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Physical and Cognitive Development in Early Childhood


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Title: Physical and Cognitive Development in Early Childhood

Chapter 8
  • Physical and Cognitive Development in Early

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Body Growth and Change
  • Height and Weight
  • The Brain

Height and Weight
  • The average child grows 2½ inches and gains
    between 5 and 7 pounds a year in early childhood.
  • The percentage of increase in height and weight
    decreases with each additional year.
  • Body fat shows a steady decline during this time.
  • Girls are only slightly smaller and lighter than
    boys, but they have more body fat while boys have
    more muscle tissue.
  • Boys and girls slim down as their trunks lengthen.

Individual Differences
  • Much of the variation in body size is due to
  • The two most important contributors to height
    differences are
  • Ethnic origin
  • Nutrition

Contributors to Short Stature
  • Congenital Factors (genetic or prenatal problems)
  • Physical Problems That Develop in Childhood
  • Emotional Difficulties

Congenital Factors Influence on Height
  • Preschool children whose mothers smoked regularly
    during pregnancy are shorter than their
    counterparts whose mothers did not smoke.

Physical Problems Influence on Height
  • Children who are chronically sick are shorter
    than their counterparts who are rarely sick.

Emotional Problems Influence on Height
  • Children who have been physically abused or
    neglected may not secrete adequate growth
    hormone, which can restrict their physical growth.

The Brain
  • The brain and the head grow more rapidly than any
    other part of the body.
  • By age 3, the brain is three-quarters of its
    adult size, and by age 5, the brain has reached
    about nine-tenths of its adult size.
  • Some of this size increase is due to increase in
    size and number of nerve endings and an increase
    in myelination.
  • Myelination is believed to be important in the
    maturation of a number of childrens abilities.
  • From 3-6 years of age, researchers have found
    that the most rapid brain growth occurs in the
    frontal lobe.

Motor Development
  • Gross Motor Skills
  • Fine Motor Skills
  • Handedness

Gross Motor Skills
  • At 3 years of age, children enjoy simple
    movements, such as hopping, jumping,
    and running, just for the fun of it and the
    pride they feel in their accomplishment.
  • At 4 years of age, children become more
    adventuroustaking on jungle gyms and climbing
    stairs with one foot on each step.
  • At 5 years of age, children begin to perform
    hair-raising stunts on anything they can climb
    on, and they enjoy racing with each other and
    with parents.

Fine Motor Skills
  • At age 3, children are still clumsy at picking up
    very small objects between their thumb and
  • Three-year-olds can build very high block towers,
    but the blocks are usually not in a perfectly
    straight line.
  • Puzzles are approached with a good deal of
    roughness and imprecision.
  • By age 4, their coordination has improved and
    become more precise.
  • By age 5, children are no longer interested in
    building towers, but rather houses, churches, and
    buildings with more detail.

  • Preference for one hand is linked with the
    dominance of one brain hemisphere with regard to
    motor performance.
  • Right-handers have a dominant left hemisphere,
    while left-handers have a dominant right
  • Evidence of handedness is present in infancy, as
    babies show preferences for one side of their
    body over the other.
  • Many preschool children use both hands without a
    clear preference emerging until later in
  • The origin of hand preference has been explored
    with regard to genetic inheritance and
    environmental experience.

  • Energy Needs
  • Eating Behavior

Energy Needs
  • What children eat affects their skeletal growth,
    body shape, and susceptibility to disease.
  • An average preschool child requires 1,700
    calories per day.
  • Energy requirements for children are determined
    by the basal metabolism rate (BMR) the minimum
    amount of energy a person uses in a resting
  • Differences in physical activity, basal
    metabolism, and the efficiency with which
    children use energy are among the possible
    explanation as to why children of the same age,
    sex, and size vary in their energy needs.

Eating Behavior
  • Eating habits become ingrained very early in
  • It is during the preschool years that many
    children get their first taste of fast food.
  • Our changing lifestyles, in which we often eat on
    the run and pick up fast food meals, contribute
    to the increased fat levels in childrens diets.
  • Although such meals are high in protein, the
    average American child does not need to be
    concerned about getting enough protein.

Obesity in Childhood
  • Being overweight can be a serious problem in
  • Overweight preschool children are usually not
    encouraged to lose a great deal of weight, but to
    slow their rate of weight gain so they will grow
    into a more normal weight for their height.
  • Prevention of obesity in children includes
    helping children and parents see food as a way to
    satisfy hunger and nutritional needs, not as
    proof of love or a reward.
  • Routine physical activity should be a daily event.

