Human Growth
Chapter Nine
The Play Years:
Cognitive Development
PowerPoints prepared by Cathie Robertson, Grossmont College
Revised by Jenni Fauchier, Metropolitan Community College
How Young Children Think:
Piaget and Vygotsky
• Piaget—Swiss developmentalist
– believed young children were limited by
their egocentric perspective
• egocentrism—Piaget’s term for type of
centration in which child sees world
solely from his/her personal perspective
• Vygotsky—Russian developmentalist
– recognized how child’s social/cultural
context helps shape his/her cognitive
Piaget: Preoperational
• Preoperational thought—Piaget’s term
for cognitive development between 2
and 6 years
– characterized by centration, focus
on appearance, static reasoning, and
Obstacles to Logical
• Centration—tendency to focus on one
aspect of a situation
• Egocentrism or ego-centration—
contemplation of the world
exclusively from child’s personal
– empathy is an exception
Obstacles to Logical Operations,
• Focus on appearance—ignores all
attributes except appearance
• Static reasoning—assumes that the
world is unchanging
• Irreversibility—fails to recognize
that reversing a process can
sometimes restore whatever existed
before transformation
Conservation and Logic
• Thinking is intuitive rather than
• Conservation—principle that amount
of substance is unaffected by
changes in appearance
– applied to liquids, numbers, matter,
– understanding develops after age 7,
and then slowly and unevenly
Conservation and Logic, cont.
Vygotsky: Children
as Apprentices
• One Theory
– theory-theory—Gopnik’s term for
the idea that children attempt to
construct a theory to explain
everything they see and hear
• Children do not strive alone; their
efforts are embedded in social
– parents guide young children’s
cognitive growth in many ways
• present new challenges for
• offer assistance and instruction
• encourage interest and
• Apprentice in thinking—child whose
intellectual growth is stimulated and
directed by older and more skilled
members of society
• Guided participation—process by
which young children, with the help of
mentors, learn to think by having
social experiences and by exploring
their universe
How to Solve a Puzzle
• Guidance and motivation
– structure task to make solution more
– provide motivation
• Guided participation
– partners (tutor and child) interact
– tutor sensitive and responsive to needs
of child
– eventually, because of such mutuality,
child able to succeed independently
• Scaffolding—sensitive structuring of child’s
participation in learning encounters
• Zone of proximal development (ZPD)— skills
too difficult for child to perform alone but
that can be performed with guidance and
assistance of adults or more skilled children
– lower limit of ZPD can be reached
– upper limit of ZPD can be reached with
– ZPD is a measure of learning potential
Scaffolding, cont.
• Private speech—internal dialogue
when people talk to themselves
through which new ideas are
developed and reinforced
– verbal interaction is a cognitive tool
• Social mediation—use of speech
to bridge gap between child’s
current understanding and what is
almost understood
Theory of Mind
• We each have our own personal
understanding of human mental
processes, and child develops this too
– complex interaction of human
mental processes
• emotions
• thoughts
• perceptions
• actions
Emergence by Age 4
• Social referencing
• Sudden understanding that mental
phenomena may not reflect reality
– people can be deliberately deceived
or fooled
Contextual Influences
on Theory of Mind
Brain maturation (prefrontal cortex)
General language ability
An older sibling
Culture that anticipates the future
• Emergent literacy—skills needed to
learn to read
• Is early childhood a sensitive or a
critical period for language
– ages 2 to 6 do seem to be a
sensitive period—a time when a
certain type of development (in this
case, emergent literacy) occurs
most rapidly
• 2 to 6 olds learn average of 10 words per day
• Fast mapping—speedy and not precise way
a child assimilates new words by mentally
“charting” them into interconnected
– logical extension, or application of newly
learned word to other unnamed objects in
same category, closely related to fast
– fast mapping aided by the way adults label
new things for children
• Fast mapping, cont.
– children use basic assumptions
about syntax and reference to fast
– children cannot comprehend every
word they hear
– difficulties may occur
• with words expressing
• with words expressing
relationships of time and place
• The grammar of a language includes
the structures, techniques, and rules
used to communicate meaning
• Young children learn grammar so well
they tend to apply its rules when they
should not, a tendency called
– examples: plural nouns (“foots”),
past tense (“breaked the glass”)
Learning Two Languages
• Two points of view
– bilingualism is an asset, even a necessity,
– child should become proficient in own 1st
• How easy is it to be bilingual?
– many 6-year-olds have difficulty
pronouncing certain sounds
– but auditory sensitivity helps young
children master pronunciation over time,
a much harder task if language learned
after puberty
• Best solution: children become
“balanced bilinguals,” fluent in 2
– research confirms children can become
equally fluent in 2 languages
– easiest way for child to become bilingual
is if parents speak 2 languages
• ideally, each parent represents 1
language and helps child with mastery
• sending child to preschool where 2nd
language taught also effective
Early-Childhood Education
Many Types of Programs
• Distinct educational curricula have
been developed
– Maria Montessori (100 years ago)
developed structured,
individualized projects for poor
Child-Centered and
Readiness Programs
• Many newer programs are “childcentered” or “developmental”
– use a Piaget-inspired model that
allows children to discover at their
own pace
• Alternative programs stress academic
– some readiness programs explicitly
teach basic school skills
• Reggio-Emilia—a new form of earlychildhood education pioneered in the
Italian city of that name
– children encouraged to master
skills not normally seen until age 7
– artistic expression, exploration of
the environment, and collaboration
between parents and teachers
• Early childhood is the prime
learning period for every child
and some learn even more
• The above has led to conclusion:
nations should provide quality early
• Head Start
– has provided half-day education for
millions of 3 to 5 year olds,
boosting abilities and skills, at least
temporarily and probably for longer
Quality Learning
• Three research projects have shown
excellent longitudinal data
– High/Scope (Michigan)
– Abecedarian (North Carolina)
– Child-Parent Centers (Chicago)
• Children in these programs have
scored higher on math and reading
achievement tests than other
children from same backgrounds,
schools, and neighborhoods
• High-quality early education is
associated with positive outcomes for
all children
– what is high-quality education?
• safety, adequate space, and equipment
• low adult-to-child ratio
• trained staff
• curriculum geared to cognitive
• learning includes
creative/constructive play

Human Development - Metropolitan Community College