Have you ever wondered how someone so young begins to know and understand so much? It is amazing that we, as human beings, begin to learn so much at such a young age. This is not an easy process though, it takes time and effort. There are a few factors that play a role in a preschooler’s cognitive development, such as care outside of the home, understanding the types of learning, language development, and understanding key points under Piaget’s approach to cognitive development and the information processing theory. All of these play a role in understanding cognitive development in the preschool years.
As you may already know, cognitive development or learning, starts at a very young age in children and is influenced by many factors in this world. For preschool aged children, there are various ways the children’s cognitive development can be affected by the numerous varieties of early education. Robert Feldman, author of the book Discovering the Life Span, points out the diversity in care outside of the home. Feldman comments on how there are child-care centers, family child-care centers, preschools, and school child-care. Feldman also states that “most research suggests that preschoolers enrolled in child-care centers show intellectual development that at least matches that of children at home, and often is better” (Feldman, 2018). An observational study done by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development led to the conclusion that child care quality predicted cognitive outcomes. It suggested that by improving the quality of child care for children, it would improve the children’s cognitive and achievement outcomes (Duncan, 2003). Feldman also notes that many preschoolers enrolled in some type of child care are typically more verbally fluent, show memory and comprehension advantages, and also achieve higher IQ scores than those who are not enrolled in some type of child care (Feldman, 2018).
Most children in child care will receive these benefits if the quality of the child care is high-quality and not low-quality. Feldman also discusses different aspects within the child care program that make it high-quality. Just a few of these include well trained care providers, health and safety standards being followed, an enhanced language environment, and a carefully planned out and coordinated curriculum. When choosing which child care facility, one is going to send their children to, each person should take into consideration the aspects that make a child care center a high-quality one. From this, one can see how child care outside of the home has various benefits on preschool aged children and on their cognitive development.
There are two main types of learning, formal and informal, that can have tremendous effects on preschool aged children and their cognitive development. Feldman discusses both formal learning and informal learning. Formal learning is typically learning through early education programs, whereas informal learning is learning through the media. Children who experience some type of formal learning have clear cognitive and social benefits. These children also show better intellectual development, such as being more verbally fluent, showing memory and comprehensive advantages, and even achieving higher IQ scores. As well as showing better intellectual development, children who receive formal learning often have advantages in their social development, such as more self-confidence and independence. On the other hand, informal learning can cause children to make incorrect assumptions about characters when watching TV because of their inability to remember certain details of the story. Preschoolers are also unable to understand the different forms of messages they may see on the TV and are unable to separate fantasy from reality (Feldman, 2018).
Nikolay Veraksa, a professor and psychologist, claims that there are three types of capacities that children use in their activity and how they develop. The first is that children use modelling, which means that they learn to recognize natural occurrences though observation and using sign tools. The second is that the children use symbolization, which means they use symbolic tools, such as painting and stories to understand these events and express their attitudes toward them. The third is a combination of both, it uses both of these tools to transform reality in a more meaningful way. Veraksa states that “these three ways of regulation give rise to three types of cognitive capacity; normative, symbolic and transformational” (Veraksa, 2011).
Language Development. Language development is an important part of a preschooler’s cognitive development. Robert Feldman claims that “language blooms so rapidly between the ages of the late 2s and the mid-3s . . .” (Feldman, 2018). Feldman also reports that the way a child combines words and phrases to form sentences, also known as syntax, doubles each month and “by the time a preschooler is 3, the various combinations reach into the thousands” (Feldman, 2018). Feldman comments that also by the age of three, preschoolers are able to use plurals and possessive forms of nouns, ask and answer complex questions, and also learn the principles of grammar. Although the preschoolers may make some mistakes when using the correct forms of grammar, it is rare (Feldman, 2018). There was another study done on whether or not preschool children with specific language impairment, SLI, exhibit shape bias in word learning. The study found that children with typical learning exhibited shape bias but children with SLI did not. The study also showed that children with SLI did not exhibit shape bias because of their inability to learn simple paired visual associations (Collisson et al. 2015).
Language development contains two types of speech, private speech and social speech. Feldman discusses both private speech and social speech. Private speech is a type of speech where children are speaking to themselves, and while this might seem silly, it actually serves an important function in preschooler’s cognitive development. By using private speech, children are able to use it as a guide to try out new ideas, facilitate their thinking, control their behavior, and also reason with themselves when thinking. Private speech can also lead to the children learning or practicing pragmatics, which is being able to communicate with others effectively and appropriately. Through this, they are able to learn the basics of conversations, such as taking turns, sticking to a topic, and knowing what to say and when to say certain things. Preschoolers also develop social speech, which is a type of speech that is directed toward someone else. Children begin to want to have conversations with others, and have other people listen to what they have to say and also understand what they are saying, rather than speaking for their own entertainment. Like in private speech, pragmatics is also used in social speech. These two types of speech show how preschool aged children begin to enhance their cognitive development through their developing language (Feldman, 2018).
