Maps and Mazes: Innovative Tools for Cognitive Development in Children
Cognitive development is a progressive reorganization of mental processes as a result of biological maturation and environmental experience. Children construct an understanding of the world around them, then experience discrepancies between what they already know and what they discover in their environment. – Jean Piaget
According to Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, playing is not just fun, it is an important part of brain development. Piaget believed and endorsed that children go through two distinct phases or sub-stages as part of their cognitive development. The symbolic function substage develops between 2 and 4 years of age and is characterised by the child’s ability to picturise, remember and replicate objects in their minds. The intuitive thought substage develops from 4 to 7 years and is based on intuitive thinking rather than just perception. It has often been observed that young children are able to create a mental map of the different rooms in their homes since the time they start crawling. On the other hand, unknown places make them uncomfortable. This is probably because they perceive these places as mazes and are overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity.
Early childhood development
Cognitive development among children in their early years depends on the pace at which they learn and respond. The pace can range from developmentally appropriate, to slow or stagnant, depending on the synapses formed in the brain as a result of neuron connections. Various learning experiences that the child undergoes lead to the neuron connections, thereby stimulating the learning environment to achieve the developmental milestones. As is well known, play is a crucial component in promoting cognitive development. The stronger the connections and synapses in the brain, the faster the cognitive development of the child. Hence, it is essential to expose children to favourable and healthy surroundings to ensure maximum cognitive development. Maps and mazes are comprehensive tools for cognitive development among children. While maps help them reach a destination, mazes develop the skill to overcome hurdles and find out possible ways to reach the final destination.
Storytelling as a tool for cognitive development
Teachers can develop cognitive skills in children through storytelling. A richly illustrated story depicting the lead character going to different places showing the directions, landmarks, objects and people seen on the way would be ideal for this. The teacher can point out the various elements of the story so that it registers in the children’s minds thereby creating photographic memory. Recalling and narrating the sequences of the story enhances their memory and retention power. The children can also be asked to draw lines connecting the elements mentioned in the story, which could be a map of the way the character travelled in the story. This makes the children aware of their surroundings. Such mental maps are known as cognitive maps. They serve as a tool to understand spatial awareness and develop a sense of direction. Using this mental vision, children develop the skill to recall and process information.
Mazes serve as a great tool for enhancing problem-solving abilities. They encourage children to think outside the box to reach their destination. Solving mazes also boosts their patience and persistence. This helps in improving the cognitive thought process also. Solving mazes works amazingly well in developing hand-eye coordination as well. While solving a maze, children have to stick to the details so that they do not miss out on the direction. It improves their visual attention and forms the foundation of learning any skill or performing a learning task. Mazes can be used for experiential learning in the classroom. Children can use mazes to learn the alphabet, words, counting and even identify shapes. This can be given in the form of an activity sheet on any general awareness theme. Concepts like safety measures can also be taught to the children through appropriate illustrations and visual images on the mazes. Besides, mazes help children enhance their executive functioning skills such as planning different strategies to solve the maze. Cognitive development takes place at an incredible pace in young children. Maps and mazes serve as perfect tools for developing cognitive skills such as attention, memory, auditory processing and visual processing, helping children to deal with the challenges of the 21st-century world.