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Childhood - Sidebar Story - Language, Cognition and Child Development

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…Language, cognition and child development

How children acquire and process cognition and language has been one of the most confusing areas of child development study just because it appears to be so normal in children. There are giants in this field and they are mentioned here, as reference for families who want to know more.

Since the 1950’s, Noam Chomsky, Vygotsky, Catharine Nelson and many others, including Paul Bloom, currently at Yale, are bright spots in this experimental area. Why should it be so “Testy” an area of research? Because it is impossible to test what occurs naturally. Children just do things and say things, and feel things. No one gives any child in this earth only direct instruction that results in their ability to walk, talk or express ideas in words.

Children do all things by age and stage and level of maturation, and it is their own doing that results in the development of abilities like walking, talking and developing talents and skills. Children, regardless of their mental and physical condition, weakness or strength, work to produce their own development.

Naturally observed doing these things, infants sense people, places and things, feeling them, vocalizing and expressing their needs easily; in toddler hood, they think about what they want in definite expressive ways, learning to articulate nouns and verbs that match with objects, that name objects and people, and develop more awareness of their own thoughts - an objectified view of the world; in childhood, there are expressed feelings and ideas and self awareness of mental activity that are extraordinary.

In the abundance of consuming, the ideas and the mental lives of children are formed. Robert Steinberg and his colleagues, Jonathan Miller, and Stanley Greenspan… study this cognition and attention to thought, which starts in infancy as literal and concrete sensory experiences and ends up as higher order logical reasoning and abstract thought.

Childhood is also a time of moral and spiritual growth and development. Simple research studies on childhood moral development as well as intellectual thought associated with various ages has led researchers like Mel Levine, Jim Garbarino, and Maxine Greene to apply cognition and mental representational development to educational practice.

The personality of children has immense impact on the cognitive style of learning and thinking that children construct and adopt as their own way of learning. Personality is stable over time and a reliable indicator of how children should be treated. Childhood should be one long Broadway show- a talent show.

Children love and crave and subsist on attention. Individual styles emerge much earlier than parents and families recognize. As early as two years of age, young children begin to show abilities and skills unique to their pattern of learning and thinking. With adult supervision and guidance, time and access to play and social imaginative opportunities, cognition and intellectual thought develop rapidly.

Children do not appear to think better or more creatively as a result of harsh punishment or harshly designed instruction. Studies of children and their view of happiness show…tasks and “showing off” games are the stuff a happy childhood is built on. The work of …… tests the effects of brain waves as they process chemical messages from all sensory areas of the body and attempts to provide balance to the brain, as if to indicate that the brain largely organizes itself, based on experiences that children can create for themselves.

As natural as this sounds, there is a strong competing and oppositional view on the ways children learn through the processes of the brain. It is hard to imagine that persisting behavioral support through restrictive means still occurs in schools, agencies and institutions that serve the needs and concerns of families whose children have special needs.

These are deprivation models of attention to children and discipline that existed in the 40’s. Behavior modification became unfashionable, because the result was short-lived and temporary and long-term changes did not occur. The new behaviors did not result in positive habit formation that lasted over time. When children are engaged in doing things naturally, discipline becomes less harsh and adult authority does not erode.

Jim Garbarino studies Columbine states, "Children cannot be test cases and experimented with in labs, like rats or monkeys"; in the 40’s Harlow studied monkeys, alternately depriving them of attachment figures like a blanket or a real live mother monkey, just to see what their reaction to deprivation or loss love would cause.

From the message of best practice (Sue Bredecamp and the National Association for the Education of Young Children), there is evidence that children are not best served by curriculum and instruction that doesn’t involve work and effort on the part of the children themselves. Children are born to help others, and are not the selfish egocentric islands that the 1890’s described them as being- cite Darwin and Tinbergen and the evolutionists of the middle 1800’s.

Childhood is the after stages of life in the womb, the birth process and the infancy that we all enjoyed. Gesell describes, as Ester Thelan has elegantly shown, the effects of the physical beauty and lushness of infancy. Children are the springtime of life. The fact that humans and animals come in all flavors and colors on earth and have distinct personalities is the root of diversity, the blessing of being alive. The alternative would be horrific- sameness and identity cloning that would take all the flavors of the world away.

The temperaments of children have immense impact on the style of learning and thinking that children do. They do best with guidance and supervision and the time and access to play and pretend situations created out of their imaginations, as ways of locking in each and every experience. They literally produce such prolific actions ceaselessly, in every waking moment.

Ask Dr. Susan