Piaget’s Approach to Cognitive Development. Robert Feldman acknowledges that Piaget placed the preschool years, which he believed to be a time of both change and stability, into the preoperational stage. The preoperational stage is the stage between the ages two and seven where the children’s symbolic thinking grows, mental reasoning emerges, and use of concepts increases. Children in this stage of cognitive development become '. . . better at representing events internally and less dependent on sensorimotor activity to understand the world around them” (Feldman, 2018). Feldman points out that symbolic function, “the ability to use a mental symbol, a word, or an object to stand for or represent something that is not physically present,” is a key aspect in preoperational thought (Feldman, 2018).
Piaget also discusses centration and conservation. Feldman notes that centration is where children focus on one aspect of a stimulus and ignore the other aspects. Centration often leads to inaccuracy. One example of this is if you have two rows of pennies in front of a preschooler and one row has 10 pennies, all close to each other, and the other row has 8 pennies but is more spread out, the child will likely pick the row that looks longer when asked which row has more pennies. Even though the children understand that ten in more than eight, they ignore their understanding of quantity and focus on appearances. Conservation, on the other hand, is the understanding that quantity is unrelated to physical appearances. Once conservation is mastered, the children will be able to focus on the relevant features of the situations (Feldman, 2018).
Also in the preoperational stage there is egocentric thinking, which is thinking that does not take into account the viewpoints of others. Preschoolers have egocentric thinking because they do not understand that different people have different perspectives on things. Feldman states that “egocentric thought takes two forms: lack of awareness that others see things from a different physical perspective and failure to realize that others may hold thoughts, feelings, and points of view that differ from theirs” (Feldman, 2018). Egocentrism can be used to explain why preschoolers talk to themselves, and why they ignore what others are saying to them. Piaget’s approach to cognitive development led to many observations and details about preschoolers’ cognitive abilities.
Information Processing Theory. Robert Feldman claims that the information-processing theory illustrates the most dominant, comprehensive, and accurate explanation of cognitive development in children. The information-processing theory shows that preschoolers have a well-developed understanding of numbers and are able to count fairly systematic and consistently. This theory also discusses the memory capabilities of preschool aged children. Most people’s earliest memories in life do not occur until after the age of three and depending on when an event occurred, determines the accuracy of the memory. Unless the memory is vivid or meaningful, most people do not remember it into later life, they may only recall the memory for six months or a year.
Not only does a preschooler’s memory fade, but it may also not be completely accurate. This is because it may be hard for preschoolers to remember a specific time that it had happened. Often times preschoolers’ memories are organized into scripts, which are broad representations of events and the order in which they occur. Scripted memories are often times less accurate than unscripted memories. As well as a preschooler’s memory being able to fade and not being completely accurate, a preschooler’s memory can also be susceptible to suggestion, meaning when adults ask them questions that are highly suggestive, attempting to lead a person to a certain conclusion, or the same question multiple times, children are more likely to make mistakes. Feldman reports that “according to information-processing approaches, cognitive development consists of gradual improvements in the ways people perceive, understand, and remember information” (Feldman, 2018). Feldman also notes that this view shows that preschoolers are able to process information more efficiently and with greater sophistication, and are able to grasp complex problems and that this is what constitutes cognitive development.
Culture also plays a role in influencing cognitive development. Instead of only focusing on individual performance, Vygotsky focused on social aspects of development and learning, and the child’s social and cultural world as the source of cognitive development. He believed that children learned cognitive strategies from adults and their peers, who could present new ways of doing things, and also provide assistance, instruction, and motivation. Children are able to grow up and function on their own because of the guidance that adults and their peers gave them. One’s culture and society shapes the nature of specific cognitive advances. Feldman also emphasizes that “unless we look at what is important and meaningful to members of a given society, we may seriously underestimate the nature and level of cognitive abilities that ultimately will be attained” (Feldman, 2018). From this, we are able to see the importance of social interaction on cognitive development and understand that children’s cognitive development is affected by their parents, peers, other members of society, and also cultural factors.
As you can see, there are various components that go in to understanding cognitive development in the preschool years. These include care outside of the home, understanding the types of learning, language development, and understanding key points under Piaget’s approach to cognitive development and the information processing theory. There are many aspects a child has to go through when becoming cognitively developed in his or her preschool years. Now we are able to see how someone so young is able to learn and understand so much at such a young age.
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