Foundation for Early Childhood: Cognitive Development
According to Jean Piaget, ‘What we see changes what we know. What we know changes what we see.’ This process of constant change comes from education and cognitive development. Piaget believed that children’s ability to understand objects—such as learning that a rattle makes a noise— was a cognitive skill that develops as a child grows and interacts with the environment.
The term ‘cognition’ originates from the Latin word cognitivus, where cognit means ‘known’. Dictionaries define ‘cognition’ as the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and senses. Cognitive development in the youngest children – infants and toddlers – is like a learning sponge – it keeps swelling as the children grow mentally and continue to advance their skills in observing and interacting with the world around them. They also make tremendous leaps in how they process, store and use information. Some amazing brain development happens during the preschool years when the developing brain is supported with concepts and understanding to build a strong foundation for school.
Major aspects of cognitive development in early childhood
Attention is one of the major aspects of cognitive development. In the early stages of cognitive development, infants have a tendency toward novelty (paying attention to new things), which augments their learning skills. Attention continues to develop throughout early childhood. Psychology says that the normal attention span of a child is 3 to 5 times their age. Therefore, a 2-year-old would be able to concentrate on a particular task for about 6 minutes. A child entering school would be able to concentrate for about 15 minutes. Hence, children must be engaged in activities to increase their attention span, which will help them to perform well in classroom settings.
Children tend to memorise and imitate the ways in which parents and teachers interact with them. The capacity to remember increases throughout early childhood. To build a sharp memory and enable faster recognition, it is important to repeat information.
Some of the activities that should be done on a daily basis to foster cognitive development in children are sing-along (help memory and word identification); auditory discriminations/voice identification (promote listening skills); literacy, numeracy, colours, shapes, world awareness through activities and games (stimulate perception and readiness); offer choices while performing activities (promote self-efficacy and confidence); environment exploration (provide experiences and enable problem-solving); initiating play (promotes selfesteem and communication skills); role play (teaches empathy and observational skills), etc.
Encouraging cognitive development in toddlers and preschoolers
Learning by doing is best at this age. Children learn faster through play and tend to retain that information for life.
Here are some play ideas to support a child’s cognitive development:
⦁ Play simple board games like snakes and ladders to teach numerals and counting
⦁ Read books and narrate stories
⦁ Introduce block games and constructive playthings
⦁ Do simple jigsaw puzzles
⦁ Play games that combine moving and singing to teach basic hand and leg movements
Enhancing cognition at every stage of childhood
As children mature, they develop the ability to think on higher levels. They can process information more skillfully and make connections with real life. In other words, their thinking skills get progressively better.
Cognitive skill development can not only benefit the child in the classroom but outside of class as well. It helps them improve their ability to focus, memorise and process information.
Understanding the relationship between cause and effect can help in developing analytical skills and decision-making ability. It can also help them realise that if they play video games instead of doing their homework, they will likely get poor grades in the class test the next day.
Piaget believed that development occurs through a continuous drive to expand one’s understanding of the world. As a child grows, they demonstrate a more sophisticated understanding of the world. Hence, early childhood development plays an important role in building a child’s future.