Cognitive Development of Children


Author: Adekola Taylor
June, 2015


Childhood development is not only centered on physical growth but also on cognitive development. Without mincing words, child’s physical development has a direct relationship with his cognitive or intellectual development. Specific cognitive abilities in children develop largely due to the interaction between environmental experiences and inherent capacities which is closely related to other changes which may be social or emotional. Cognitive abilities which are associated with reasoning, thinking, memory and problem-solving, continue to improve throughout childhood development. In other words, cognitive development in children can be defined as the orderly and gradual development of skills, dispositions and knowledge, which enable children to understand and think reasonably about the world around them. It is worth noting that parents have vital roles to play in the stages of childhood development associated with cognition because children’s early relationship with their parents, in particular their mothers, has far-reaching effects on the foundation for later cognitive development (Cogill et al., 1986).

Child’s cognitive development has to be fostered by the parents because doing so would lay a solid foundation for the success of the child in school and also in later life. Therefore, it is very pertinent for parents to be well-acquainted with what they can do to improve their children’s cognition during childhood development. Cognitive development theory explains intellectual development in humans as a progressive phenomenon in which an individual uses his inherent intellect to move from a less complex stage of cognition to a more complex stage. Moreover, the understanding and discussion of cognitive development of children cannot be complete without mentioning some important findings of some prominent cognitive development theorists that have shaped our understanding of intellectual or cognitive development in childhood.

Some Popular Cognitive Development Theories of Children

Piaget’s theories on cognitive development of children are widely used in primary school and preschool programs. His theories are centered on learning through discovery and interest. Piaget was of the opinion that intelligence was not acquired with age but was acquired through a progressive reorganization of mental processes due to experience and maturation (Lain, 2006). This type of acquisition of intellect by children is evident through the development of the children’s discovery and interest. In other words, children should learn through discovery by using concrete experiences and by challenging their abilities. Piaget based his theory of cognitive development of children on four basic stages that children undergo as they mature mentally. Parents should get acquainted with these stages to further help their children in cognitive development.

According to Piaget, the first stage is called sensorimotor stage, which is from the period of birth to age two. During sensorimotor stage, children’s knowledge of the world is limited to their motor activities and sensory perceptions. That is to say their behaviors, mainly simple motor responses, are controlled by sensory stimuli. Preoperational stage is the second stage; it occurs between ages two to six. During this stage children can mentally represent objects and events, a process called object permanence and they begin to learn the use of language. The next stage where children acquire the ability to participate in conservation, to understand the meaning of numbers, volume, area, concept of reversibility and orientation is called concrete operational stage. This stage is a period between ages seven to eleven. The last stage is an open-ended stage and it is called formal operational stage.

Formal operational stage starts from age twelve to adulthood, abilities such as logical thought, systematic planning, deductive reasoning and abstract concepts are characteristics of this stage (Cherry, 2013). The theory of Piaget has been extensive used in school programs in creating lessons where information taught is embedded into an application based activity. Such an activity may be in form of puzzles which pupils must put together in right order. It allows pupils to discover new set of information and apply it rightly. Another important theory for cognitive development of children is from Vygotsky. Unlike Piaget, Vygotsky postulated that cognitive development of children did not only rest on interaction with ones environment as postulated by Piaget but also children learn through social and cultural interactions. According to his theory, cognitive development of children is linked to their interactions with others and environment. He was of the opinion that signs, symbols and language in culture profoundly have impact on cognitive development (Traina, 2009).

It is believed that the integration of these symbols and signs into culture help children to convey messages, solve problems and reason. The introduction of cultural perspectives by Vygotsky distinguished his theory from that of Piaget’s theory. Based on Vygotsky’s theory, without assistance from others, children internalize the sign systems of their culture to think and to solve problem. The first step in Vygotsky’s theory of cognive development is language acquisition and the understanding that sounds and actions have meaning. This is grounded on the fact that culture is transmitted through language. Therefore, parents should know that language and communication are vital sign systems that promote cognitive development of children. The next stage in Vygotsky’s theory is the zone of proximal development, which is an indicator of the difference between the problem-solving a child is able to do under guidance, and the problem-solving he or she is able to do individually. The final stage of Vygotsky’s theory focus on assistance in facilitating the mastery of new concept, and it is often referred to as scaffolding.

Another important theory to be considered is information processing which is divided into three main parts- long-term, memory, working memory, and sensory memory. The theory explains cognitive development of children through the metaphor of a computer encoding, storing, processing, and decoding data (Oswalt, 2013). The sensory and working memories make children during initial processing to handle limited amount of incoming information whereas the long-term memory functions as a permanent store for knowledge. According to information processing model, between ages 2 to 5, skills to focus attention for extended periods are developed in most children. Likewise, skills to recall old information, previously encountered information, and skills to reconstruct these pieces of information in the present are also well-developed at these ages. Moreover, between ages 5 and 7, children learn to center their intellectual abilities on definite purposes such as memorizing facts and words.


It is crystal clear that the parents’ understanding of cognitive development of children would go a long way to foster their children’s cognitive development. This would enable parents to know how to promote their children’s cognitive development at different stages as they grow. Quality interaction with their children on daily basis and calculated assistance from the parents according to Vygotsky’s theory would enhance their problem-solving skills and their reasoning abilities. Children’s concept of understanding can also be improved if their parents expose them to materials and prints e.g. puzzles and colorful books. Under the guidance and encouragement of their parents, children may be exposed to new puzzles to figure out things by themselves, this would help a lot in enhancing their reasoning abilities. Finally, parents may engage their children in specific learning activities about history of places, animals, and people etc. to further promote their children’s cognitive development.


Cherry, Kendra (2013). An overview of early childhood development. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from developmentalpsychology/ss/ early-child hood-development_3.htm

Cogill, S.R., Alexandra Heather, Robson K. M., Kumar R (1986). Impact of maternal postnatal depression on cognitive development of young children. British Medical Journal, 293:1165 -116 7 Retrieved November 23, 2014 from /articles/PMC1340177/pdf/bmjcred00232-0015.pdf

Lain (2006). Cognitive development a comparison between the work of Piaget, Bruner, and Vygotsky. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from -development-49660.html?cat=4

Oswalt, Angela (2013). Early childhood cognitive development: information processing. BettyHardwick Center, Retrieved November 23, 2014 from

Traina, Kelly (2009).The cognitive development theories of Piaget and Vygotsky. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from development-theories-piaget-vygotsky-4873198.html?cat=4

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