If you’ve ever been at the receiving end of a seemingly endless barrage of questions from a preschooler, or group of curious children, you have experienced first-hand an important stage of cognitive development.
Cognitive development is used a lot in education, but what does it actually mean? Put simply, it refers to mental development: processing of information and applying this knowledge in their every day life.
Children around the ages of two to seven are in what Swiss theorist Jean Piaget dubbed the ‘preoperational’ stage of cognitive development. Children in this stage learn primarily through a vast amount of weird and wonderful questions. As a parent or caregiver, you’ll know what we mean - Google has become a friend you call on often!
Questions (although seemingly never ending) are a key part of this mental development, with research showing that preschool-aged children ask around 100 questions per day. This is their way of building knowledge as they come to learn about their immediate world.
As adults, it is important to try and answer these inquisitive questions, (Why is the sky blue? Why don’t alligators have lips? Why are wheels round?), but first, try asking your child what he or she thinks. They’ll likely surprise you, as young children have vivid imaginations and their answers will often provide a refreshingly, joyful perspective on things we grown ups usually don’t spent too much thinking about.
At kindergarten we take this curiosity and extend the learning through an array of resources. Books, playdough, games, sand and paint are just some of the materials used to find the answer together. Take for example those alligator’s lips; there are many wonderful children’s books featuring this scaly reptile, a teacher may extend this by asking, “If the alligator doesn’t have lips, what other creatures don’t?”, and so the exploration begins. - “How do they eat, communicate, and kiss, if they don’t have lips?”.
The constant stream of “why?”s, “why-not?”s and “how-come?”s may seem pretty universal, yet all children are unique in their learning and in the pace at which they master language, perception, memory and problem solving skills. Don’t be afraid to talk to your kindergarten teacher about how your child’s cognitive development – they love these conversations!
Cognitive development doesn’t happen in a vacuum - the social dimension of cognitive development – friends, family - is extremely important - we are, after all, incredibly social creatures. In early childhood, social activity such as playing or make believe are integral to the development of lifelong values including communication skills and inquisitiveness.
That’s why the kindergarten environment encourages questioning and learning through play, which is extremely important to the mental development of our children.
This environment, plus fully qualified and registered teachers who work actively with whanau in answering the unique and interesting inquiries of our children, make kindergarten a social, fun, and very important part of any child’s cognitive development.