Cognitive Perspective in Theories of Child Development

The cognitive development of children is an aspect of development that has been studied by academics and professionals from different scientific fields, especially the social sciences. Psychologists who have researched how children develop have devised theories based on their findings that can help parents understand what to expect of their child's development.

Cognitive Perspectives

Cognitive perspectives on psychology study of the processes by which knowledge is acquired 1. Specifically, these approaches look at processes such as:

  • thinking
  • attention
  • memory
  • language
  • perception

Children acquire different skills in these areas as part of their natural development. Three of the best known theories regarding cognitive development are by Piaget, Bruner and Vygotsky.

Jean Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

Piaget was one of the earliest leaders in the field of cognitive psychology, particularly in relation to children and stages of development 1. His theories are still being used today by psychology and education professionals. Piaget's theory of cognitive development describes three main concepts: schemas, transition processes and four stages of development. Schemas are the way that children organize their knowledge and create categories for things based on what they know about them. The transition between stages consists of assimilation, accommodation and equilibration.

Piaget's Stages of Development

The first stage of development is the sensorimotor stage between birth and 2 years and is concerned with reactions to sensory stimuli. Next comes the preoperational stage from 2 to 7 years. This focuses on the development of thought processes and egocentrism. The concrete operational stage takes place between the ages of 7 and 11 and is the development of rational and logical thought. Finally, children reach the formal operations stage at 11. At this point, children can complete more complex cognitive processes such as abstract reasoning.

Bruner's Modes of Representation

Jerome Bruner's theory also considers how children learn and make sense of the environment, but concentrates on how information is stored and organized and views children as playing an active part in the learning process. Bruner described three modes of representation. The enactive mode -- your child's first year -- involves muscle memory and encoding action based information. The iconic mode, from 1 to 6 years, is about information gained and stored from images. The symbolic mode is the last stage of development, from 7 years, during which children store information in code, symbols and language.

Vygotsky's Social Development Theory

Vygotsky's theory differs from Bruner and Piaget, as it focuses on the impact of social interaction on cognitive development. Vygotsky believes that social learning precedes development and that the development of individuals cannot be fully understood without considering the social and cultural context. Vygotsky claims that all children are born with four elementary mental functions: memory, attention, sensation and perception. These are then developed into higher mental functions through a child's interaction with their sociocultural environment.