Illness and Death
  • The United States
  • The State of Illness and Health of the Worlds

The United States
  • Accidents are the leading cause of death in
    young children motor vehicle
    accidents, drowning, falls, and poisoning are
    high on the list.
  • The disorders most likely to be fatal during
    early childhood today are birth defects, cancer,
    and heart disease.
  • Despite the greatly diminished dangers of many
    childhood diseases, it is still very important
    for parents to keep young children on an
    immunization schedule.
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke increases childrens
    risk for developing a number of medical problems,
    such as pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections,
    burns, asthma, and cancer in adulthood.

The State of Illness and Health of the Worlds
  • One death of every three in the world is the
    death of a child under 5 years of age.
  • Every week, more than a quarter million children
    die in developing countries due to infection and
  • The leading cause of childhood death in the world
    is dehydration and malnutrition as a result of
  • This could be prevented if parents had available
    a low-cost breakthrough known as oral rehydration
    therapy (ORT).
  • Oral rehydration therapy involves a range of
    techniques designed to prevent dehydration during
    episodes of diarrhea by giving the child fluids
    by mouth.

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Piagets Preoperational Stage of Development
  • Characteristics of the Preoperational Stage
  • Definition of Operations
  • Symbolic Function Substage
  • Intuitive Thought Substage

Characteristics of the Preoperational Stage
  • The preoperational stage lasts from 2-7 years
  • During this time stable concepts form, mental
    reasoning emerges, egocentrism begins, and
    magical beliefs are constructed.
  • Thought is flawed and not organized.
  • This stage involves a transition from primitive
    to more sophisticated use of symbols.
  • Children still do not yet think in an operational

Definition of Operations
  • Operations are internalized sets of actions that
    allow the child to do mentally what before she
    did physically.

Symbolic Function Substage
  • The ability to think symbolically and to
    represent the world mentally predominates in this
  • It occurs roughly between the ages of 2-4.
  • Symbolic function is demonstrated by the childs
    ability to mentally represent an object not
  • Symbolism is evident in scribbled designs,
    language, and pretend play
  • Two important limitations in thought at this
    stage are egocentrism and animism.

  • Egocentrism is the inability to distinguish
    between ones own perspective and someone elses
  • It is a salient feature of preoperational
  • Perspective-taking doesnt develop uniformly in
    preschool children, as they frequently show
    perspective skills on some tasks, but not others.

  • Animism is the belief that inanimate objects have
    lifelike qualities and are capable of action.
  • A child may believe that a tree pushes its leaves
    off in the Fall, or that the sidewalk made
    him trip and fall down.

Intuitive Thought Substage
  • In this stage, children begin to use primitive
    reasoning and want to know the answers to all
    sorts of questions.
  • It occurs roughly between the ages of 4-7.
  • Piaget used the term intuitive because children
    say they know something, but they know it without
    the use of rational thinking.
  • Children in this stage also ask a barrage of
    questions, signaling the emergence of their
    interest in reasoning and why things are the way
    they are.

  • Centration is the focusing or centering of
    attention on one characteristic to the exclusion
    of all others.
  • It is a major characteristic of preoperational
    thought, evidenced in young childrens lack of

  • Conservation refers to an awareness that altering
    an objects or a substances appearance does not
    change its basic properties.
  • Although obvious to adults, preoperational
    children lack conservation.
  • A lack of conservation not only demonstrates the
    presence of centration, but also an inability to
    mentally reverse actions.

Vygotskys Theory of Development
  • The Zone of Proximal Development
  • Scaffolding in Cognitive Development
  • Language and Thought
  • Evaluating and Comparing Vygotskys and Piagets
  • Teaching Strategies Based on Vygotskys Theory

The Zone of Proximal Development
  • The zone of proximal development is Vygotskys
    term for the range of tasks too difficult for
    children to master alone, but which can be
    learned with the guidance and assistance of
    adults or more skilled children.
  • The lower limit is the level of problem solving
    reached by the child working independently.
  • The upper limit is the level of additional
    responsibility the child can accept with the
    assistance of an able instructor.
  • Vygotskys emphasis on the ZPD underscores his
    belief in the importance of social influences,
    especially instruction, on childrens cognitive

Scaffolding in Cognitive Development
  • Scaffolding refers to changing the level of
  • Over the course of a teaching session, a more
    skilled person adjusts the amount of guidance to
    fit the students current performance level.
  • Dialog is an important tool of scaffolding in the
    zone of proximal development.
  • As the childs unsystematic, disorganized,
    spontaneous concepts meet with the skilled
    helpers more systematic, logical, and rational
    concepts, through meeting and dialogue, the
    childs concepts become more systematic, logical,
    and rational.

