Childhood: Physical and Cognitive Development


Physical Changes

During the preschool years, children slim down as the trunk of their bodies lengthen

Their heads are still relatively large for their bodies and body fat starts to lessen throughout the preschool years 

Later ages of childhood show slow, consistent growth where during the elementary school years, children grow an average of 5 to 7.5 cm a year until age of 11 when the average child is just under 1.5 m tall

Muscle mass and strength continue to increase as the brain and nervous system continue to change significantly although the overall size of the brain doesn't increase much from age 3 to 5.

The mass of brain material in some areas doubles in as little as a year through arborization while other (unused areas) show neural pruning and a loss of tissue

The most rapid period of growth is from 3 to 6 years is in the part of the frontal lobes known as the prefrontal cortex


Prefrontal cortex

Between ages of 7 and 30 there is significant development in the prefrontal cortex that is responsible for increased cognitive performance, in particular  cognitive control.

Myelination of prefrontal cortex continues through this period enabling higher-level thinking skills and cognitive control through to late adolescence and emerging adulthood.

Myelination develops in areas of the brain related to hand-eye coordination and completes around age 4

Elsewhere, myelination related to areas dedicated to attention complete near end of middle or late childhood

Motor development

Gross motor development continues through childhood where around ages 3 to 4 children express simple movements of joy and play and in time become more smooth coordinated

Fine motor movements also come to develop whereby around age 5 hand, arm and eye coordination is well established, following the development of the brain's myelination.

By around age 10 children exhibit fine motor skills similar to adults where girls tend to out perform boys on such tasks.


Cognitive Changes

Piaget describes the next stages of

2) pre-Operational (2-7) many shortcomings before becoming operational.
Still working on:   Conservation & Reversibility, and trying to overcome egocentrism.

They tend to be dominated by Centration- a form of "tunnel vision" as seen in the task for Liquid Conservation number or Length also -i.e. play dough.

Egocentrism is also a characteristic that changes in time where children at this age still have trouble with perspective taking from other people's views

3) Concrete Operational (7-11) thought emerges as these tasks are mastered.
 Understanding of hierarchical classification emerges here.
 Categorization-- reversibility

Social Constructivism (Vygotsky )

Zone of proximal development (ZPD)  - is where children's learning is extended by others who are more capabable than them. Hence children can master tasks that they would not beable to do alone through the guidance or assistance of adults or more skilled children

Lower limit of the ZPD is where the level of skill reached by the child is what they can do working independently

Upper limit is the level of additional responsibility the child can accept with the assistance of an able instructor

Scaffolding  is the process of support to help children achienve a new level; adjusting amount of guidance to fit the child’s needs

where techniques that heighten engagement and encourage direct exploration and “sense-making” work best

To assess a child’s ZPD  a skilled helper need to give tasks of varying in difficulty to determine best level instruction and one needs to begins near zone’s upper limit and provide support when needed

Skilled peers can also benefit children providing support and guidance especially when instruction comes in meaningful contexts or real-world settings.

Language Development

Vocabulary, Grammar and Metalinguistic Awareness

During middle to late childhood categorizing becomes easier as children increase their vocabulary and knowledge of objects and the world

During elementary school there are improvements in logical reasoning and analytical skills helps them understand proper use of comparatives and subjunctives

Metalinguistic awareness also arises regarding knowledge about language (e.g. knowing what a preposition is)

Second language learning also often happens duringthis time where bilingual children seem to have smaller vocabulary in each language; but often are not exposed to the same quantity and quality of each language unless both are spoken at home

There appear to multiple sensitive periods for learning a second language as seen earlier with abilities to comprehend and produce phoneme being lost over time, hence late language learners (adolescents, adults) may learn vocabulary more easily than new sounds or new grammar (having stronger accents as well).

School and Education

Child-centred kindergarten of various forms emphasize educating the whole child; promoting physical, cognitive, and socioemotional development.

Montessori approach - children are given considerable freedom and spontaneity in choosing activities. They are allowed to move from one activity to another as they desire, and the teacher acts as a facilitator rather than a director.

Activities and skills build upon each other in complexity over time, something common to Erikson's model of epigenetic development. Note that Erkson was trained in Montessor before be rain as a psychoanalyst with Anna Freud.

Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) is where educators creatie settings to encourage children to be active learners

Constructivist approach  is learner centred, and emphasizes the importance of individuals actively constructing their knowledge and understanding with guidance from the teacher 

Direct instruction approach  is teacher centred, and is characterized by teacher direction and control, high teacher expectations


Intelligence and Testing

The Nature of Intelligence

A trait or feature of a person that involves the ability to learn from experience, think abstractly, carry out a plan or offer creative solutions to novel situations?

Intelligence Quotient (IQ)

A measure of intelligence  derived from norms provided for standardized intelligence tests. One standard deviation from the mean of 100 is 85 and 115.  About 60% of the population from which a test is standardized fall within this range.
- Mental disabilities (formerly called retardation) is set at 70 or less and gifted falls above 130 these represent two standard deviations. Table

-  Mensa set's their level here at the 96th percentile (2 SDs above the mean).

