Teaching can be one of the most rewarding careers in the world because teachers have the important role of investing in the development of the next generation who will be impacting the world in the future. It’s a significant responsibility that involves many different skills to be successful. Yet it can also be one of the most challenging careers that anyone can pursue. The reason is that child development is a complicated process, and there are many theories about how it occurs best.
Cognitive development is one of the most important components of cognitive development. One of the primary psychologists in the area of cognitive development was a man named Lev Vygotsky. Understanding Vygotsky’s theories on cognitive development can help educators to understand how children’s brains develop and develop strategies for aiding in a child’s cognitive development.
Lev Vygotsky made some of the most significant contributions to theories of child development, especially in the area of cognitive development. Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist who was born on November 17, 1896 in Orsha, a part of what was once known as the Russian Empire.
Vygostky’s Theory of Cognitive Development
Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development centered on the ideas that social interaction and imaginative play are large contributors to the process of cognitive development in children. He believed that the social interactions that children engaged in helped them to both discover and create meaning from the things that they discover. Specifically, he believed that some of the most important learning a child could experience was in the social interactions they had with a skilled tutor that is often an adult, such as a parent or teacher. The child will observe the behaviors of the tutor as well as follow the verbal instructions the tutor provides. The child will then emulate what they observe in their tutor. The child tries to understand what they observe and the instructions they receive by copying and internalizing, while learning to apply them to their own lives. Vygotsky called this collaborative or cooperative dialogue. He called the teacher or tutor in this role the “more knowledgeable other.” While this role typically involves adults, as pointed out above, such as teachers, parents, or coaches, it can also involve social interactions with other children. The important part of the role is that it is fulfilled by someone from which the child can learn, a more knowledgeable other. Check out this course for more information on social psychology.
Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding
Vygotsky also proposed something called the “zone of proximal development” and the idea of “scaffolding” in a child’s development. The way this works is by recognizing that there are some things a child cannot do independently, but they would be able to do with the assistance of someone else. For example, a child may be developing the ability to make different sounds, but cannot yet talk. With assistance, or scaffolding, from an adult who begins showing them pictures and repeating the names of the pictures, the child will soon begin to develop words and start communicating independently without help. The scaffolding helped them to develop the skills necessary to communicate on their own.
Vygotsky was particularly interested in the role of language in cognitive development. Given that language is vital to human interactions, he believed that language was the most important tool that human could utilize. Language, especially in the realm of collaborative dialogue, is the way the more knowledgeable other communications important information to a child. Vygotsky believed that there are three forms of language, as outlined below. .
- Social Speech – This is what Vygotsky referred to as the external communication that people use to talk with other people, and he believed that this form of language was typical in children from the age of two.
- Private Speech – This is what Vykotsky referred to as the internal communication that a person directs to themselves. It serves an intellectual function, and it is typical in children from the age of three.
- Silent Inner Speech – Vygotsky believed that this is what happens when private speech diminishes in its audibility until it become a self-regulating function. He believed this was typical in children from the age of seven.
Vygotsky’s focus on language as a part of cognitive development was based on the idea that at the beginning of a child’s life, language and thought begin as separate systems within a child’s brain. He believed that these two systems would merge in the child at around the age of three, and the two systems would become interdependent. As the two systems become interdependent, a child’s communication can be internalized to become private speech to the self, and this internalization of language is an important component to a child’s cognitive development.
For Vygotsky, private speech was an important mile marker in a child’s cognitive development because it’s the moment in a child’s development where thoughts become connected with words, and a child begins exhibiting verbal thinking. Whereas social interaction is an important part of cognitive development as a child learns from a more knowledgeable other, private speech allows a child to begin the collaborative process of learning with themselves.
Imaginative Play and Cognitive Development
This is the point where imaginative play comes into Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development. Adults may see children engaging in imaginative play, pretending to be pirates or princesses, and think that it’s just a fun way that children entertain themselves. What they may not realize, however, is the vital role that imaginative play serves in a child’s cognitive development. In fact, imaginative play involves a very complex mental process that impacts the child’s overall life and development.
Imaginative play helps children to develop meaning and make sense of the world they live in. It also helps them to develop their thinking skills as well as their use of language. With imaginative play, children often engage in pretend role-playing activities. This often involves children creating a story as well the characters involved in the story. For example, a child might role-play with another child by pretending they’re a superhero or superheroes in pursuit of defeating a villain. This involves dialogues that they develop with the other children. It also involves exercising problem solving skills as they work out the plot of their story, what their characters are going to do and how they will defeat the villain in their story. The dialogues they create help them to develop their language as they imitate things that they have observed in the real world. Even when children engage in imaginative play by themselves, they engage in dialogues with themselves that help them to develop language and problem solving skills. Vygotsky believed that the external language that children hear and imitate gets internalized during imaginative play.
Applying Vygotsky’s Theory
The most important application an educator can put into place from Vygotsky’s theory is his concepts of the zone of proximal development and scaffolding. This allows teachers to realize what a child can do if they only had assistance. They can then provide the necessary scaffolding to help a child develop the skill on their own. For younger children in particular, educators need to focus on providing an environment that encourages the children to engage in imaginative play because the role-playing they engage in will help them to develop language and thinking skills. Check out this course for more information on the process of human development as well as this course on the psychology of learning.