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Cognitive development theory specifies an organized pattern through which the processes of a person’s thought develops, as well as how these processes influence the understanding and interaction with the universe. The thought processes develops as a result of an individuals’ need to interact with their environment. The theory seeks to elaborate the way children begin to perceive, think, and gain understanding through interaction as well as the influence of learned and genetic factors (Jen & John, 2011). Children’s brain development and intelligence are defined by their sequence of cognitive stages, knowledge, as well as their intellectual competence. As such, parents, teachers, as well as peers play a vital role in facilitating mental development of children through the concepts that they introduce to them.
Cognitive development is associated with changes in the ability to perceive, learn, and reason. In early stages, involves processes that are based on actions before progressing into evolution of mental operations (Battaglini, 1987). The interpretation and understanding of the world is facilitated by classes of knowledge referred to as schemas. A schema is what describes the physical and mental actions that are involved in knowing and understanding the universe. In additional to being a category of knowledge, a schema also involves procedure of receiving that knowledge. As a person gains experience of the world, the newly acquired knowledge helps in modifying, adding to, and changing the previously existing schemas. Therefore, whenever a teen student is exchanging views with his peers, he takes in new information, which modifies that previously existing in schemas. The modification enhances his ability to perceive and assimilate information. For example, when I was about four years old, I had a schema about dogs. My mum had a Bichon Frise pet dog, and those kept by a couple of her friends were small too. I grew believing that dogs are small and easy to handle until I encountered a ferocious big dog while playing at a friend’s neighborhood. This new information modified the pre-existing schema in order to accommodate the reality that some dogs are big and fierce.
Assimilation is the process through which an individual takes in fresh information into the pre-existing schemas. It is a subjective process, as the individual tends to modify this information and experience so that it can fit in the preexisting beliefs (Battaglini, 1987). For instance, despite the size and ferocity, I was able to recognize the animal as a dog even before anyone had informed me. On its part, accommodation is the process by which a person alters or changes the existing schemas on receiving the new information. With the acquisition of new information, the ideas which a person previously held true are altered, and at times, new schemas are developed. This usually happens if an individual never had prior knowledge of the item in question. For instance, when we were children, a class-mate of ours visited the American Museum of Natural History together with his family over one of the holidays. When schools re-opened, he recounted about the huge skeletons he had seen at the museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs. Having never seen dinosaurs or their skeletons before, we had to accommodate this new information by developing new schemas. Equipped with these schemas, information acquired with future encounter with such skeletons will be taken in through assimilation.
According to Jean Piaget, a Swiss developmental psychologist, children attempts to establish the balance assimilation between accommodation and assimilation through a mechanism referred to as equilibration. Consequently, as an individual makes progress in cognitive development, he/she endeavors to establish a balance between the application of previous knowledge, assimilation, and altering behavior so as to account for the new knowledge through accommodation (Gregory, 2009). Equilibrium serves to explain the way children make progress from one intellectual stage to the next. Piaget believed that child development is divided into four major stages of perception development. There stages include the sensor motor and preoperational stages, as well as concrete and formal operational stages.
The sensor motor stage is the period between birth and the age of two. During this time, the knowledge of the universe is limited to motor activities and sensor perceptions. Consequently, behavior consists of simple motor reactions that are caused by sensory stimuli, which means that, interaction is entirely dependent on a child’s environment. The initial schemas are developed reflexively following triggers by certain environmental stimuli (Gregory, 2009). A couple of months after birth, people begin comprehend the information they receive from their senses, and learn how to use muscles and limbs in movement. These developments form action schemas, which are among the first elaborate plans of actions to be developed. At this time, a baby does not recognize anyone else’s interests, wants, and needs, and, consequently, behaves in an ego centric manner. A child, nevertheless, acquires knowledge of objects and how they are manipulated, a scenario which makes them understand how a thing can affect another as well as simple ideas regarding time and space. He/she builds up visual representations of objects in the mind using the knowledge that has been acquired about how these objects can be used. Observing an eight or nine month old baby, one realizes that no physical object is central to a child. For example, whenever an object is taken away from sight, a baby acts as if that object never existed. When the baby is between nine and twelve months, he would try to locate the hidden object. This happens because by then, the child has improved the object permanence he began acquiring from the age of around four months.
