It is easy to understand the process of physical development and how the child’s body grows and matures during those first important years, because we can see those developments taking place. It is not so easy to understand the child development stages of the intellect and the growth of understanding, because these are invisible and not so obvious.
Physical and intellectual development, however, take place side by side, and from the moment the child is born she is absorbing knowledge through her senses (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste) from all the things going on around her.
Because, during the first few weeks, the baby’s senses are not fully developed and she spends much of her time sleeping, she absorbs stimulation passively and does not appear to give much response. However, her brain and nervous system are accepting her various experiences and building up concepts (patterns of ideas). Intellectual development takes place in natural stages from early babyhood to adulthood (maturation), but this rate of development can be increased by providing visual and verbal stimulation and a rich environment from the start. We have seen that the average age at which a baby can reach out and grasp an object with accuracy is about five months, but experiments have shown that by enriching the child’s environment this stage can be achieved by three and a half months. The enrichment in the experiment consisted of:
- increasing the amount of physical contact with the children.
- placing the children on their stomachs so that they could look round.
- replacing plain bedding with patterned.
- hanging an interesting mobile over the babies’ cots.
It was noted that the babies took no notice of the mobile until after they were two months old, showing that they had to reach that stage of development before they could make use of the stimulation, but they then progressed more quickly because of the external stimulation.
Professor Jean Piaget
One of the most important people to have studied the intellectual developmen: of the child is Professor Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, whose work forms the basis for most modern studies on the subject. His experiments and studies led him to believe that the sort of person we become, in our behaviour and our personality, depends upon the events and influences of our early life. This is why parental influence and guidance is so important during the first formative years – the earliest part of a child’s life is crucial in determining what sort of mature adult she will grow into.
There are five stages of cognitive (intellectual) development through which a child must pass before she reaches maturity. The normal age at which each phase takes place is given in the chart that follows, but this will be influenced by two factors, nature and nurture.
Nature means the internal factors that influence the child’s development – her genetic make-up, the characteristics she receives from her parents, etc.
Nurture means the external influences coming from the child’s environment and the people she is in contact with – verbal and visual stimulation; a healthy environment and diet; feelings of love, security and confidence inspired by family and friends, etc.
Both of these factors will influence the rate at which development takes place.
This is an intellectually experimental stage. The child is dependent upon the adult looking after her for all her needs and is totally egocentric (self-centred). It is a mainly non-verbal stage, the baby making known her requirements byor shouting. During this stage the child learns through sight. sound, touch, smell and taste to recognise objects: first of all her own fingers and hands and feet, then objects such as her feeding bottle or toys. She then begins to realise that objects removed from her sight are still there and will return. She is building up a series of experiences and linking them together.
At this stage the child is still egocentric and only capable of seeing things from her own point of view. She is learning to speak and to put her ideas into words, and will often speak her thoughts out loud. She may like the company of other children but is not yet capable of co-operation or playing together. She gains experience by trial and error.
During this stage the child is acting through intuition and previous experience, not through concrete ideas or logical reasoning. She begins to play with other children in a social way and is becoming a more independent character. Gradually she begins to associate objects with each other and to be aware of numbers. By the age of fine she can understand mass (e.g., that several sections will make a whole), by the age of six she understands weight. and by seven she understands volume.
Logical thought and operations begin. The child begins to understand the basic ideas of mathematics, can classify groups c-objects logically and can arrange objects in order. She becomes self-reliant and desires to be independent of adults. Children at this stage form into gangs of their own age and sex, strong friendships are formed and the good opinion of their peer group (people around them of their own age) is desired.
This is the stage when young people begin to deduce and to consider concepts which are not necessarily concrete ideas. They think on a hypothetical level and reason problems through. It is c period of great mental development when a fund of factual knowledge is gathered and the skills of language, numeracy and reasoning are built up.
We can see that it is useless to try to force a child to learn a certain intellectual skill, such as reading or numeracy, if she has not yet reached that stage of development. If, however, she misses out on a skill, she can catch up at a later stage, but it may be more difficult for her to do so. For example, most children learn how to read between five and eight years old, and being unable to read by then makes learning harder later on.
Patterns of learning
Human infants have a long period of learning before they can become independent. Puppies and kittens are quite independent after only a few weeks but it takes a child at least eight or nine years to achieve any sort of independence. The usual pattern of intellectual development and the stages of learning are as follows.
During the first month the baby is conditioned by the reflex actions with which she is born.k.She is exploring the very small world around her, and will gradually learn from her limited experiences, both those which bring her pleasure and those which bring her pain. Bathing, for instance, is a strange and frightening experience and at first she will scream with fear. As her experience of bathing increases she will learn not to be afraid and will eventually feel pleasure and enjoyment.
During the second and third months the baby’s activities will begin to stretch beyond her own basic reflexes for survival. She will stretch out and grasp for pleasure. Her eyes will follow a moving object, and she will smile briefly at a person she knows well.
During the fourth month her actions are far more purposeful. She will reach for specific things, respond to a voice, show pleasure by smiling, and cry from anger and frustration as well as from fear or pain.
During the following few months the baby builds upon the many learning patterns which she has formed during her first months. She will be able to grasp objects and put them to her mouth, and will learn through sucking, taste and smell. She learns how to become mobile and can, therefore, explore and investigate.
After about nine months the baby will realise that an object may still be there even if she cannot see it – until then she is only interested in an object if she can see it. She may now look for it in the place she last saw it, but it is not until she is 18-20 months that she can use her mind to reason that the object may be elsewhere and she may find it by searching. The development of language means that she is able to communicate and to understand what other people want.