Language and Thought
  • Vygotsky believed that young children use
    language both for social communication and to
    plan, guide, and monitor their behavior in a
    self-regulatory fashion.
  • Language used for this purpose is called inner
    speech or private speech.
  • For Piaget, private speech is egocentric and
    immature, but for Vygotsky it is an important
    tool of thought during early childhood.
  • Vygotsky believed all mental funtions have social
  • Children must use language to communicate with
    others before they can focus on their own
  • Researchers have found support for Vygotskys
    view of the positive role of private speech in

Evaluating and Comparing Vygotskys and Piagets
  • Vygotskys theory is a social constructivist
    approach, which emphasizes the social contexts of
    learning and that knowledge is mutually built and
  • Piagets theory does not have this social
  • For Piaget, children construct knowledge by
    transforming, organizing, and reorganizing
    previous knowledge.
  • For Vygotsky, children construct knowledge
    through social interaction.
  • The implication of Piagets theory for teaching
    is that children need support to explore their
    world and discover knowledge.
  • The implication of Vygotskys theory for teaching
    is that students need many opportunities to learn
    with the teacher and more skilled peers.
  • Vygotskys theory has been embraced by many
    teachers and successfully applied to education.

Teaching Strategies Based on Vygotskys Theory
  • Use the childs zone of proximal
    development in teaching.
  • Use scaffolding.
  • Use more skilled peers as teachers.
  • Monitor and encourage childrens use
    of private speech.
  • Assess the childs ZPD, not IQ.
  • Transform the classroom with Vygotskian ideas.

Information Processing
  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Strategies
  • The Young Childs Theory of Mind

  • The childs ability to pay attention changes
    significantly during the preschool years.
  • Preschool children are influenced strongly by the
    features of a task that stand out, or are
  • This deficit can hinder problem solving or
    performing well on tasks.
  • By age 6 or 7, children attend more efficiently
    to the dimensions of a task that are relevant.
  • This is believed to reflect a shift in cognitive
    control of attention.

  • Short-Term Memory
  • How Accurate Are Young Childrens Long-Term

Short-Term Memory
  • In short-term memory, individuals retain
    information for up to 15-30 seconds, assuming
    there is no rehearsal, which can help keep
    information in STM for a much longer period.
  • Differences in memory span occur across the ages
    due to
  • Rehearsal older children rehearse items more
    than younger children.
  • Speed and efficiency of processing information
    the speed with which a child processes
    information is an important aspect of the childs
    cognitive abilities.

How Accurate Are Young Childrens Long-Term
  • Young children can remember a great deal of
    information if they are given appropriate cues
    and prompts.
  • Sometimes the memories of preschoolers seem to be
    erratic, but these inconsistencies may be to some
    degree the result of inadequate prompts and cues.

  • Strategies consist of using deliberate mental
    activities to improve the processing of
  • Rehearsal
  • Organizing information
  • Young children typically do not use rehearsal and
  • Children as young as 2 can learn to use other
    types of strategies to process information.

The Young Childrens Theory of Mind
  • Theory of mind refers to individuals thoughts
    about how mental processes work.
  • Even young children are curious about the nature
    of the human mind.
  • Childrens developing knowledge of the mind
    includes the awareness that
  • The mind exists.
  • The mind has connections to the physical world.
  • The mind can represent objects and events
    accurately or inaccurately.
  • The mind actively interprets reality and emotions.

Becoming Aware that the Mind Exists
  • By the age of 2 or 3, children refer to needs,
    emotions, and mental states.
  • They also use intentional action or desire words,
    such as wants to.
  • Cognitive terms such as know, remember, and think
    usually appear after perceptual and emotional
    terms, but are used by age 3.
  • Later children distinguish between guessing vs.
    knowing, believing vs. fantasizing, and intending
    vs. not on purpose.

Understanding Cognitive Connections to the
Physical World
  • At about 2 or 3 years of age, children develop an
    awareness of the connections among stimuli,
    mental states, and behavior.
  • This provides them with a rudimentary mental
    theory of human action.
  • Children can infer connections from stimuli to
    mental states, from mental states to behavior or
    emotion, and from behavior to mental states.
  • Children also develop an understanding that the
    mind is separate from the physical world.

