Early Childhood Intervention: Module One – Typical and Atypical Development

Cognitive Development: A Brief Overview

Cognitive development1 involves the child’s ability to grow and develop their thinking or evaluation skills, and adapt to changes. It begins with the infant developing “object permanence object permanence  (see full Glossaryand realizing action and reaction, or “cause and effect”. During the preschool years, it may involve simple abilities, like recognizing colors, or complex abilities, like concentrating on a task. Other cognitive abilities include the following:

  • adapting to changes in one’s environment
  • engaging in activities that require thinking “outside the box” or divergent thinking (see full Glossary)
  • being creative
  • learning new skills and apply them to other (old or new) situations
  • pre-academic skills needed for the child to engage in directed or school-based learning activities. These require self-regulation; (see full Glossary) for example, sitting quietly for certain periods of time, listening to and following instructions, sorting and categorizing items (like shapes or colours) and completing paper and pencil tasks, like drawing or writing.

Developing cognitive skills takes time, and takes both experience and practice. Some more complex cognitive skills, like completing multiplication with decimals, are only possible if equally important “simpler” skills develop first, like counting and sequencing. The development of cognitive skills follows an order that is quite predictable for almost all children. Although most children follow the same order, each child acquires these skills at slightly different rates than other children. People working in the study of child development refer to these as individual differences (see full Glossary). They are related to every child’s unique physical and temperamental characteristics, and to the environment and culture where they grow and develop.

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