Development in the Mind in Childhood

Theories have been developed that explain when, why and how children acquire knowledge. The following are examples of some major theories from the study of cognitive development in childhood:

Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development Jean Piaget’s theory proposes that children actively construct their understanding about the world around them by combining new information with existing cognitive structures. Children construct a mental model of the world, meaning they form a set of expectations about how objects and events behave. Piaget believed that children go through four stages of cognitive development (sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational).

Kids explore, play, and interact with other people in order to acquire and construct knowledge about the world around them through their senses.

There are five stages in Piaget’s theory, each building onto the previous:

Cognitive Developmental Changes Throughout Childhood:

Children begin to acquire knowledge about themselves and their surroundings from birth, then use this information to develop a mental model of how the world works. As development progresses through childhood, children refine these existing structures, adding more detail and complexity to their understanding of the world.

Piaget believe the amount of information an individual can hold in his/her mind at one time while completing a task or activity. There is great debate over whether this capacity is influenced by nature (a person’s genetic predisposition) or nurture (environmental factors). A balanced combination of both is most likely responsible for working memory differences among children. Working memory capacity that children are inherently active constructors of knowledge, meaning they are constantly moving through these four stages as they interact with new experiences. However, he also recognized that children can remain at a particular stage for some time until they move on to the next stage.

Working Memory Capacity The working memory capacity refers to an individual’s ability to process and store information for a short period of time. Adults have limited capacity and can only think about seven pieces of information at once, but children may be able to process even more than that because their brains are still developing.

Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development:

Piaget believed that the major cognitive changes in childhood take place between birth and adolescence, especially during the preschool years (ages 2 – 5). Preoperational children acquire language skills and develop self-awareness. With these changes taking place, preoperational children gain new ways to express knowledge (e.g., drawings and symbols), and they begin thinking logically and using imagination as well as make-believe play. Once they have developed these new skills, children enter the next stage of cognitive development.

The Ages and Stages Questionnaire

The Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) is a parent-completed survey designed to identify developmental milestones in children from birth through 5 years old. It was designed using data from an extensive longitudinal study conducted by T. Berry Braselton . The goal of the longitudinal study was to investigate how infants grow and develop, including cognitive growth.

The ASQ provides a description of the milestones observed in children’s development within four major areas: gross motor, fine motor, language, and personal-social skills.

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