Nurturing Cognitive Skills in Young Learners
The goal of education is not to increase the amount of knowledge but to create the possibilities for a child to invent and discover, to create men who are capable of doing new things. – Jean Piaget
As we grow up, we gain knowledge from a variety of sources. Our experiences and surroundings shape us and make us who we are. This assimilation of information happens through the process of cognitive development, which involves a multitude of factors, both inherent and learned. Cognitive development is the construction of a mental process. It includes processing information, intelligence, reasoning, language and memory, which leads to problem-solving, and decision making.
Cognitive development: Beliefs
It was earlier believed that infants lack the ability to think or form complex ideas and cognition is nearly absent in them until they learn a language. However, recent studies indicate that babies are aware of their surroundings from the time they are born and are interested in exploring them.
Cognition: Central aspect of development
According to Jean Piaget, thinking is the central aspect of development in children and they are naturally inquisitive. He believed that cognitive abilities develop through specific stages. As we progress from one stage to another, there is a distinct shift in the way we think, comprehend and learn. Early years are the years of not just physical development but also of mental growth. During early childhood, children observe and interact more with their surroundings. This leads to a tremendous leap in the way they think, process, store and use information. All of these account for cognitive development. Hence, early childhood years are crucial for cognitive development.
Cognitive development: Nature or nurture?
Is cognitive development natural or should it be nurtured? Is our intelligence due to our genes or the environment in which we live? These are some questions that draw varied opinions on cognitive development. Natural cognition refers to our biological endowment, the genes we receive from our parents. It entails social as well as physical surroundings and the situations the child is exposed to. Although a part of cognitive skill development can be attributed to a child’s genetic makeup, however, most cognitive skills are acquired through learning. Also, every aspect of cognitive development is the result of the interaction of genes and the environment.
We all know that children grow and develop rapidly in the first five years across the five areas of development. Each domain has certain developmental milestones. Though quantifying cognitive change is tricky, we can expect children to reach the cognitive milestones according to their age. For example, infants shake their head to say ‘no’ at around 6–9 months and respond to verbal requests to do things such as wave goodbye or blow a kiss at around 9–12 months. Between the ages of 3 and 5 years, children begin to understand that others have thoughts, feelings and beliefs that are different from their own.
This cognitive ability or skill development involves the processing of information. To notice, to manipulate, to store, and to retrieve information are the stages involved in this process. Thus, when a child is introduced to something (notice), they apply (manipulate), remember (store), and recall it (retrieve) when required.
Nurturing cognitive development in the early years
In order to nurture cognitive development and ensure that information processing takes place in the right way, any concept taught in a preschool has to go through the following steps:
When children are introduced to concepts/objects, they recognise and implement them in their activities and recall the concept. To promote cognitive development in children, it is important that we actively interact with them.
Cognitive development is related to learning and thinking and not just remembering facts. Cognitive skills to be focused on during the early years include:
⦁ Asking questions
⦁ Developing an increased attention span
⦁ Problem-solving skills
⦁ Ability of visual discrimination
⦁ Ability to perform activities such as matching, comparing, sorting and organising
⦁ Understanding the difference between fact and fiction, or truth and lie
⦁ Understanding cause and effect
⦁ Ability of simple reasoning
Several times, children perform poorly as they cannot recall things. They don’t have effective strategies for organising things in their minds and recalling them when required. Repetition and reinforcement of concepts with the help of activities help children in retention and organisation of the same.
Visual aids, asking open-ended questions, using actions with words and allowing children to explore and build a foundation for concept learning, help nurture the cognitive abilities in children. Young children are full of curiosity. Encouraging such activities in school or at home will nurture their cognitive abilities.
⦁ Activities to nurture cognitive skills in children include:
⦁ Playing board games such as ludo, snakes and ladders, etc.
⦁ Playing construction games
⦁ Reading storybooks
⦁ Narrating stories
⦁ Solving riddles and jigsaw puzzles
Important cognitive changes occur in children between 3 and 5 years, and that is the age when children start school. So, it becomes the responsibility of schools and facilitators to understand the milestones and nurture the cognitive skills of children in every possible way.
Young children view the world in a unique way and acquire logical thinking through their experiences and interactions with their surroundings. Providing them with ample opportunities for engagement, exploration and discovery enhances their thinking and reasoning skills, which therefore, can be done best by early years facilitators and learning centres.