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When a child is born, the assumption is always that he doesn’t know anything about what goes on in his environment. It then puzzles us that when the mother intends breastfeed the child, even as young as one day old, he automatically ends up sucking the mother‘s breast and hence drinks the milk.
This is testimony that the when children are born, they are not as green as is perceived of them, instead they are born with some degree of knowledge about what happens around them (Cocking, 2007). The knowledge and skills are categorized according to how they will help the child in solving issues in his life. The skills they have around and during this time vary in different stages and ages of child development.
This variance comes to play for instance in a one year old child when he learns to sit and walk and in a five year old child when he learns to count numbers. The same factors held constant, when a two year old is in the process of acquainting himself with the surrounding with which he is being brought up in, the five year old is busy in school learning. This process through which the child learns and adapts the life skills through given time spans or periods is referred to as Child development.
Child development is divided into two categories, cognitive development and moral development. Cognitive development refers to a child’s ability to learn and provide solutions to issues that affect their lives.
Other aspects of development include social and emotional development which dictates the level of the child’s interaction with others and also determines how much control the child has over himself (self-control). As the child grows from infantry, he also develops the ability to understand and make use of language, to make meaning out of elements of communication like gesture and words, also referred to as ‘speech and language development’.
Other abilities include fine motor skills, which refers to his ability to execute movements through the use of his muscles, especially at the hands and fingers. His ability to develop and use his large muscles to move himself or parts of his body, also referred to as gross motor skills are also key factors in the growth of the child (Cocking, 2007).
Through infancy, the child (At around two years) develops the ability to be observant to other people’s emotions. They are keen about the reactions to their actions on other people. Through this they are able to know what is expected of them, and what their parents and guardians recommend of them when it comes to their behavior, as a result they end up conforming to the norms that define their society or the environment with which they are brought up in.
Several theories help us understand what affects the quality of morals that a child may adapt in his or her life, but in this case we shall dwell on the cognitive developmental theory, which was put forward by a Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget. This theory states that, ‘children actively construct their own cognitive worlds; information is not just poured into their minds from their environment’ (Cocking, 2007).
According to Piaget’s theory, the process of learning in a small child is simply an update to what they already know; they have an idea of what happens around them.
Piaget’s school of thought is built on the idea that assimilation (a persons inclusion or addition of new data into their store of knowledge) and accommodation (defined as the ability of a person to adjust and relate to new ideas or data around him) are present in small children; when children are born, they automatically suck anything that comes to contact with their lips (assimilation) but with time and the experience they gain through exposure, they gain insights and deepen their understanding of things.
As such, they end up choosing what to lick and what to discard, for example they will lick fingers and their mother’s nipples, but they won’t lick things like towels and mattresses. This is referred to as accommodation (Cocking, 2007).
Piaget went further to say that there are four stages that one went through to comprehend the world, all the stages are related to age and in each stage a person exhibits totally different perspectives of thought. The piagetian stages are as follows;
From birth to about two years of age (sensorimoter stage), at this stage the children comprehend the scope of things in their environment through synchronizing the experiences of their senses (I.e. sight and hearing) with concrete motor actions.
The preliminary of this stage is characterized by limited reflexive patterns within which the infants operate in. By the end of the stage, at about two years of age the infants have developed sophisticated sensorimotor movements and though young, they are almost always able to operate or communicate in symbols.
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From between two to seven years of age (the preoperational stage). This is the second of the four Piagetian stages of development and the children begin to make use of words, pictures and diagrams to represent their sentiments.
Their thoughts go past their links that sensed information then and now, it also goes beyond their physical actions, and they bring out their sentiments through the use of these symbols. Piaget asserts that although children in this age bracket can use symbols to communicate, they lack the ability to integrate and perform activities physically. They instead internalize psychologically the operations they do physically.
At around seven to eleven years of age (the concrete operational stage), the child goes through the third Piagetian stage. The children can transform their thoughts into action through conducting operations that translate into corresponding acts. In the stage, they reason logically as opposed to the intuitive thought in the previous stage.
However, their thinking and reasoning can only be applied to certain physical operations, for instance it’s hard for them to comprehend the process of solving an algebraic equation, because they cannot decipher the complexity of the sums. The last stage in the Piagetian circle involves children around eleven to fifteen years of age. This stage is also referred to as the formal operating stage (Klausmeier, 2001).
One main trait the members of this stage exhibit are their ability of the children to think well past their physical experiences and reason theoretically, and make sense in their reasoning. The child at this stage is an adolescent, and they conceptualize their thoughts, creating images in real life scenarios.
For instance, they may set standards over what an ideal best friend is like, and make comparison of their thought to their real friends. They are able to think about their future and imagine what they can be; they wallow in the fascination and excitement that these thoughts create. They are more orderly and efficient in getting solutions to problems around them, formulating theories about issues around them and working around to get them solved (Klausmeier, 2001).
Before Piaget came about with his principles and circles about a child’s cognitive abilities and development, he had conducted extensive researches before he laid bare the result of his findings. The method he used was called hypothitico-deductive method, in which he laid emphasis on logic. He formed many theories about a given issue on child development, and then eliminated them one by one in order to draw a conclusion about the issue he was experimenting on. His observations were as follows;
From the time a child is born, the children make attempts to suckle, sometimes even when they don’t have something to suck. Lip movements correlate with how the tongue moves and at the same time the arms move irregularly in a manner that seems rhythmic. During this time their heads move laterally, and upon brushing of their lips, albeit accidentally, they tend to act as though they are sucking.