The preoperational stage is the period between the age of two and six years during which individuals learns how to use of language. At this level, children do not conceptualize concrete logic, and, therefore, they cannot manipulate information in a manner that would enable them perceive situations mature people do. Their thought processes are, however, developing, and this is exhibited by the expansion in vocabulary with advancement in age (Hyslop, 1988). They still retain their egoistic behavior as they appear to consider situations from their point of view while imagining that everyone else shares such a view. This is why a child would persistently demand for something even when parents cannot afford it at the moment. However, such views changes bit-by-bit making the child realize that someone else can be the focus of attention. When I was around five years, my peers and I believed that everything possessed consciousness. For example, many of us would, on severally manifest anger towards inanimate objects such as shoes that did not fit properly or rocks when we ran into them in a manner that appeared like inflicting penalty on them. The assumption was that everything was like us, and, therefore, since we would feel penalized when a person got angry with us, these objects should also feel the same way.
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The concrete operational stage falls between the ages of seven and eleven years, and it is during this period that a person gains better understanding with regard to mental operations. Although logical thinking regarding concrete events begins during this period, children do, however, demonstrate difficulty in understanding hypothetical or abstract concepts (Hyslop, 1988). This is a stage during which thought processes gains rationality making a person to behave maturely. The acquisition of sound judgment is divided into two stages. The first one is the concrete operational stage, where a child acquires the ability to formulate logical thoughts regarding an object, as well as whether they can manipulate it. The second stage involves formal operations, where thoughts are manipulated without necessarily requiring the presence of an object. Egocentrism tend to decline with just a little remnant of it persisting till adulthood. During the concrete operational stage, children begin to conceive that objects may not be the way that they seem to be. This is a perceptual improvement, since prior this time, ideas regarding objects had been formed and predominated by their appearance (Jen & John, 2011). This is a stage where a child takes several different aspects of objects by simply looking at them. One begins to imagine distinct scenarios of situations, especially because they possess extra operational thoughts. They demonstrate the ability to conserve ideas regarding those objects that they are familiar and comfortable with. Once they have acquired the skills to conserve these ideas, they progress into learning reversibility. Knowledge of reversibility means the recognition that even when things are changed, they still retain their composition (Jen & John, 2011). For example, an individual begins to recognize that spreading a pile of kitchen wares does not increase their number, even though that may appear to be the case.
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Formal operational stage is the period between the age of twelve and adulthood. During this period, people develop abilities to work out abstract concepts. They acquire skills such as deductive reasoning, systematic planning, and logical thinking, which heighten their perception of the world (Gregory, 2009). This is the stage of development when structures of growth gain abstraction, becoming a logically organized scheme of intelligence. At this time, a person is able to speculate about multiple solutions to a complex problem before attempting them in reality. Normally, the formal operational stage starts when a person is about eleven years old, and by the age of fifteen, an individual demonstrates the full capacity for abstraction. This allows the individual to reason beyond the world of observable realities into one of possibilities, a situation which enables logical operation with information and symbols that do not necessarily make reference to the events and objects of the real world (Gregory, 2009).
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Formal operational thought has two major characteristics. Firstly, it is a hypothetic-deductive reasoning. In this case, a person is able to formulate a general theory of possibilities that may affect an outcome, before proceeding to deduce from it all the specific hypotheses that are likely to occur. He then treats the hypotheses systematically in order to establish which one of them does actually occur in real world. Therefore, problem solving in the formal operation stage begins with estimating the possibility before proceeding to reality. Secondly, this stage is naturally propositional. Individuals may simply consider a verbal assertion in his logical validation, without necessarily making references to a real world circumstance. This contrasts concrete operation in children, as evaluation at this time is made with the aim of establishing the logic in statements after considering them against the available concrete evidence (Jen & John, 2011).