By the time she is one year old:
- she will recognise her own name and respond to it.
- she will understand many words and commands and will be trying out language for herself by putting together sound such as strings of repeated syllables (`mamama’ and ‘cladada’).
- she will not be using her mouth so much to examine things, but will use her hands more.
- her memory is developing. She will remember, for example, that if she bangs her table with a spoon it makes a noise, and she will repeat the action again at a later stage.
- she is beginning to reason things through. For example, when she hears her food being prepared and her bib is tied on, she gets excited because she reasons that her food is coming.
- she enjoys looking at herself in a mirror and will sometimes kiss the reflection.
- she loves games of peek-a-boo, singing and anything which makes people laugh.
- she likes stacking objects, placing things in containers, and noisy activities.
- she is very inquisitive and will try to find how things work. She will sit and look at a picture book and listen to a story. She will be associating words with objects and building up her vocabulary
The second year of a baby’s life is one of intensive learning, when she is building upon her experience and learning new things. She makes rapid advances in language and mobility. She is at an age when she can understand the idea of toilet training. She is still very dependent upon her parents, usually her mother in particular, and she needs lots of loving and reassurance. Her curiosity and constant activity can make it a very dangerous period, because she is as yet unaware of hazards.
By the time she is two years old:
- she has left babyhood behind and is developing her own personality. The degree of her intelligence will be becoming apparent.
- she has learnt that objects exist even when she cannot see them.
- she can remember objects or people and recognise them when she sees them again.
- her speech is well developed and she chatters incessantly. At this stage she must have people around her who talk to her so that her vocabulary will increase.
- she realises that she is a separate being from the things and people around her, and that she can manipulate objects.
- she may be very changeable as she starts to try to achieve more independence. She may go through a negative phase, constantly saying ‘no. and indulging in food fads and temper tantrums, while still craving affection.
- she enjoys lots of physical activities, but will also sit and enjoy stories and children’s TV.
- she will think about a problem or situation and size it up and then may be able to foresee an answer. This is a great step forward from her previous acceptance of situations.
During the third year the child develops much more independence. From being a ‘troublesome two’ she develops into a ‘thoughtful three’. The aggression and negative attitudes of a two-year-old can be channelled into more acceptable ways. As the child’s world becomes wider and she gains confidence in her physical and linguistic abilities she becomes less dependent upon her parents and more willing to socialise.
- is constantly seeking for information and experimenting.
- knows her own age and understands the concept of time, past, present and future.
- has a good command of speech and can explain her wants and needs.
- is developing a good memory and may remember things from several months back.
- is very good at imitating and enjoys pretend and make-believe games.
- has an increasing span of attention and will concentrate and listen for quite long periods.
- enjoys creative activities, constructional toys, and helping with household jobs.
- is prepared to share her things with others and wants other friends to play with apart from her family.
- knows what sex she is and that boys and girls are different physically.
Over the next two years the child will spend much of her time investigating her surroundings, forming friendships, developing her vocabulary, and beginning to understand numeracy. She is so active and develops so quickly that she gets tired and needs plenty of rest. Her parents often expect more of her than she is capable of and she can rebel and revert to childish behaviour. or become rude and truculent.
The average five-year-old can usually count up to 15 and understand the idea of numbers, can write a few letters, and may be learning to read. She can
- say rhymes and understand stories, and she knows her name, address, birthday, and telephone number. Her powers of concentration and memory are much improved, and she will be prepared to stick at a job until it is finished.
- She is, however, still a child, and although she enjoys the company of other children and other people, she still very much needs the love and security of her parents and her home.
Steady and progressive development depends upon:
- providing a stimulating environment for the child, with parents, friends and teachers who will encourage the learning process.
- providing opportunities for the child to listen to speech and develop his own linguistic abilities.
- providing the toys, games and activities which are going to encourage learning during its various stages.
The child’s environment
If a child is constantly kept in his pram or, quiet and away from other people, very rarely spoken to and with very little to observe, he will have nothing to stimulate his natural curiosity and learning abilities. He will become bored and show his frustration by crying, or as he gets older by becoming aggressive to get attention. Babies who are constantly ignored and left to themselves (which sometimes happens when they are left with uncaring child minders who try to look after too many children) will eventually become apathetic and just sit where they are put, with no desire to move. Their development will have been severely retarded.
Even a child only a month old will benefit from being propped up in the pram so that he can watch people doing household jobs. He will move his head so that he can watch and listen. He should be talked or sung to, and will also enjoy music on the radio, the sound of the vacuum cleaner and other household noises. When he is put outside in the pram he will watch leaves blowing, or the washing on the line. His span of attention is short, however, and he needs changes of activity and scenery. This is why a walk to the shops or in the park, pointing things out along the way, is intellectually as well as physically good for him. Pram and cot toys, mobiles and an unbreakable minor. are all good during these early stages to provide stimulation.
The child does not need stimulating activity all the time and will enjoy quiet periods cuddling a toy, playing with a rattle, or, as he gets older, being shown a book. Books do not need to be bought -they can be homemade, relating specially to the child and the things around him.
Small children enjoy the company of other people, just as adults do. They like being with their mother or father, but they also enjoy watching other children, or adults. doing things and eventually will want to join in. It is good for them to be taken to the park to watch other children playing or games of football, tennis or bowls taking place. They like to sit on a beach and watch the water or the other children playing. They will enjoy the bustle of the market, going on a train, going to the public library or being taken to the swimming baths. They will be learning and building up different experiences all the time, ready for when they are older and can themselves be involved in the activity.