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Cognitive Child Development Stages

Updated on March 12, 2011

Cognitive development is the process by which we gain knowledge and become thinking beings. It includes a range of skills necessary for organizing and under­standing our experiences with the world. When children are born, their ability to interact with the environment is limited to making their basic needs known through crying. As they de­velop motor control, infants becomes more capable of picking up objects, playing with toys, and, sometimes, expressing un-happiness by throwing things! The emergence of language al­lows children to develop ongoing interactions with the environment. These interactions result in the acquisition of numerous skills, which range from labeling objects to express­ing thoughts and feelings in a coherent fashion. By the age of five, children are extremely capable people. As their attention span increases, so does the quality of their experiences with the environment.

How do these skills develop? Experience, encourage­ment, affection, and stimulation from the environment help children develop their thought processes. They begin to under­stand concepts or the commonalities among different objects. A green square, a green circle, and a green triangle, once categorized only by color, can now be categorized as either shapes or by color.

Children also begin to use words and symbols to solve tasks and problems. The understanding that a symbol actually represents something else is important for the development of mathematics and language skills.

Memory, the ability to recall and respond to events over a period of time, is another important area in cognitive devel­opment. As memory skills increase, children are able to hold onto information they learned at one point in time and use it as a building block for future learning.

This process of cognitive development has taken your child from a helpless, crying infant to the talkative, capable little person you see at age five.

What are some of the specific cognitive skills your child may display at this time? By the age of five, children have started to learn colors and are generally able to name eight of them. They are able to identify the shapes that they have learned from day-to-day experiences.

Many five year olds are able to count by rote to 20 and start to develop one-to-one number correspondence, the under­standing that numbers are symbols that have meaning. When you ask for 3 forks, your child is now able to count out 3 forks on a consistent basis. They understand the concept of how many and are able to count 10 or more objects.

Experiences with the environment enable children to iden­tify and sort objects according to texture, such as rough or smooth, soft or hard, and wet or dry. Through repetition and a general interest in written words, many five year olds are able to recognize their own printed name and can match letters and numbers. Five year olds are able to identify such concepts as first, middle, and last. They can demonstrate an understanding of beside, behind, and next to and can follow a series of three directions. Many children are able to tell their address and can draw a picture of a person with anywhere from two to six parts.

As children continue to grow and develop, new skills begin to emerge. Between the ages of five and six, number concepts continue to improve. They are now able to count up to 20 objects and name 10 numerals. Some children begin to perform simple calculations within 5 as they start to under­stand the relationship between the number 5 and the fingers they have on one hand. Sequencing skills continue to improve, as does the ability to count by rote. Many children can now tell what number comes next. An interest in money concepts brings about the ability to recognize coins. The understanding that each coin represents a quantity is beginning to develop, and later in the year, most children are able to identify a penny, nickel, dime, and quarter.

Recognition of uppercase and lowercase letters and the beginning of a small sight-word vocabulary (words recognized on sight) also occurs during this time. Many children at this age level are able to tell the days of the week in order and under­stand the concepts of some, many, and several.

Eye-hand coordination improves during this time, and many five year olds are now able to print their first name in uppercase letters. Drawings improve in quality, and pictures of people are more elaborate and contain approximately eight parts.

The ability to distinguish right from left also emerges at this time. Children often practice these skills by asking which way you are turning when you drive or on which side a particu­lar building is located.

There is a noticeable increase in attention span during this year, and children are now able to spend 12 to 15 minutes with a toy or activity.

A word of caution is suggested as you compare your child's skill levels with those just described. These descriptions are provided as guidelines to give a general idea of the types of skills you can expect from your child. Each child develops at his or her own pace. If your child includes only five parts on a picture of a person or can only identify a penny, do not panic. These skills may be emerging at a slightly slower pace and, with time, will become a solid part of your child's repertoire.

Children also display areas of strength and weakness in their development. Some five year olds may be ready to print their first and last names but may be very unsure of number concepts. Other children may be quite adept with counting skills but be hesitant in their ability to identify letters. When looking at your child's skills, keep in mind that each of us has strengths and weaknesses, as well as likes and dislikes, that affect our performance in specific areas.


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