Did you know?
There are 3 areas of child development. The physical development of the child deals with how the child is growing and focuses on the body and movement. The social-emotional development encompasses the child feelings and behaviors. The third area focuses on the brain, thinking, and the thinking process. This area is called cognitive development.
Cognitive Development by definition “refers to the changes that occur in children’s reasoning, concepts, memory, and language- changes that are cultivated by children’s experiences in families, schools, and communities” (McDevitt and Ormond, 2010). This means that as we age, learn, grow, and experience life, we begin to acquire more information. We learn how to think, we learn about ideas, we begin to remember, and we learn how to communicate. All of this is possible through cognitive development.
Youtube has an extensive collection of videos related to cognitive development. They could be accessed in the following link:
Basic Cognitive Processes
One might ask, “How do we know what we know?” “How do we understand?” “How are we able to take our thoughts and be able to demonstrate what we know?” These questions among others can be answered by learning about the information processing theory. This theory “focuses on the specific ways in which people mentally acquire, interpret, and remember information and how such cognitive processes change over the course of development” (McDevitt and Ormond, 2010). This theory centers on ideas about how we gain information and use it. Key ideas of this theory are that humans are able to store and retrieve information, able to gain new information through their environment, and able to pay attention. In this theory, our brain stores information into 2 compartments called the working memory and the long-term memory. The working memory, as you can probably guess, is the one we use to store new information or things we only need to know for a short amount of time. The long-term memory is able to store information, like our memories, that we want to hold onto for a long amount of time. According to this and other theories, we build up the information we store gradually as we learn, grow, and experience life.
So how do we decide what information we want to use? Human brains are able to do this by something called the central executive. The central executive helps us filter and use the information we have stored. Although we know this component exists in the brain, oddly enough, scientists have yet to find its exact location!
Infants and young children are developing all of these skills and processes in their brain. They are increasing their attention spans, focus, working memory, long-term memory, and are constantly learning new things from their environments and from others. We know that as adults we cannot remember when we were very young. This is called infantile amnesia. The reason that we cannot remember this stage of life is because we did not have the language or ability to remember this time; but it does not mean that this time serves no purpose. It lays a foundation for the child to build upon and talking to young children about events and their surroundings helps improve their memory of these early years.
Because cognitive skills develop gradually and are improved with stimulation and thinking, young children need to be challenged to think and learn. In the time frame from birth to six years old, children go through times called sensitive periods where they have a unique ability to learn things easily and effortlessly. They have an increased potential to learn things such as “…language, order, refinement of the senses, movement, and social relations” (shininglightreading.com, 2012). Therefore by enhancing their cognitive skills and abilities think helps them excel during these sensitive periods.
If you’re interested in a more in depth explanation about basic cognitive processes, click on the following video to see some more information on this theory. This video is geared towards teachers, but it is very helpful for parents and others who want to learn more.
Why is this information important if my child is just a baby?
As mentioned, sensitive periods of learning begin at birth. As babies and children grow and learn, they develop and improve their cognitive skills. They are learning and making sense of their world through their environment and everything they are exposed to. Even young babies, as we know, look at objects with interest. Through their senses, like observing, listening, touching, smelling, and tasting, they learn about those objects by interpreting what they are sensing. The ability to sense and perceive information improves as the baby gets older.
Have you ever seen a baby be attracted to a certain object or prefer one toy over another? We have all seen some babies attracted to the parent’s car keys, or to a certain ball or blanket. That is because even at these young ages, they are attracted to certain stimuli. A stimulus, or stimuli (plural form of stimulus), is by definition, “A thing that rouses activity or energy in someone or something”*. Stimuli can also be people. Within a few days of birth, a baby can already distinguish their mother’s voice. By one month, they show interest in looking at faces, listening to people, and observing human movement. According to studies, this is important and beneficial to the infants’ development. They learn language and other aspects of human behavior and culture. When exposed to the same stimuli, children begin to learn about the world, and become familiar with objects and people. As they grow, they are able to pay attention for longer periods of time, and, as they acquire more information and improve logical thinking, they become more able to use what they know to help them function in their world.
Children begin to build schemas, or ideas about people or objects. These schemas help them categorize information. For example, they remember that dogs have four legs. When they see another animal with four legs, they think it’s a dog because they have formed a schema about living things with four legs. Research now shows that infants as young as 3 to 4 months already begin categorizing information (McDevitt and Ormond, 2010).
This leads me to the idea of the Theory theory. Theory theory is concepts about things that children make up for themselves; Such as in the example above. The child has constructed a theory for him- or herself that all things with 4 legs are dogs. Through conversation, play, experiences, and exposure to the world whether it is first hand or through books, or other media, young children begin to form these theories and modify them as they learn more information and categorize.
Helping the child improve their cognitive skills from an early age has endless benefits, including more ability to problem solve, increased self-regulation skills, increased language abilities, increased social skills, and improved school readiness.