How it is measured has an impact on what it is.
verbal, written, pictoral, behavioural, phsyiological?  

Psychometrics is the measurement of mental abilities, traits, and processes using standarized tests is most common where they are based upon the normal curve and past samples. 

Assessment of intelligence is most often done today using the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale ( WAIS ). 
It provides an overall plus two sub scores- verbal and performance.

It demonstrates a correlation of r = .50 with later school grades and somewhat with job performance (see text).

Important aspects of the psychometric approach:

Standardization : A property of tests where there is a uniform procedure for giving and scoring, often with reference norms. (i.e., IQ tests)

Reliability - The amount of agreement between the scores that one person has on the same test taken twice ( test-retest) or separation portions of a single test ( split half).

Validity - the degree to which a test represents the categories that it is designed to measure.
Does it measure what it intends to measure?

Correlational Studies - examine how two or more variables or characteristics are regularly associated. where a correlation   is  a measure of the strength of the relationship of a collection of people's scores on two or more variables. Positive - Negative - No Correlation

This is often done in order to make a prediction  of some later performance or ability. (I.e., GRE scores and graduate school success).

It has been shown that intelligence scores have risien over time (the Flynn Effect) showing cohort differences.

The psychometric Approach also has made use of factor analysis, a statistical method for analyzing the inter-correlations among various measures or test scores, in particular forms of multiple intelligences.

Here - clusters of measures or test scores that are highly correlated are assumed to measure the same underlying trait, ability, or aptitude (factor).

A brief history of intelligence tests

Debate remains on whether or not there is one or many factors of intelligence.

Alfred Binet (1857-1911): Intelligence tests that used mental reasoning
1908 - Mental age: Expected level of ability to reason, comprehend, and make judgments.
E.G., a child with a mental age of 8 performs on a test of mental ability at the level of the average 8 year old. Standardised.

1916 - Lewis Terman Developed the Stanford-Binet test and Intelligence quotient (IQ):    
  Mental age / Chronological age X 100
-Thought that there were racial differences and that the "feebleminded" could be restricted from repoduction (Eugenics).

General Intelligence

Spearman's (1904) 'g'
In this long running debate  Spearman considered that there is a " global intelligence" that underlies all mental abilities such as verbal , mathematical, spatial, musical, ...

g factor a general intellectual ability assumed by some theorists to underlie specific mental abilities and talents. ( s-residual is left over).  

Louis Thurstone - one of the pioneers of factor analysis suggested that there may be as many as 56 types of intelligence that are built around 7 clusters (verbal fluency & comprehension, spatial abilities, perceptual speed, numerical ability, memory, and inductive reasoning).

Expanded Domains of Intelligence

Multiple Intelligences (Gardner, 1983, 1993) ( 7-later- 9)  domains of intelligence:


- Naturalistic
(ie. Polynesian Naviagtors & Tibetian Spitilutalists )
- Spiritualistic

-Each is relatively independent , as seen in autistic "savants" who may have exceptional talents in music, mathematics computation, memory or art in spite of poor functioning in other areas of life.

Sternberg's Triarchic Theory
1. Analytical / Componential intelligence - idea that intelligence involves the use of "mental components" within the process of answering or solving a problem.

2. Creative / Experiential intelligence deals with how one transfers skills to novel situations. (using insight, unique and novel solutions to situations

3. Practical / Contextual intelligence the ability to take in new contexts and adapt to the environment, E.g., wisdom, common sense, social competence,...

Successful intelligence makes use of all three of these types and is defined as "one’s ability to set and accomplish personally meaningful goals in one’s life, given one’s cultural context".  It also makes use of tacit knowledge.

Tacit Knowledge - Strategies for success (or knowledge of anything else) that are not explicitly taught but that instead must be inferred.

Tacit (practical) knowledge is procedural invovling how to manage oneself, how to manage tasks, and how to get along with others, based upon 'complex multi-condition rules' and is experience-based and action-oriented.

- This has shown improvement in writing, reading, test-taking ability, homework performance (Sternberg, et al., 1995). (better than IQ?)

Emotional Intelligence - refers to the ability to identify your own and other's emotions accurately, and to express your emotions clearly, and regulate emotions in yourself and others (Goleman, 1995).

EQ involves:
-perception of emotions
-understanding emotions
-managing emotions
-using emotions

It is a form of "Social Intelligence" where people who are not be able to understand their own and others emotions may have challenges in school achievement (especially of boys) may feel anxious, confused or angry which inhibits their learning in school.

Learning disabilities

Children with learning disabilities are of normal or above average intelligence and tend to have difficulties in at least one academic area, usually several such as reading, attention, mathematics. These challenges may not be attributable to any other diagnosed problem or disorder such as ADHD.

The global concept of learning disabilities includes problems in listening, concentrating, speaking and thinking.