Cognitive Changes in Early Childhood

The three views of early childhood cognitive stages, as outlined by Santrock (2013) are Piaget’s, Vygotsky’s, and Informational Processing.  I find greatest interest in Vygotsky’s theory, which is similar to Piaget’s in that it emphasizes children’s ‘active construction’ of knowledge and understanding.  The primary difference is that Piaget’s theory focuses on physical interactions, whereas Vygotsky’s development is assigned to social interaction (Santrock, 2013, pp 263)  As an English teacher who focuses on rhetorical analysis, I find great truth in the idea of cultural context as a driving force of cognition.


I especially relate to Vygotsky’s idea of the ‘Zone of proximal development’ and a child’s ability to overcome the difficulty of those tasks and successfully learn from not only adults, but also more-skilled children (Santrock, 2013, pp 264).  I believe this is a driving theory behind some classroom instructional strategies, such as Jigsawing, collaborative discussion, or even Peer Editing.  Piaget’s theory stopped short of recognizing positive growth from peers; perhaps because of his focus on set stages and the lack of relative cognitive differentiation that would provide.


In contrast to these first two views, which focus on thinking, the Information Processing theory extends beyond the idea of thought into areas such as attention, memory, and problem solving (Santrock, 2013).  I believe it could be interesting to view this in context with Vigotsky’s theory, because one’s perspective and interpretation of society would have a behaviorally-directed impact on cognitive processes resulting from those interactions.  For example, information processing manipulates symbols, but it is the social context which defines the symbols.  I’m reminded of a comparative literature class from years ago, where we explored Bloom’s (Howard, not Benjamin) idea of language formation – a word is merely a representation of something determined by society.  So learning would have to exist within some context, versus a pre-determined stage, so it’s certainly more individualized than Piaget’s observations.

Santrock, J. W. (2013). Children. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

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