The Play Years: Cognitive Development                                      
                                      
In Theory: How Children Think

    Clearly, children's thinking is often dictated more by their own subjective views than by reality.

Note! Preschoolers are capable of symbolic thought.  Symbolic thought involves the use of words, 
gestures, pictures, or actions, to represent ideas, things, or behaviors.

Note! Preoperational thought is the term used (by Piaget) to describe cognitive development between 
the ages of 2 & 6; characterized by centration, focus on appearance, static reasoning, & irreversibility. 
Preoperational thought includes symbolic thought.

Note! Preschoolers are NOT capable of operational thought which is the ability to develop a thought 
or idea according to a set of logical principles. They would not make good computer programmers 
at this stage of their development.

    Four Aspects of Preoperational Thought (Piaget) which limit young children's ability to reason logically follow.

    * Centration & egocentrism - focus on one aspect of a situation while excluding all the other alternatives 
    * Focus on appearance (example: boy refusing to wear a pink shirt because he is not a girl)
    * Static Reasoning - world is unchanging; if there is a change, it is a complete change and sudden
    * Irreversibility - failure to recognize that reversing a process produces the condition that existed before 
the transformation

Conservation Testing - conservation: the amount of substance is unaffected by changes in its appearance

    Conservation testing illustrates that Preschoolers center on appearances & ignore or discount the 
transformation involved - even though they watched it occur. Proving that they are not ready/able 
to understand simple; logical transformations.

 Piaget proposed that a child achieves:
 
    •  conservation of number at age 6
     •  conservation of mass at age 7
      •  conservation of weight at age 9

    Researchers now believe that he underestimated this conceptual ability & that it occurs sooner.

Vygotsky: Children as Apprentices - Learning from within the social context.

Learning take place in a "zone of proximal development".

Guided Participation, dos:

    * Present challenges for new learning
    * Offer assistance with tasks that may be too difficult
    * Provide instruction
    * Encourage interest & motivation
    * Use "scaffolding" ! (structured participation in learning activities to foster emerging capabilities) 

Verbal interaction is essential for intellectual growth

    * private speech - self-talk preschoolers use when thinking out loud, to review, explain to others, and 
to decide what to do next
    * social mediation - words that provide a bridge from the preschooler’s current understanding to what 
is almost understood 

    Of course neither Piaget's nor Vygotsky's theory is completely right but each offers strategies for 
maximizing development. 

What Children Think

A preschooler's memory is poor in that they

    * seldom try to retain bits of information in memory.
    * don’t know how to recall past experiences.

Memory can be enhanced by

•  using scripts which are skeletal outlines of familiar sequence of events.
 
        Scripts have 2 key aspects:
 
          1. They have a beginning & an end.
              2. They recognize the causal flow of events.
 
•  asking specific questions.
•  using visual reminders.

Special experiences promote long term memory: if

    * the experience is so repetitive that a script is formed
    * it is a distinct experience that occurs only once (example: natural disaster)

Children as a witness to a crime:

    * provide very accurate details of what happened, but have trouble recalling who was involved
    * (preschoolers) respond untruthfully to misleading questions
    * provide a structured sequence to enhance memory
    * can sometimes give false information to a script that makes sense to them (especially when 
there is a long duration between the event and recollection)

Theory of the mind - understanding of the human mental processes

  Ψ  Theory of the mind emerges at age 4 in the United States.   
  
  Ψ  Theory of mind is Advanced by:
  
1. Maturation of the prefrontal cortex 
 2. Language: believe, think 
  3. An older sibling 
   4. A Culture that anticipates the future  

Preschoolers are beginning to understand mental processes, they can

   1. can distinguish between mental phenomena and physical events
   2. appreciate how mental phenomena can arise from life experiences
   3. understand mental phenomena are subjective
   4. recognize that people have differing opinions and preferences
   5. realize that beliefs and desires can influence human actions
   6. realize that emotions can come from physical events and goals/expectations 

Note: In children 3-6 years of age, mental phenomena may not reflect reality. Most children however; 
by age 5, have an adequate "theory of mind" to know the difference between a person's false 
thinking & an actual case.

Language

Vocabulary - Language explosion

    * A child's mind develops categories to chart the meaning of various words.
    * Five year olds can learn any word as long as it explained & used in context.
    * Fast mapping is used. The child needs to hear a word only once or twice before 
      defining it through categorization with other words. 

Language difficulties:

    * comparisons
     * names of colors
      * metaphors & analogies
       * abstract nouns — "government"
        * relationships of place & time- "tomorrow"

Grammar difficulties:

Overregularization - It seems logical to children to apply the rules of grammar when 
speaking, but of course this can produce incorrect speech, e.g. "foots" rather than "feet".

Learning Two Languages

•  In today's world, bilingualism is an asset, perhaps a necessity. 
  
•  Bilingual children by age 5 are less egocentric in their understanding of language & are
    more advanced in their theory of mind. 
  
•  Immigrant bilingual children tend to make a language shift, becoming more fluent in their 
    new language than in their home language. 
  
•  Which Language? The best solution: "balanced bilinguals"

Early-Childhood Education

Types of Programs: Montessori - emphasize individual pride & accomplishment.
•  Reggio-Emilia - child is encouraged to master skills early.

Head Start is "good"!

Characteristics of programs that benefit the child the most:

  1.  a low adult-child ratio.
    2.  a staff that is trained & has continuity.
      3.  a clear curriculum direction & philosophy.

Key Questions

1. In what ways does preoperational thought limit a child's ability to think?
2. What sets Vygotsky's ideas apart from those of Piaget?
3. Give a hypothetical illustration of how a parent can foster cognitive accomplishments in the 
    zone of proximal development.
4. How do young children's scripts aid recall of specific past experiences, & how do they distort recollections?
5. How can caregivers aid in the development of memory during the preschool years?
6. What advice might you give a police officer who is planning to interview a preschool child who witnessed 
    a crime?
7. How do 2-year olds differ from 6-year olds in the theory of the mind?
8. What four factors influence whether a young child will understand a false belief?
9. How does the rapid acquisition of new words occur during the preschool years? 
10. What limitations are to be expected in a young child's accurate use of words & grammar?
11. What social change & what research discovery combined to increase the number of children in 
       preschool programs?
12. What findings indicate that preschool education programs such as Project Head Start succeed?
13. In your experience what misunderstanding did you have as a preschool child because of your limited theory of 
       mind or because of your magical or egocentric perspective?

                                        -------------------------------------------------------
                                                          Robert C. Gates