The Importance of Building Cognitive Skills in Children
What Are Cognitive Skills?
Cognitive skill means the ability to think, explore and understand. For children, cognitive skill development is the development of knowledge and problem-solving abilities and the child's capacity to understand the world around them and figure out things by themselves. These crucial skills enable children to process sensory information and learn new things.
Cognitive development starts in early childhood. (Early childhood refers to the period from birth through age five.) Although cognitive skill development depends to a certain extent on the genetic makeup of the child, it is largely dependent on their learning in the early years. A child's thinking and learning skills can be improved with practice and the right training. Therefore, today, a lot of importance is given to developing cognitive skills in early childhood.
Examples of Cognitive Skills
Some of the most important cognitive skills for a child are:
- Attention and response
- Language learning
- Information processing
- Simple reasoning
- Understanding cause and effect
- Pattern recognition
Jean Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development
The developmental changes in children from birth to adulthood were mostly ignored throughout history. Interest in child development began in the early 20th century and tended to focus on abnormal behaviour. Sigmund Freud was the originator of the psychoanalytical approach, though he was mainly interested in personality disorders in adults. He attempted to explain an individual's personality and psychological disorders by understanding the mind at its different levels, its motivation and its conflicts.
Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget came up with the theory of cognitive development in 1952. According to Piaget, the environment does not shape the child’s behaviour; rather, children and adults actively seek to understand their environment and adapt.
Piaget’s theory is the most comprehensive theory of cognitive development in children. The theory propagated that we can learn as much about children’s intellectual development from their incorrect answers to test questions as we can from their correct answers. He describes four distinct stages in cognitive development in children: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete, and formal.
The Four Stages
- Sensorimotor Stage: This is the stage from birth to age 2 where the child is able to differentiate between himself/herself and the environment.
- Preoperational Stage: At this stage (age 2–7), the child needs concrete physical situations. Objects are classified in simple ways based on their important features. The child is not able to conceptualise abstractly.
- Concrete Operational Stage: At this stage (age 7–11), the child begins to think abstractly and conceptualise things, creating logical structures that explain the child's physical experiences.
- Formal Operations Stage: This is the stage from age 11–15 in which cognition reaches its final form. The child's abstract thinking is similar to that of an adult, and he or she is capable of deductive and hypothetical reasoning.
The Piaget milestones described by the psychologist are typical or average for children aged 2–7 living in Western countries. However, each child is unique and will grow at his or her own pace. One critique of Piaget’s theory was its vagueness about the changes. Moreover, it underestimates the role of the social environment in developing children’s abilities, and it overestimates the age differences in thinking.
Why an Early Focus on Cognitive Skills Is Crucial
Some young children may have developmental delays or challenges that can be identified and addressed if caught early. Because of this, parents, teachers and caretakers should keenly observe each child's development and address any issues as early as possible. This can prevent the child from struggling later on in life.
In a fast-developing, competitive world, cognitive skill development from an early age is very crucial for a child. Young children grow physically during their early childhood, and they also grow mentally by observing and interacting with the world around them. It is important for parents to foster cognitive development in their child as soon as the child is born, because it is the foundation for the child's success later on in his or her life.
What Parents Can Do Early On
To promote a child's cognitive ability, it is important for the parents to actively engage in quality interactions with their daughter or son on a daily basis, starting in early childhood. As children develop cognitively, their play will move from simple make-believe to more complex imaginary play, according to psychologist Piaget.
Nowadays, there are means to assess a child’s cognitive skills; through these assessment tests, weaker skills can be identified and strengthened through cognitive training. If a parent feels that a child is struggling with learning, reading, attention or memory, the solution is to find out why and then strengthen those areas with training.
Below are some of the ways in which parents can actively participate in their child's cognitive development from the very start of his or her life:
- Talk to your baby. You can start doing this while you're pregnant. One important aspect of a child's cognitive development is language learning. Research has proven that children acquire language abilities long before birth. At birth, babies recognise their mother's voice and can discriminate between the language spoken by the mother and foreign languages. It is important for the mother to keep up a conversation with her child, even when he or she is still in the womb.
- Help your baby learn the names of objects. Once your baby has been born, continue talking to him or her, and share the names of commonly used objects. Studies have shown that talking to babies boosts their brain power and helps them to learn languages faster.
- Sing and read to your baby. Studies have shown that music helps children develop healthy skills as it soothes and creates a positive environment.
- Let your children explore and observe. Children have a natural curiosity for the things around them, and they should be allowed to explore and learn things by observing. Overly protective parents may actually hinder their child's natural growth and learning.
- Answer your child's questions. As your child grows up and starts asking questions, answer them accurately and patiently. Children are naturally inquisitive. Parents should whet their children's curiosity, since it will help them learn.
