ChildhoodIn the preceding chapters, we have described some of the major developmental tasksand achievements of infancy and the preschool years. The pace of developmentalprogress is quite remarkable during those periods, and much of the foundation forlater achievements is laid down. Consider, for example, the qualitative difference between the skills of a newborn and those of his 6-year-old sibling. Development hasbeen so rapid during this first 6 years that it is not uncommon for parents with a new–born second child to view their older child as having grown up, almost overnight,because of physical size, motor skills, and verbal ability. However, in middle child–hood, the years spanning the elementary school period, children are still far fromgrown up. Their growth takes on new forms in this stage, metamorphosing into evermore highly differentiated patterns of cognitive, emotional, and social functioning.For children at the start of the middle years, school and its peer group structurerepresent a new frontier. The movement into the school years ushers in a wholenew set of developmental challenges for children. Many youngsters begin to spendlonger periods away from home, and all children must adjust to more rigorousschedules. They must learn to control their behavior, monitor their attention, andacquire more formal and more complicated academic competencies than have beenformerly attained. They must make friends and learn to navigate the schoolyard,with its greater demands for athletic prowess, social skill, and cooperative negotia–tion of conflicts. They must also learn the rules of the group and when to abide bythem. They must learn what it means to be male or female, not to mention what itmeans to be themselves. So many challenges await them.However, children at elementary school age are also more adept at almostevery task when compared to their preschool-aged siblings. Observing the eager–ness and energy young children exhibit in the early school years makes it easy tounderstand the capacity for industry that Erikson described (see Chapter 1). Formost children, the challenges of school and peer group will be mastered gradually,202c h a p t e r
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# 150618 Cust: Pearson Au: Broderick Blewitt Pg. No. 203Title: The Life Span: Human Development for Helping Professionals, 4e Server:C / M / Y / K/Short / Normal / Long S4carliSlePublishing Servicesand in many different ways. Armed with foundational skills in language, mobility,understanding of self and others, and self-control, the youngster is now poised toassume membership in a larger social network.Clearly, the years of elementary school, as the years to follow, are marked byups and downs. These normal fluctuations create opportunities for helpers to pro–vide support or guidance for children, their families, and their teachers. What are thecognitive, emotional, and social needs of children at this stage? What approachesare most helpful given children’s developmental level? In the next two chapters, wewill attempt to provide you with information that will be useful when working withchildren at this point in their development. Your understanding of cognitive devel–opment, the focus of this chapter, will enable you to understand children’s ways ofconstruing the world, helping you appreciate their academic needs as well as the in–tellectual bases for their friendships, gender roles, moral understanding, and conflicts.BRAIN AND BEHAVIORLet’s begin by briefly considering the child’s changing brain. Changes in brain sizeand organization accompany the accomplishments of middle childhood. It is tempt–ing to assume that these brain changes are “maturational,” that is, triggered by pre-programmed genetic activity. But remember the epigenetic process when you thinkabout brain development: “it is the ongoing interaction of the organism and the environment that guides biological . . . development. Brains do not develop normallyin the absence of genetic signaling, and they do not develop normally in the absenceof essential and contingent environmental input” (emphasis added; Stiles, 2009,pp. 196–197). Put more positively, genes and experience dynamically interact to influ–ence emerging brain organization. There is no simple answer to the question, “Is thisbrain/behavioral change genetic or determined by experience?” It is both.Even though the brain is at 95% of its peak size by age 6, it grows measur–ably in middle childhood (Lenroot et al., 2007; Sowell, Thompson, & Toga, 2004;see Blakemore, 2012). One of the important contributors to this growth is that whitematter increases in volume, a process that continues well into adulthood. As youlearned in Chapter 2, white matter is “white” because of the fatty myelin sheathsthat form around the axons, insulating them so that electrical impulses travel fasterfrom one neuron to another. Myelination increases the speed of neural signals dra–matically. Also, functional neural networks become more integrated because myelinchanges the timing and synchrony of neuronal firing (Giedd & Rapoport, 2010).Overall then, increasing white matter seems to reflect increasing neural connectivityand communication between neurons and between brain areas.For example, one important area of white matter increase is the corpus cal–losum. This is the system of connecting fibers (bundles of axons) between the twohemispheres of the brain. As the corpus callosum myelinates, the left and rightsides of the body become more coordinated. The upshot is that children have muchgreater motor control, something you can appreciate if you compare the awkwardfull frontal running of a 3-year-old to the ducking and weaving of a 9-year-old as heavoids capture during a game of tag. Changes in the corpus callosum (along withother brain areas, like the cerebellum) influence and are influenced by the greatstrides school age children make in both gross motor (e.g., riding a bicycle, skating,climbing trees, jumping rope) and fine motor (e.g., cutting, drawing, writing) skills.Much of this chapter is focused on typical or normative development inmiddle childhood, but there are many individual differences among children. Re–searchers are beginning to link some of these to brain development. For example,children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) canshow atypical variations in brain development (e.g., Sowell, Thompson, et al., 2003).Between 5 and 10 percent of school-age children are diagnosed with ADHD basedon one or more of a cluster of symptoms that are especially problematic for schoolBRAIN AND BEHAVIOR 203
