Childhood Development Stages: Learning and Development

“Crawl before you walk, walk before you run!” When it comes to childhood development stages, this phrase is certainly true. Before children learn to talk and are taught to problem solve at school, right from birth, they begin to develop novel ways of communicating and exploring the world around them. They cry to tell you they’re hungry, and go through a stage where it seems they’re trying to eat everything (I’m sure the parents reading this can relate)! These practices enable babies to make sense of the world. As they get older, their way of exploring rapidly evolves. As well as developing the ability to walk and talk, our cognitive skills (memory, attention, language, reading comprehension, fine motor and gross motor skills) are developed throughout our childhood. This article will talk about childhood development stages.

Childhood Development Stages
Childhood Development Stages

French Psychologist Jean Piaget proposed that there are 4 childhood development stages, each building on the previous one. Piaget’s theory was groundbreaking at the time, as it was previously thought that children didn’t develop cognitive skills until they began to acquire language. Piaget challenged this, as he found that children explore the world around them before they acquire language by using their different senses. This is known as the sensorimotor stage, which is one of four childhood development stages that classify a child’s learning stages. The other three stages are known as the preoperational stage, concrete operational stage and the formal operational stage. During each stage, children acquire new cognitive skills, whilst developing skills they have acquired in previous stages.

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Childhood Development Stages- Sensorimotor stage

This Childhood Development Stages lasts from birth to 2 years.

In this stage, children learn about the world using their senses and manipulating objects. Here a child’s intelligence is based on their motor and sensory knowledge. During this stage, children learn of object permanence, i.e. although a toy is out of sight, it still exists. This information is extremely important as it prepares children to be able to name objects.

A common example of this would be Peek-A-Boo. Before a child has fully developed their sensorimotor skills, they don’t understand that not seeing something doesn’t mean that it’s gone forever.

3 months– Infants are able to recognize faces and imitate facial expressions (above).

6 months– Infants can imitate sounds, recognize their parents and display fear towards strangers. They understand the difference between animate and inanimate objects. Between four and seven months, children begin to recognize their own name.

9 months– Infants imitate gestures and actions. They understand simple words like ‘no’ and begin to test their parents’ response to their behavior.

12 months– Infants can follow moving objects. They can speak between two to four simple words like ‘mama’ and ‘dada’. They can imitate animal sounds and begin to display attachments to objects such as a toy or blanket. At this age, they will also begin to display separation anxiety.

18 months– Vocabulary increases to around 50 words. Children begin to identify body parts and display a sense of ownership. They can follow simple instructions (e.g. picking up toys and putting them in the box). They begin to show an understanding of the discipline and have knowledge of appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

Childhood Development Stages- Pre-operational stage

This Childhood Development Stage lasts from 2 – 7 years.

A child’s vocabulary is around 150 words. Around this time, children learn around 10 new words a day and begin to understand emotions such as love, trust, and fear. Children also begin to learn through pretend play, or “make-believe”. However, their view of others and logic isn’t well understood, and children have a self-centered view of the world. In this stage, children begin to use their imaginary and memory skills and begin to develop their social interaction skills and play cooperatively with children their own age. They will begin to develop their cognitive abilities.

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Children learn to read, develop routines and display an increased attention span. At the beginning of this stage, children develop their attention, long-term and short-term memory. As children get older, they learn to control their attention and use their cognitive abilities to help them solve problems and achieve their goals. Also during this stage of development, auditory processing is further refined. This is highly important in improving reading skills.

Childhood Development Stages:
Childhood Development Stages: Imaginative Play

Childhood Development Stages-Concrete operational stage

This Childhood Development Stages is from 7-11 years.

During this childhood development stage, children learn to be less egocentric and self-centered. They begin to think about the thoughts and feelings of others, and they are more aware of their own thoughts and feelings and the rules around sharing them with others. Children are also able to think in a more logical manner and see the world from the view of others.

However, at this stage, a child’s thought is often rigid, therefore they tend to struggle with abstract concepts. Here children learn that things, such as volume and weight, can stay the same despite changes in the appearance of objects. For example, two different glasses can hold the same volume of water. Also, at this stage, children’s attention span begins to increase with age. At the age of six, the child may be able to focus on a task for around 15 minutes. At the age of nine, children can focus on a task for around an hour.

Childhood Development Stages- Formal operational stage

This Childhood Development Stage is from 11 years and upwards.

Children are able to better understand logic and abstract ideas. They will start to reason and think about abstract ideas, and implement these ideas into their lives. They are also able to see multiple solutions to problems and begin to look at the world in a scientific manner. During this childhood development stage, adolescents display independent problem-solving skills and are able to understand abstract ideas such puns, proverbs, metaphors, analogies, philosophy, and maths.

Children also learn to apply general information to specific situations. During adolescence, we undergo cognitive transition, which means that the way we think becomes more advanced, more efficient, and more complex. The thought is no longer limited to what is real, it is expanded to include the hypothetical. During this stage, we begin thinking about the process of thinking, known as metacognition. Thought becomes multi-dimensional; we are able to look at multiple outcomes to a specific problem, which allows us to think rationally and analyze the problem. This will hopefully help us to make well-informed decisions. Find out more in detail about Piaget’s Theory

In the following video from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University features Director Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D explaining the relationship between child development stages and the brain and different brain areas.

Vygotsky’s Childhood Development Stages

Russian Psychologist Lev Vygotsky contributed much to the research on childhood development stages. He believed children’s thinking is affected by their knowledge of the social community. He established that language is the most important tool to learn this knowledge.

Vygotsky defined intelligence as the capacity to learn from instruction, which implies that another knowledgeable person has to teach the other, this person he called More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). These people can be parents, teachers, adults, coaches, etc. as well as other children, computers, and friends.

He then described the zone of proximal development (ZPD) that was composed of two levels:

  • Level 1: the present level of development- which is what the child is capable of doing by himself without help from an adult.
  • Level 2: the potential level of development- what the child is potentially capable of doing with help from other people.

The gap between these levels is the ZPD. He believed the child could gain knowledge already held by him through other people but the information has to be adjusted to the child’s level of comprehension.

Another important aspect of this theory is the concept of scaffolding. This is when an adult provides support to a child he adjusts it continuously depending on the child’s progress.

For example: When a cild is learning to wakl his hands are held upwards by their mother. As the mother sees the child is able to remain upward she starts letting go of his hands.

Vygotsky and Piaget were pioneers in childhood development stages both of them assuming different perspectives and aspects of this topic. In the following chart, you can view their main differences regarding childhood development stages.

Differences between Piaget and Vygotsky
Differences between Piaget and Vygotsky

Every child will progress through each childhood development stage in order, but it’s important to remember that each child is different, so that manner or time that it takes a child to develop these skills may vary- and that’s OK! Progression through the 4 childhood development stages of development can occur at different rates; some faster than others. We all have a unique cognitive profile, some cognitive skills can be weaker than others. A cognitive assessment can help us to identify which of our cognitive skills are weaker. This enables us to tailor our cognitive training, and improve our weaker skills. If you are looking to strengthen your cognitive skills, why not try some a personalized cognitive brain training through awesome brain games! CogniFit is a scientifically validated tool for assessing cognitive processes and training. If you are concerned that about your cognitive abilities or the development of a child, it is important to seek professional advice.

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