Other Important Ways to Improve Cognition
- Encourage creative play. Creative play enhances the cognitive skills of children. Allowing children to use their imaginations is helpful, and there are many benefits of pretend play in child development. "Let's Play Pretend" is a favourite game of small children where they imagine themselves in different roles and can ultimately learn a lot.
- Encourage your child's interest in books and puzzles. Children can increase their concentration, patience and sense of achievement when they solve puzzles. Books are a great way to kindle the imagination, and reading aloud from books helps children build their vocabulary and language skills.
- Provide educational toys and games. Ideally, games can provide both fun and learning. Word games, number games and memory games help kids develop their cognitive skills while they're having fun.
- Engage in outdoor play. Play has an important role in cognitive development as it is also a mode of learning. Studies have shown that stimulating environments like the outdoors can spur greater development of the part of the brain which is responsible for thinking, perceiving and understanding languages.
- Tell stories to your children. Storytelling has been recognised as an important tool today because it helps children develop their imaginations and enhances their motivation to learn. It can also help kids develop openness to new ideas, problem-solving abilities, risk-taking strategies and the ability to come up with out-of-the-box ideas as they grow into adults.
- Have your children tell you stories as well. Encouraging children to tell stories not only enhances their imagination but also helps them develop their language skills, reading comprehension, pronunciation, grammar and social skills.
- Support your child's hobbies. Hobbies can be educational tools, promoting both learning and social skills. Hobbies can be fun and relaxing and also help your child maintain their physical and mental health. Your daughter's passion for a particular hobby today might even lead her to a career in the future.
Other Factors to Consider
Health and Well-Being
- Healthy food is required for healthy brain development. Parents should plan nutrient-rich daily meals and encourage their children to abstain from junk food.
- Sleep helps the brain recharge and process the information acquired during the day.
- Parents can utilise the time before bedtime to focus on the positive events of the day and encourage their child to share how their day went, whether good or bad. If something negative happened, the parents can offer reassurance. This assertion of the parents' love and affection creates a sense of well-being that can help the child to grow emotionally and to develop a positive attitude.
- Regular exercise and physical activities like cycling and swimming—or even yoga and meditation—are known to improve cognitive skills in children (as well as being fun). Exercise keeps the body and mind healthy, relieves stress and helps kids develop healthy lifestyles early on, hopefully helping them avoid some health problems in adulthood.
Learning and Family Environment
- Children should be allowed to spend time outdoors as often as possible, since they can learn a lot from nature while appreciating its beauty. They should be made aware of the importance of plants and trees and ecosystems so that they can become environmental stewards from a young age.
- Concept-based learning helps kids to retain knowledge longer and apply core concepts in their daily life. It encourages children to become more active, communicate effectively and become lifelong learners. It is holistic in nature and helps in the development of the child as a whole rather than just focusing on academic learning.
- Most important of all is an affectionate and caring atmosphere for the child to grow in. Research has proven that a warm and affectionate environment results in children growing up to be more resilient, happier and healthier, with better cognitive abilities. Parents can do fun activities with their children, like dancing, swimming, playing games, going for picnics, hiking and cycling. This time spent together will create lifelong happy memories.
Benefits of Cognitive Development
- Promotes long-term learning: Learning, as we all know, is a lifelong process. Cognitive learning encourages students to take a hands-on approach to learning which will help them make important decisions later in life by studying all the pros and cons.
- Develops problem-solving skills: Problem-solving skills are essential later in life, both for career-building and for managing a family.
- Improves comprehension: Cognitive learning helps students to comprehend things clearly and develop a deeper understanding of situations and circumstances.
- Improves confidence: With deeper comprehension skills and more knowledge, children can approach life with greater enthusiasm and confidence, helping them be successful in all their endeavors.
- Improves memory: A deeper understanding of the subject makes the student retain the knowledge gained for a longer time, thus improving their memory.
- Instills a love of learning: Concept-based education instills a lifelong love of learning in the student, pushing them to continue gaining knowledge and developing new skills. Both of these things are important for career success.
- Emphasises innovation: In cognitive learning, students reflect on problems, explore different ideas and come up with new solutions.
Building a Strong Foundation for Future Success
Research has shown that there is a strong link between the development a child undergoes in early childhood and the level of success he or she experiences later in life. The brain is the most incredible network of information processing, and both interpretation and thinking skills improve as children learn. Parents, teachers and caretakers should help children develop their cognitive skills at an early age so that they can grow up with confidence and with the skills to succeed.
If a child does seem to have a learning disability, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Today, there are various methods to assess and train children who have learning disabilities. Not all children are born with the same cognitive abilities, but they all have the potential to develop into able and efficient individuals. With the help of caring, nurturing parents and teachers, children can utilise their potential to a maximum extent and grow up to be well-rounded and successful individuals.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 VIDYA D SAGAR