204 Chapter 6 • realms of Cognition in middle Childhood# 150618 Cust: Pearson Au: Broderick Blewitt Pg. No. 204Title: The Life Span: Human Development for Helping Professionals, 4e Server:C / M / Y / K/Short / Normal / Long S4carliSlePublishing Servicesperformance: poor attentional control, restlessness or hyperactivity, and impulsivity(e.g., Kessler et al., 2005). Studies comparing structural MRIs for children with andwithout ADHD have found differences in several brain areas. These include thefrontal lobes, where normative growth is associated with improvements in attentionand other higher order cognitive processes. Other areas include the parietal lobes,basal ganglia, corpus callosum, and cerebellum (for detailed reviews see Giedd &Rapoport, 2010; Krain & Castellanos, 2006). Longitudinal research indicates thatfor many children the “difference” is really a delay, especially in the growth of thecerebral cortex. The middle prefrontal cortex shows the greatest delay, with growthfor ADHD children lagging behind typically developing children by as much as5 years (e.g., Shaw et al., 2007). Fortunately, about half of ADHD cases diagnosedin childhood remit by late adolescence or early adulthood. For those children, it appears that brain development follows a delayed but typical trajectory. For cases ofADHD that do not remit, researchers have found unusual, progressive loss of brainvolume in some brain areas, such as the cerebellum (Mackie et al., 2007). Note thatthere is some disagreement about whether ADHD actually comprises more than onedisorder, with different frontal brain areas more affected in one type versus another(see Diamond, 2005).Many children not diagnosed with ADHD are behaviorally different from average—they have better or worse attentional control or they are more or less impulsive or active than other children their age. Giedd and Rapoport (2010) sug–gest that “ADHD is best considered dimensionally, lying at the extreme of a con–tinuous distribution of symptoms and underlying cognitive impairments” (p. 730).In line with this argument, they report that for children who are considered typi–cally developing but more active and impulsive than average, typical brainchanges also take place at a slower rate. Thus, researchers are beginning toidentify some neurological differences among children that align with theirbehavioral differences. In general, helpers need to remember that there isa significant amount of unevenness in brain development in middle child–hood, both between and within children (Berninger & Hart, 1992). It is notunusual for children to show lagging performance in some skills and morerapid advances in other skills than their age mates.COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENTWhen children leave behind the preschool years, they begin to seem muchmore savvy to adults. They can be given fairly complex responsibilities(“Take out the dog before you go to school, and don’t forget to lock thedoor after you leave.”). They can participate in discussions of local or worldevents, and they often appreciate humor that would have been lost on themearlier. The cognitive developments that underlie these new capacities havebeen described and studied from several different theoretical traditions.We will first present Piaget’s characterization of cognitive change in middlechildhood.Piaget’s Stage of Concrete OperationsSince the days of Christopher Columbus, we have been teaching childrenthat the Earth is round. Of course, it looks flat, especially if you live some–where in the midwestern United States, such as Minnesota. How do childrenreconcile what they are told with what they perceive? When Vosniadou andBrewer (1992) asked Minnesota school children in grades 1 through 5 aboutthis apparent contradiction, they got some surprising answers. Figure 6.1 illustrates a few of them. Some children said the Earth was a flat disc—like acoin. Some thought it was a ball that has a flat surface within it and a domedsky overhead. Others saw the Earth as spherical but with a flattened side(a) (b)SphereFlattened SphereHollow SphereDual EarthDisc EarthRectangular EarthFIGURE 6.1 Children’s images of around Earth.Source: Vosniadou, S., & Brewer, N. F. (1992).Mental models of the earth: A study of concep–tual change in childhood. Cognitive Psychology,24, 549. used with permission from elsevier.
Answer the question with short answers (when possible) SEE example question number 1
Friendship understanding refers to a child’s evolving understanding of what friendship entails.Advances in:Selective attentionMetacognitionMetamemoryTeacher factors influencing educational outcomes:Mindset: Growth vs. fixed (ability) mindsetAre “learning styles” real?Friends as protective factors
Why do you think that understanding cognitive development during middle childhood would be useful for your work and practice?
What would you like to discuss in greater detail during class? Explain why you chose this topic.
What concepts were surprising or confusing? Explain.
Why do you think that understanding cognitive development during middle childhood would be useful for your work and practice? What would you like to discuss in greater detail during class? Explain why you chose this topic.
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