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Cognitive Development in Preschoolers (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Four- and five-year-olds experience important changes in cognitive growth. In general, four- and five-year-olds are beginning to problem solve, think about cause-and-effect relationships, and express these ideas to others. As four- and five-year-olds’ cognition matures, they begin to make the distinction between private thoughts and public expressions.

Four-year-olds are actively manipulating their environment and constructing meaning from their world. At this age, children are very egocentric in their thinking. Egocentrism is the tendency to be more aware of their own point of view than that of others (Piaget, 1952). This explains why four-year-olds have difficulty understanding how the world looks to other people. It is difficult for them to understand why others are not happy when they are happy, sad when they are sad, and hungry when they are hungry. A four-year-old gave her teacher her favorite teddy bear because the teacher said that she was not feeling good. The teddy bear made the four-year-old feel better when she was sick, so the same must be true for her teacher. Because four-year-olds think egocentrically, it is best to present information that is hands-on and is relevant to their own experiences.

Four-year-olds’ thinking and reasoning are concrete, and they typically reason from the particular to the particular as opposed to the particular to the general. (Siegler, 1997). Four-year-old Seth reasons that his dog is friendly, so the dog he passes on his way to school must be friendly, too. Seth likes chocolate, so everyone in his family must like chocolate. At this age, children presume a causal relationship if two events are closely associated in time or in some other way. Bryan sees his teacher at school when he arrives in the morning and leaves her there when he returns home in the afternoon. He reasons that his teacher must live at school.

Concept development is another important aspect of the cognitive development of four-year-olds. They are organizing information into concepts (e.g., chair or animal) based on attributes that define an object or an idea. However, at four years of age, the categories that the concepts are based on are derived from the appearance or the action of the object. Seth calls a small goat that he is allowed to pet at the zoo a “dog.” In his mind, the goat fits all the criteria needed to be a dog: small, furry, and having four legs (Gelman, 1999).

Similarly, when four-year-olds classify objects into categories, they tend to focus on one aspect of the object and ignore the other features. Mary is trying to tell her mother that she does not want fruit for a snack; she wants an apple. She is having difficulty understanding that an apple is a part of the larger category of fruit. Because four-year-olds are beginning to understand part/whole and hierarchical relationships, they have difficulty grasping that objects can be in more than one class. Also at this age, when children are asked to sort objects into specific categories, they are beginning to sort objects on the basis of one attribute (Gelman, 1999). When asked to sort the blocks into groups, Nathan started to put all the blue blocks in one pile and the red blocks in another. At one point, he had put a circular red block in the blue pile because the last block he picked up was circular, and that one was placed in the blue pile. For a moment, Nathan needed to think about what feature of the block he was focusing on for sorting. He confused the shape with the color and soon corrected himself. This ability to focus on one attribute of an object to classify is developing in four-year-olds.

Time is a concept that four-year-olds have difficulty comprehending (Piaget, 1969). Four-year-olds view time as events occurring immediately or taking a very long time. Anyone who has ever told a four-year-old that he or she will be taking a field trip in a week knows that the child will ask every day if he or she is going on the trip that day.

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