play and play with other children is key to a child developing not only promote cognitive development but physical, social and language development as well. Play means interacting with people and objects not watching videos or playing electronic games. Play also means going outside to explore and engage in physical activity. Research is finding that lack of exercise and over-exposure to electronics of all kinds results in poor physical development as well as impairment in attention and concentration.
Tips for Parents
A Few Things Parents Can Do To Promote Cognitive Development
The best thing parents can do is play with your kids (baby to teens) doing things that you both enjoy.
Introduce your child early to music. Sing to them and with them. Play different kinds of music in the background while you are playing with your baby. Get your child a play music set. Teach them to play the key board. Take them for music lessons. We highly recommend the Yamaha Program which starts kids out a preschool but goes all the way to high school. They learn music theory, how to play instruments and how to write their own music. Go to concerts for kids.
Spend time with younger children reading to them. When they can read on their own, encourage reading and discuss with them about they are reading. Ask questions.
Play games with your child starting with “pat a cake” and moving on to card games and board games. Have a family game night.
Encourage your child to get outdoors. Exercise and fresh air are good for brain development. Take them to the park, the beach or the forest.
Go on nature walks and talk about what you see. Get books or information on things of interest. Watch TV shows on topics they are interested in and talk about it later. Here are the top 12 Tv channels for kids: Discovery, Animal Planet, Science Channel, History Channel, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr, The Learning Channel, Disney Channel, PBS, and Sprout.
Introduce them to the local library. Get the card. Talk to the children’s librarian for book recommendations for your child. Also, ask about the programs they have for children.
Check with your local community college and department of recreation and parks for special programs they have for kids and teens.
Go to museums of all kinds and any other attractions around you.
Take trips to places you can have fun and be out in nature or visit cultural or historical centers.
Let them play with things around the house. Bring a box or two home and watch they can do.
Select toys with play value (they can make believe, build things, learn things) and that are age appropriate. Amazon has a great toy department that provides excellent tools to select the right toys for your child.
Recommended Books for Parents
Ages and Stages: A Parent’s Guide to Normal Childhood Development A comprehensive parent’s guide to your child’s psychological development from birth through age 10 Written in an engaging, practical style, Ages and Stages offers you the benefits of the most current research on child development, featuring helpful tips and techniques to foster your child’s maturation. Charles Schaefer and Theresa Foy DiGeronimo tell you what behaviors you can expect as your child grows and how you can help him or her to advance to the next level of development. They include numerous examples, stories, and activities you can use immediately to positively influence your child’s development.
Dr. Healy also addresses academic learning, offering countless suggestions for how parents can help without pushing. She explains the building blocks of reading, writing, spelling, and mathematics and shows how to help youngsters of all ages develop motivation, attention, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your ChildWhen facing challenges, unpleasant tasks, and contentious issues such as homework, screen time, food choices, and bedtime, children often act out or shut down, responding with reactivity instead of receptivity. This is what New York Times bestselling authors Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson call a No Brain response. But our kids can be taught to approach life with openness and curiosity. Parents can foster their children’s ability to say yes to the world and welcome all that life has to offer, even during difficult times. This is what it means to cultivate a Yes Brain.
When kids work from a Yes Brain, they’re more willing to take chances and explore. They’re more curious and imaginative, less worried about making mistakes. They’re better at relationships and more flexible and resilient when it comes to handling adversity and big feelings. They work from a clear internal compass that directs their decisions, as well as the way they treat others. Guided by their Yes Brain, they become more open, creative, and resilient.
In The Yes Brain, the authors give parents skills, scripts, ideas, and activities to bring kids of all ages into the overwhelmingly beneficial “yes” state. You’ll learn.
Mind Benders: Deductive Thinking Skills Mind Bendersreg are best-selling deductive thinking puzzles, develop logic, reading comprehension, and mental organizational skills that are vital to achieving high grades and top test scores in all subjects. They’re also great for developing real-life, problem-solving skills. Methods Your students will learn to carefully analyze each Mind Bendersreg; puzzle and its clues, identifying logical associations between people, places, and things. The key is to start with the most obvious associations, then deduce less obvious associations until everything finally fits together. Teaching Support Includes step-by-step instructions and detailed answers. Book levels spiral in difficulty within the grade range. (Kindergarten through 12th grade)
Brain Rules for Baby (Updated and Expanded): How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five In his New York Times bestseller Brain Rules, Dr. John Medina showed us how our brains really work—and why we ought to redesign our workplaces and schools. Now, in Brain Rules for Baby, he shares what the latest science says about how to raise smart and happy children from zero to five. This book is destined to revolutionize parenting. Just one of the surprises: The best way to get your children into the college of their choice? Teach them impulse control.
Brain Rules for Baby bridges the gap between what scientists know and what parents practice. Through fascinating and funny stories, Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and dad, unravels how a child’s brain develops – and what you can do to optimize it.
Gymboree Series On Activities for Children We highly recommend this series for parents because the books provide numerous “how to do it” play activities to nurture (provide the scaffolding) child development. From babies to young children they cover cognitive, language, physical and social development. Not only will these activities stimulate development but build a strong parent and child relationship. Plus they are fun for both parents and kids.
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