Detecting Accuracies/ Inaccuracies of the Mind
  • Children develop an understanding that the mind
    can represent objects and events accurately.
  • Understanding of false beliefs doesnt usually
    occur until 4 or 5 years.

Understanding the Minds Active Role in Emotion
and Reality
  • Children develop an understanding that the mind
    actively mediates the interpretation of reality
    and the emotion experienced.
  • In the elementary school years, children change
    from viewing emotions as caused by external
    events without any mediation by internal states
    to viewing emotional reactions to an external
    event as influenced by a prior emotional state,
    experience, or expectation.

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Language Development
  • Young childrens understanding sometimes gets
    ahead of their speech.
  • Many of the oddities of young childrens language
    sound like mistakes to adult listeners, but from
    the childrens perspective, they are not.
  • As children go through early childhood, their
    grasp of the rules of language increases
    (morphology, semantics, pragmatics).

  • As children move beyond two-word utterances, they
    know morphology rules.
  • They begin using plurals and possessive forms of
  • They put appropriate endings on verbs.
  • They use prepositions, articles, and various
    forms of the verb to be.
  • Children demonstrate knowledge of morphological
    rules with plural forms of nouns, possessive
    forms of nouns, and the third-person singular and
    past tense forms of verbs.

  • As children move beyond the two-word stage, their
    knowledge of meanings rapidly advances.
  • The speaking vocabulary of a 6-year-old ranges
    from 8,000 to 14,000 words.
  • According to some estimates, the average child of
    this age is learning about 22 words a day!

  • No difference is as dramatic as the difference
    between a 2-year-olds language and a
    6-year-olds language in terms of pragmaticsthe
    rules of conversation.
  • At about 3 years of age, children improve their
    ability to talk about things that are not
    physically presentreferred to as displacement.
  • Displacement is revealed in games of pretend.
  • Large individual differences seen in
    preschoolers talk about imaginary people and

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The Child-Centered Kindergarten
  • In the child-centered kindergarten, education
    involves the whole child and includes concern for
    the childs physical, cognitive, and social
  • Instruction is organized around the childs
    needs, interests, and learning styles.
  • The process of learning, rather than what is
    learned, is emphasized.
  • Experimenting, exploring, discovering, trying
    out, restructuring, speaking, and listening are
    all part of an excellent kindergarten program.

The Montessori Approach
  • The Montessori Approach is a philosophy of
    education in which children are given
    considerable freedom and spontaneity in choosing
  • They are allowed to move from one activity to
    another as they desire.
  • The teacher acts as a facilitator, rather than a
    director of learning.
  • While it fosters independence, it deemphasizes
    verbal interaction.
  • Criticism of the approach is that it neglects
    childrens social development and restricts
    imaginative play.

Developmentally Appropriate and Inappropriate
Practices in the Education of Young Children
  • Young children learn best through active,
    hands-on teaching methods.
  • Schools should focus on improving childrens
    social as well as cognitive development.
  • Developmentally appropriate practice is based on
    knowledge of the typical development of children
    within an age span, as well as the uniqueness of
    the child.
  • Developmentally inappropriate practice ignores
    the concrete, hands-on approach to learning.
  • Direct teaching largely through abstract
    paper-and-pencil activities presented to large
    groups of young children is believed to be
    developmentally inappropriate.

Does Preschool Matter?
  • Preschool matters if parents do not have the
    commitment, time, energy, and resources to
    provide young children with an environment that
    approximates a good early childhood program.
  • If parents have the competence and resources to
    provide young children with a variety of learning
    experiences and exposure to other children and
    adults, along with opportunities for extensive
    play, this may be sufficient.

Education for Children Who Are Disadvantaged
  • Project Head Start is a compensatory education
    program designed to provide children from
    low-income families the opportunity to acquire
    skills and experiences important for success in
  • Project Follow Through was implemented as an
    adjunct to Project Head Start to determine which
    types of educational programs were the most
    effective, and those were then carried through
    the first few years of elementary school.

Findings on Early Childhood Compensatory Education
  • Children in academically oriented,
    direct-instruction approaches did better on
    achievement tests and were more persistent on
    tasks than were children in other approaches.
  • Children in effective education programs were
    absent less often and showed more independence.
  • Long-term effects have included lower rates of
    placement in special education, dropping out of
    school, grade retention, delinquency, and use of
    welfare programs.