Piaget repeated this experiment (the sucking reflex) again with his second child for proof of permanence. In one of the experiments, he hid a child’s hand from her sight and placed a wrist watch on it. The child could not identify the watch as alien to her body when they showed the child the hand with the watch.
From this experiment Piaget deduced that the child did not feel the hand as a part of her own body. The first experiment proved that at that given stage of their lives, infants understand the scope of things by synchronizing the experiences of their senses such as the sense of sight and hearing with concrete motor actions. The sucking reflex is attained when other senses such as touch (touching their lips) is aroused. (Cocking, 2007)
In the same manner, we shall conduct experiments about the several piagetian tests on children of different ages to see their reactions in relation to the principles that Piaget put across.
The methodology will be the same to what Piaget had used, the hypothitico-deductive method, in which he forms hypotheses about why the child reacts in the given manner, and uses logic to eliminate them before coming up with a concrete solution. I will conduct this experiment on two children of varied ages, that is, they are living through different piagetian stages of development.
The two children are eight ears old and eleven years old (the preoperational stage and the concrete operational stage). Both of the children are familiar with me since I happen to be their father, but as required of me explain to them what I am up to. In order to get their honest thoughts and opinions, I tried to put them at ease by telling them that all their honest answers are correct, and they should not be jittery about giving varied opinions.
Experiment one (Clay task)
In this experiment, I get some mound of clay and divide it into two equal balls. I proceed to ask one of the children, the eight year old, whether the size of the first ball is equivalent to that of the second ball. I ask him pointing to both balls one at a time. The child agrees that they have the same size.
I then ask the child to flatten out one of the balls and then repeat the experiment, the child gives me a different answer. He claims that the flat ball is smaller than the round ball, the reason he gives out is that the round ball is taller than the flat ball, and for this reason it is bigger.
A repeat of the experiment with the eleven year old yielded the same results on the two round balls, in that they are equal in size. When instructed to flatten out one of the balls and then probed on their sizes, the eleven year old still insisted that they were the same.
The reason he gave out was that though they were different in shape, one flat and the other one round, the same amount of clay had been used to flatten the round clay. He was implying that when it came to the quantity of the clay that had been used, the same amount had been used up in both cases.
Experiment two (The coin task)
In this experiment, we make use of identical objects such as coins, buttons or candy. In my experiment with the children I used coins. I made two equal rows of the coins, on in front of me and the other row in front of the child. I asked the eight year old child if we had the same number of coins.
He took his time to compare the two lines before concluding that they were the same in number. I told him that I was going to spread my row out, and he had no objections to that, I spread the row of coins in front of me making the row appear longer than the one with the child.
While pointing to his row, I asked him whether the number of coins in his row had been altered, or increased, to which he objected. I asked him the same question about my row, and his response was that I had increased the number of coins in my row, that was why my row appeared longer than his.
I proceeded to the eleven year old and asked the same questions I did with the eight year old. He agreed straight away that the number of coins in the rows was the same. When it came to the second question, where after spreading out one of the rows and enquired about the number of coins in the rows, he again took some time to think about it before telling me that the number of coins was the same.
His reasoning was that when the coins are spread out they took more space, therefore the coins were the same in number, but once spread out they took up more space. He emphasized that to be the reason why the row of the spread out coins appeared longer.
From the two experiments conducted above, it is evident that the children relate differently to their world. The difference in age groups and the varied opinions played a factor to distinguish the variance in the two Piagetian stages of development. According to Piaget, the eight year old (at the preoperational stage) has the ability to use symbols and distinguish features, they still are deficient in their ability to integrate and perform activities physically.
That is why the eight year old could tell that the clay and coins were the same amount, but could not figure out that they were still identical after one clay ball had been pressed together and one row of coins had been spread out to look longer.
On the other hand, the eleven year old, at the concrete operational stage reasons logically, opposite to his younger sibling’s intuitive thought (Klausmeier, 2001). He is able to apply his thinking and reasoning some physical operations, and they are able to translate their thoughts to actions. That was the case in the two experiments in which he appeared to provide more logical answers to queries.
This research, however in-depth in its revelations had some weaknesses. I used children from the same family (my family), this on its own is questionable in that doubts may be placed on the reactions of the children. One may question whether if the research was conducted on children from different families the results would still stand to be the same.
The point of argument here is that the children however small or young, are genetically related, this may influence their reactions towards different stimuli. Their reactions may be the same because of their relationships.
The other factor that I did not consider is the fact that in order for me to carry out such a comprehensive research, I could have included children from different social classes. This inability to include the children from the diverse classes that define society provides a weakness in the experiment. Questions abound as to how children from a rich family would react to the same stimuli as a child from a poor social class. The results would almost be different given the difference in the environment they are brought up in (Klausmeier, 2001).
In a nutshell, a child’s development differs over time. His ability to assimilate, accommodate and integrate data strengthens with his level of growth, measured through the number of years as the child s growing. All normal children, all factors held constant, go through this life processes, eventually developing the ability to decipher, and provide solutions to what they face daily in their lives.
Cocking, Rodney R., Sigel, Irving E. (2007). Cognitive Development from Childhood to adolescence: A Constructivist Perspective. New York: New York publishers.
Klausmeier, Herbert J. (2001). Cognitive Learning and Development: Information-Processing and the Piagetian Perspectives. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Company.