The Intellectual and Language Development of Children

1. Introduction

The current paper discusses the stages of intellectual and language behaviour with the intention to provide a relevant background against which the importance of providing age and developmentally appropriate support to be detailed. Subsequent sections look into the importance of communication for children’s language and intellectual development as well as into factors which may affect language and intellectual development of children.

2. Stages of cognitive development

Often cognitive development is described as occurring in stages, according to such theories, stages are characterised by specific qualitative changes in how individuals think, behave and feel (Berk, 2007). One of the most commonly known theories of cognitive development stages is documented by Piaget. According to Piaget, there are four main stages of cognitive development, each relevant for a specific age range. Only three of these describe development up to the age of eight.

Sensorimotor stage describes the cognitive development of children from birth up to the age of 2. During this interval children learn that objects continue to exist even though they cannot see them (object permanence). They experience the world around them mainly through senses and movement. They become capable of realising that objects are distinct instances, and, to a certain extent, they are capable to assign names to objects (Berk, 2007).

During the following stage of cognitive development, the preoperational stage (2-7 years) children develop their language skills and they are able to learn more through play and symbols and to develop schemas as they enrich their experience. Their thinking develops but it is still highly bound to their perception, highly egocentric and lacks logical reasoning which is characteristic to the following stages.

The concrete operational stage is, according to Piaget, characteristic to the age range 7-11 years. During this stage children’s logical thinking is developed, however they still have difficulties in understanding abstract concepts. They evolve into a less egocentric stage of cognitive development as they become more aware that others may have different perspectives then theirs and they develop empathy (Berk, 2007).

Piaget’s is just one of numerous theories of cognitive development, others pertain to Vygotsky, Bandura, there is also the information processing theory of Atkinson and Shriffin. All of these bring valuable perspectives which support the understanding of cognitive and intellectual development.

3. Stages of language development in children

In terms of language development, the most notable evolution is recorded from birth up to the age of five. Just like in the case of cognition, in language development too several stages can be emphasised:

0 – 11 months: children recognise familiar sounds, react to the sound of voices and various intonations through smile, sounds, looking and movement. At this age they communicate their needs through various means: movement (i.e. lifting their hands to be picked up), crying etc. The babbling sounds they make are considered an anticipation of speech sounds they will be able to perform at later stages.

8 – 20 months: they are able to use symbolic sounds in play, to use single words, they increase their use of speech sounds and they create their own words as their language development progresses.

16 – 26 months: children increase their vocabulary as they use various common words, they repeat speech patterns they hear from others, they are able to ask simple questions and they start talking about people and objects which are not present.

22 – 36 months: they are more capable to hold a conversation, although they skip from one topic to another, rapidly enrich their vocabulary and therefore are able to formulate more simple sentences and questions.

30 – 50 months: at this age children start using more complex sentences, they are able to listen attentively to stories and to recall them, they can retell a past event in correct chronological order, they are interested in understanding various things and explore them through questions which call for explanations and they use language to mark the symbolic meaning they assign to objects (i.e. when playing)

40 – 60 months: as they approach the age of 5, children are able to pay attention to language while performing an activity, they are able to imagine more complex situations which they incorporate through language into their play and they are able to use language so as to organise their ideas and thoughts.

After this age, children are expected to be able to use language properly in more and more complex structures as their vocabulary enriches and they become capable to hold more conversations.

The stages described above can be considered as reflecting both Piaget and Chomsky’s ideas regarding language development. Both have developed a view of language development which reveals more concern for children’s innate linguistic knowledge, than to children’s environment and to how the latter could enable their acquisition of language. According to Bochner and Jones (2005) both Piaget and Chomsky’s theories reflect a cognitive view of language development as they describe how language becomes available to children through heredity and maturation. Chomsky proposed the idea of a language acquisition device (LAD) which is innate and supports language development, whereas Piaget argued that as maturation occurs more complex cognitive activities are possible including language acquisition.

4. The importance of providing age and developmentally appropriate support

Bochner and Jones (2005) emphasise that according to cognitive theories of development it is crucially important for children to receive due attention during throughout their stages of development. Carers need to understand that children’s needs have to be properly addressed as their development progresses. For support to be provided in correspondence with their needs it is first necessary for parents and carers in general to understand the specific characteristics and needs of each developmental stage. As suggested by cognitive development theories, “Children make sense of unfamiliar objects and experiences by mapping them on to what they already know and understand.” (Bochner and Jones, 2005: 10). For proper development it is necessary for the gap between what children know and what they do not know to be a manageable one, consequently, carers need to ensure that children receive the necessary support to establish the connection between their existing knowledge and new information and experience Bochner and Jones (2005). Failing to do so, or to observe the potential difficulties children encounter throughout their development, can result in developmental delay which, if it is not addressed properly, in due time, can be harder to tackle at a later moment. In the UK, parents receive a “Red Book” when a child is born so as to record the child’s development up to the age of four. This book also includes information regarding expected development achievements which parents can refer to while supervising their children’s development (NHS, 2009).

