A child’s primary school years are some of the most important in terms of their cognitive development. If developmental foundations are not established at this crucial age, then it will become very difficult to harness these skill sets later on in life.
A child’s physical, social and emotional development has a direct impact on the adult they will become. In order to maximise a child’s future well-being, it is vitally important to practice developmental activities at a primary school age. Whilst an effective primary education will give a child a significant developmental boost, children will further benefit from a home environment that also focuses on stimulating these essential skills.
In this article, we will look at the different stages of cognitive development and provide practical ideas to help harness essential skills at each stage.
When we refer to development areas we aren’t just talking about academics. Cognitive development refers to how a child thinks, how they understand concepts and their problem-solving abilities. John Piaget’s theory of cognitive development highlights four key stages that a child progresses through in their developmental years.
As a child develops and engages with the world around them, they continually build their knowledge base and adapt these learned concepts to accommodate new information.
Piaget defined the four stages of cognitive development as:
- Sensorimotor stage: birth to 2 years
- Preoperational stage: ages 2 to 7
- Concrete operational stage: ages 7 to 11
- Formal operational stage: ages 12 and up
The Sensorimotor Stage
From birth until around the age of two a child undergoes dramatic physical and sensory developmental changes. As infants and toddlers interact with the world around them, they continuously learn new skills and begin to understand how the world works. Most of a child’s experience at this early stage occurs through basic reflexes, their senses and motor responses. From crawling to walking to learning to talk and expressing their emotions, the cognitive development that occurs during the infant to toddler years involves a great deal of noticeable growth.
There are many activities that parents can engage their children in at this early age based on their developmental progress. A six-month-old baby will enjoy different activities to an 18-month-old so it is important to engage in age-appropriate activities that are stimulating to the child.
The Preoperational Stage
Piaget refers to the age of two until around seven as the preoperational stage. In these years, children begin to think symbolically and learn to use words or visuals to represent objects. At this age, a child has not fully developed empathy and they often struggle to see things from the perspective of others. Whilst they are beginning to communicate and comprehend concepts more effectively they still tend to think about things as very “black and white” and struggle to find exceptions to situations.
The most notable and important developmental milestones that occur in this stage are language and imagination. Whilst they may be able to communicate and understand basic concepts at this stage, children between the ages of two and seven may still struggle with basic logic and understanding the idea of constancy.
The Concrete Operational Stage
Piaget referred to the age between seven and eleven years as the concrete operational stage. During this stage, a child’s thinking becomes more logical and organised.
While children are still very concrete and literal in their thinking at this point in their development, they do begin to use logic in their decision making and they begin to develop empathy and consideration for others. Whilst IQ was previously considered as a benchmark in a child’s educational success, studies in recent years have shown that developing a child’s EQ can have a direct correlation to academics and long term success.
Children at this stage of development would benefit from enrolling in activities and courses that stimulate social-emotional learning.
The Formal Operational Stage
From the age of around twelve, a child begins to think more abstractly and is able to apply reason to hypothetical problems. At this age, children also begin to think more about moral, philosophical, ethical, social, and political issues that require theoretical and abstract reasoning. They start seeing multiple potential solutions to problems and think more scientifically about the world around them. This abstract thinking ability allows a child to systematically plan for the future and hypothesise potential outcomes.
Online courses that teach principles of robotics and coding will be beneficial as they teach children how to solve complex problems through trial and error. Children at the operational stage will also benefit from developmental activities like playing board games, baking and volunteering activities.
Cognitive development is a qualitative process
Piaget did not believe that each stage of a child’s development was a quantitative process. In other words, he did not believe that each stage simply added more information to their existing knowledge base. Instead, he believed that the process was qualitative and that there are fundamental changes in how a child thinks. It is not simply a process of adding more information but rather the changing of thought processing patterns and abilities to comprehend the world around them.
How can parents aid in their child’s development?
Many parents might be daunted by the idea of adequately equipping their child during the early development years. It is important to note that whilst most children will develop these essential life skills in a natural progression, there is a direct correlation between education and cognitive development. Ensuring that your child’s education provides a platform for them to learn according to their unique personality and strengths will further aid their cognitive development.
Note: This article first appeared on www.parentinghub.co.za in March 2022 and was written by CambriLearn.