Guide Your Child’s Intellectual Development, Part 1

Your child’s understanding of the world changes and builds with age and experience. With intellectual development, just as with social and emotional growth, your child learns best if you match activities and exercises to his age and stage of progress. Doing the right things at the right time encourages healthy intellectual expansion with the least effort and the most pleasure for both you and your child.

How children learn

In order to stimulate your child’s expansion, it helps to understand exactly how children learn. Our ideas about that have changed considerably in recent years.

Earlier in the century, parents and educators used to believe that children were empty vessels to be filled with knowledge. Later on, we adopted the notion that children were more or less fully formed beings at birth whose fate is determined mostly by their genetic make-up, no matter what happens in the environment. The truth lies somewhere in between.

Jean Piaget helped change our ideas about how cognition proceeds. This French psychologist, who studied children from the 1920s until he died in 1980, published what has become one of the most influential and respected theories of learning. Piaget believed that children gain knowledge by exploring their surroundings and trying to make sense of the world. He also observed that most children learn in predictable stages of development that occur at about the same age.

Piaget broke these stages of cognitive development into a series of four schemas, or basic units of knowledge, that serve as building blocks for understanding.

Here’s a brief rundown of those four stages.

In Stage 1 (birth to age 2), infants are concerned with “sensorimotor” achievements – using their senses to inspect the world and begin to see a distinction between themselves and other objects. They have no concept of “object permanence,” meaning that when their mother or anyone else disappears from sight, the infant believes that person is gone forever.

Stage 2 (ages 2-7) Piaget calls “pre-operational.” This is where children begin to acquire language, use mental images and symbols, and understand simple rules. They see the world only from their perspective. For example, if they cover their faces and cannot see others, they still believe that means others cannot see them.

Stage 3 (ages 7-11) deals with “concrete operations.” At this stage, children distinguish between fantasy and reality: they become more logical, less egocentric. They can concentrate and solve problems better and begin to understand the relation between time, distance, and speed, as well as other rules that govern the world.

Stage 4 (ages 11-adult) is called “formal operations,” which focuses on the child’s growing ability to deal with abstract ideas, understand ethical principles, and reason about rules and regulations.

Now that you have a foundation of understanding of Piaget’s four stages, I’ll explore how children move through these stages in my next blog post.