5. The importance of communication for children’s language and intellectual development.

Bochner and Jones (2005) pointed out an important fact regarding communication. They posited that adult carers respond to infants’ signals long before these start to be invested with intentionality. Other ways put they normally develop a communication relationship with the infants they care for although the communication is unilateral and only receives meaningful input from their side. This attitude acts as a scaffolding mechanism for children’s language acquisition as indicated by Bruner and Vygotsky. It becomes evident that communicating with children from early ages will support their language and intellectual development. As they learn through interaction and by directly experiencing the environment around them, lacking support in making sense of their explorations and lacking the input of a communication partner will deprive children of the chance to undergo normal language and intellectual development. Deprivation of necessary support in due time may lead to irreversible consequences (Purves et al, 2004). A convincing argument in this respect is that of a child who was raised by deranged parents who did not attend to her language development and kept her in isolation up to the age of 13. As the child was not able to learn how to speak in due time, she was unable to later develop full capacity to use language although she underwent extensive training for this purpose (Purves et al, 2004).

6. Factors which may affect language and intellectual development of children.

Children’s development is influenced by factors which relate to both nature (genetic and hereditary) and nurture (external factors which relate to the environment in which a child is brought up and to the interactions and experiences he/she is exposed to).

According to Bronfenbenner’ s Ecological Systems Theory the factors which influence development are specific to several environmental systems: microsystem - immediate family, mesosystem - kinship and informal networks, exosystem - community environments and formal services, macrosystem - broader socio-economic and political influences and chronosystem - life events and transitions which occur in specific sociohistorical contexts (Bronfenbenner, 1979). These systems can be further detailed by referring to aspects which they encompass such those related to socio economic status, to specific linguistic contexts (i.e. bilingualism), to health. Other factors that bear significant influence on development are environmental ones such as pollution, housing conditions or access to and interaction with technology.

One example that could be discussed here is that of children who are raised in families with low financial resources. They may be deprived of proper nurture and housing if parents lack the possibility to secure these for them. Improper housing and nurture can lead to health problems and to impaired development. Another potential consequence could be that of children being deprived of their parents’ attention, affection and support as the latter need to work longer hours. This can have significant influence over children’s intellectual and affective development.

7. Conclusions and recommendations

As conclusion to all aspects discussed in the current paper, it could be stated that it is important for carers to be aware of the children’s intellectual and language stages of development for them to be able to provide necessary support in due time in order to avoid irreversible consequences.

It is recommended for parents and carers to:

- be informed so as to know how to approach their children’s needs and to know when to seek support if children do not demonstrate the expected level of development.

- constantly communicate with their children so as to discover their needs and to help children’s development.

- be aware of the additional factors which influence children’s behaviour so as to manage these for the benefit of their children.

8. References

Berk, L.E. (2007) Development through the lifespan. Fourth edition. Pearson

Bochner, S. and Jones, J. (2005) Child Language Development: Learning to Talk. Second edition. London: Whurr Publishers

Bronfenbenner, U. (1979) The Ecology of Human Development. Cambridge/ Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press.

NHS, (2009) My personal child health record. NHS. [Online] available at: http://www.healthforallchildren.com/wp-downloads/79534v3.02-PCHR.pdf. [Accessed 31 May 2017]

Purves, D., Augustine, G., Fitzpatrick, D., Hall, W., LaMantia, A., McNamara, J., Williams, M. (2004) Neuroscience. Third edition, Sunderland: Sinauer Associates Inc.

9. Bibliography

Berk, L.E. (2007) Development through the lifespan. Fourth edition. Pearson

Bochner, S. and Jones, J. (2005) Child Language Development: Learning to Talk. Second edition. London: Whurr Publishers

Bronfenbenner, U. (1979) The Ecology of Human Development. Cambridge/ Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press.

Bulman, K. and Savory, L. (2006) BTEC First Children's Care, Learning and Development: Student Book. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited

Martin, D. and Joomis, K. (2007) Building Teachers: A Constructivist Approach to Introducing Education, Belmont: Wadsworth.

NHS, (2009) My personal child health record. NHS. [Online] available at: http://www.healthforallchildren.com/wp-downloads/79534v3.02-PCHR.pdf, retrieved 31st May 2017

Purves, D., Augustine, G., Fitzpatrick, D., Hall, W., LaMantia, A., McNamara, J., Williams, M. (2004) Neuroscience. Third edition, Sunderland: Sinauer Associates Inc.

Unicef, (2017) Early childhood development: the key to a full and productive life. [Online] available at: https://www.unicef.org/dprk/ecd.pdf. [Accessed 31 May 2017]

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