Cognitive development and limitations of preschool children
The learning emphasis of children ages three to five should be placed on academic work rather than social skills or self esteem. Children of this age group may seem unready to learn on an academic level, however, they just are at a lower level stage of mental development. “According to Piaget, spoken language does not bring with it a mature rational intelligence: it assist but is distinct from logic.” (Boden, 46). A child born deaf and unable to talk will still gain cognitive skill in the same manner as other children. Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist that did research in developmental psychology. He developed a cognition theory that has four stages of development that a person progresses through as they learn and grow. These four stages are sensory motor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational. Through research and testing, Piaget placed an age group on each of the stages. Three to five year olds fall within the preoperational stage of development. Placing emphasis on academic work rather than social skill and self-esteem will help children progress through each stage of cognitive development.
There are a few aspects of the preoperational period conducive to academic work. These aspects are symbolic function, deferred imitation, and qualitative identity. “Symbolic function is the ability to use one thing as a symbol to represent something else.” (Vasta et al 268). For example, a child uses an empty box to represent car that the child is driving. They can also use words to represent that they are a cat by meowing or saying they are a cat. This developed skill can be used in the learning process for academic work. It can help lay the basic foundation for reading if the teacher cuts the letters of the alphabet out of Styrofoam and teaches that each piece represents a particular letter. The child will be able to feel and manipulate the shape and develop a representation of the shape with the letter. The teacher can also develop representation by associating words with pictures to increase vocabulary, which in turn will also help increase social skills as well as academics. Deferred imitation is when a child observes an action by someone and then imitates that action sometime in the future. For example, mommy swept the floor yesterday and today her three year old is imitating her mother sweeping the floor. Deferred imitation proves not only the development of memory, but also the ability to learn by observation. Qualitative Identity is when a child knows that something is not changed even though it appears different. For example, a parent gives the child cheerios and then crushes the cheerios; the child will know they are still cheerios even if they are crushed. However, there is a limitation to this cognitive skill. A preoperational child has a lack of conservation. For example, creating two rows of cheerios that are spread evenly will cause the child to know they are of the same quantity. However, if one row is spread out, the child will believe that longer row has more cheerios than the shorter row even though they have the same number. Conservation goes along with centration. Centration is when a child only focuses on one aspect of the problem. In the case of the cheerios, the child was only focusing on the length of the line of cheerios instead of taking into account the number of cheerios as well. Conservation can be built upon by letting the child manipulate different objects, like clay, that can change shape and length without affecting quantity or volume.
Other cognitive skills that attribute to the academic work of preschoolers are egocentrism, class inclusion and serration. “Egocentrism is the inability to distinguish one’s own beliefs from another’s.” (Vasta et al G-2). Children assume that a listener has all the same information that they have. This view of the world makes it difficult to understand the child when they are telling someone about their day. This is a limitation to learning because a teacher may have a hard time deciphering what the child is trying to get across to them. Class inclusion is when a child knows that similar things have differences but they can belong to the same group. Children in the preoperational stage may be able to group things that are similar together but will not understand that they can belong to other groups or a bigger or smaller group. For example, a child puts all the shape in groups by their color. However, the child doesn’t understand that you can also put the shapes together by shape and color. Seriation goes along with class inclusion. Seriation is the ability to place thing in a quantitative order. Children of this stage will fail in an attempt to order things by size but may be able to make groups of small, medium and large.
By studying the cognitive skills proposed by Piaget, we will be able to understand what to expect from our preschoolers. We will understand that the child has a lack of conservation if they think that a sibling has more food then they do. We will also try to understand what our preschooler is trying to say to say to us instead of getting frustrated because the child is assuming we know what they are trying to say because of their egocentric view of the world. By understanding Piaget’s cognitive theory, teachers can teach to a child’s mental capacity and parents can also be more understanding and compassionate with their children as the learn and grow.
- Boden, Margaret A. (1979). Jean Piaget. New York: The Viking Press.
- Vasta, R., Haith, M., & Miller, S. (1995). Child Psychology: The Modern Science. New York: Von Hoffmann Press.