Throughout much of history child development from birth till adulthood had not received much attention. Children were often viewed as a miniature version of an adult and therefore little attention was paid to it in the many research and studies in cognitive abilities, language usage, and physical growth that occurred during childhood and adolescence. It was until the early 20th century that interest in the field of child development finally began to emerge, and it was mostly focused in the field of abnormal behavior.
Researchers eventually became aware of the need to look into other related topics such as typical child development and the influences on development. We will examine children’s mental model and understanding of the earth through using different questioning methods to determine the relationship between the type of questions employed and the type of responses. And also we will examine the influence of age have on children’s mental perception of the earth.
Child Cognitive Development
One of the early influential child development theories was Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual development stages theory which is based on viewing psychosexual energy as the driving force behind behaviors and that personality development are influenced by the satisfaction of each described stages.
Freud also described child development as a series of ‘psychosexual stages.’ In “Three Essays on Sexuality” (1915), He outlined these stages as oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital. Each stage involves the satisfaction of basic desires which later on plays a role in personality development. And Freud suggested that a child would then develop a fixation that would later influence adult personality and behavior, should he or she does not complete any one of the described stages (Freud.S, 1962) .
The theory proposed by Freud stressed the importance of the childhood events and experiences that a child goes through that would have certain degree of influence in the personality development and the resulting behavior. However, this is almost entirely focused on mental disorders rather that normal functioning (Freud.S, 1962).
One of the major influential cognitive developmental theories is in the area of social learning, where Bandura proposed the social learning theory which suggests that children learn new behaviors by observing other people. He believed that the external reinforcement was not the only way that people learned new things. Instead, intrinsic reinforcements such as a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment also led to learning. By observing the actions of others, including parents and peers, a child develops new skills and also acquires new information (Bandura, 1969). So, we can assume that when a child gets more exposure by observing or guided by external reinforcements such as parents or more capable peers, they will tend to pick up new knowledge that are socially acceptable.
Bandura’s observation is in line with the cognitive development theory suggested by Jean Piaget. He suggests that children think differently as compared to adults and he proposed a stage theory of cognitive development. He was the first to note that children play an active role in gaining knowledge of the world by actively constructing schemas of the things and the world around them with the knowledge that they possessed (Piaget, 1929).
Piaget’s stage theory describes the cognitive development of children which involves changes in cognitive process and abilities. Piaget views early cognitive development which involves processes based upon actions and later on progresses to changes in mental operations (Piaget, 1929).
As such, when an experience happens, a child will tend to include the new information with their pre-existing schemas by accommodating the new information or new experience, which then to update and develop the new schemas. Piaget believed that there is a need to balance between assimilation and accommodation (Piaget, 1929).
Vygotsky also believed that children learn actively through hands-on experiences which suggest that parents, caregivers, peers and the culture are mostly responsible for the development of higher order functions (Vygotsky, 1978).
Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory focuses not only how adults and peers influence an individual’s learning, but also on how cultural beliefs and attitudes influences the way instruction and learning takes place. The key concept in Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory is known as the zone of proximal development. Vygotsky describes the zone of proximal development as the distance between the actual development level which, is then determined by self-competency in problem solving and the level of potential development which is determined through problem solving with the guidance or help of adults or peers (Vygotsky, 1978).
He believed that learning comes before development and through the assistance of a more capable person. A child will then be able to learn skills that are beyond the child’s actual developmental level. Therefore, the Zone of Proximal Development suggests a more prospective view of potential in cognitive development, as compared to a retrospective view that deems development in terms of a child’s independent capabilities (Vygotsky, 1978).
In a previous research done by Brewer and Samarapungavan, they concluded that children themselves develops impressive theories of the natural world and they argue that a child develops theories in similar fashion as a scientist would as the child’s construction of their theory also comprises of rationale reasoning processes that are similar to that of a scientist. The difference would be that the child would not have had the same amount of exposure to the physical world and academic resources in their approach of constructing a theory (Brewer & Samarapungavan, 1991).
In the research done by Vosiniadou and Brewer, they suggest that the children do actually construct coherent, theory-like mental models of the earth. It was observed that the reconciliation of the new information from external reinforcements with their own theory, resulting in changes to their naÃ¯ve mental model to a culturally accepted mental model (Vosniadou & Brewer, 1992).
However, more recent research Panagiotaki, Nobes and Banerjee argued that children’s knowledge of the earth is fragmented and incoherent. They tested the influence of question types and found that the different questioning methods employed results in difference in apparent mental models (Panagiotaki, Nobes, & Banerjee, 2006).
The purpose of this report is to investigate children’s cognitive development by looking into each child’s understanding of scientific concepts via their perspective of the Earth at different stages of childhood. Therefore, in this research we will investigate if there exists, any significant relationship between the method of data collection and the type of response. And also we will investigate the influence of age have on children’s mental models on the understanding of the earth.
The participants were 293 children, of whom 130 were male and 163 were female. The children were recruited from two age groups; a ‘younger’ group of 150 who were aged between 5 and 6, and an ‘older’ group of 143 who were aged between 8 and 9. The children were recruited and interviewed by students enrolled in PSY2231 Developmental Psychology.
Materials and Design
Children were assigned to one of two modes of questioning based on Panagiotaki, Nobes and Banerjee (2006). One mode used open questions, whereas the other used forced-choice questions. The interview schedule for each mode of questioning is shown in Appendix A.
Once informed consent was acquired from parents or guardians, children were interviewed in individual sessions. Data were coded according to a highly simplified scheme adapted from Panagiotaki, Nobes and Banerjee (2006). If the child answered all the questions correctly, he or she was classified as having a ‘Consistent Scientific’ model of the earth. Incorrect answers resulted in the child’s responses being coded as ‘Inconsistent or non-scientific’ model.
Relationship between method of data collection and type of response was not significant.
However, the relationship between age and type of response was significant,
c2 (1, N=293) = 50.70, p = 0.000
Frequencies of responses coded as Scientific vs. Inconsistent/non-scientific by Younger and Older age group.
The findings suggest that the children’s responses were not related to the method of questioning adopted. However their responses did seem to be related to their age. Children in the younger group made more responses that were classified as inconsistent or non-scientific, and fewer scientific responses, whereas children in the older group made more scientific responses and fewer inconsistent or non-scientific responses.
The purpose of this report is to investigate children’s cognitive development by looking into a child’s level of understanding of scientific concepts via their perspective of the Earth at different stages of childhood. Therefore, we hypothesized that the method of questioning will result in significant relationship between the method of data collection and the type of response. And we also hypothesized that there would be significant difference in the resulting data between the participants from two different age groups.
With reference to the Panagiotaki, Nobes and Banerjee study, we hypothesize that there exists a significant relationship between the method of data collection and the type of response. From the first set of results, we observe that there is no significant relationship between the type of questions employed and the type of responses given. The result implies that the mental models constructed by children are consistent and coherent. Therefore, we can conclude that the result is consistent with the finding of Vosniadou and Brewer.
The second hypothesis, where we hypothesized that there would be significant difference in the resulting data between the participants from two different age groups. The result shows that there is a significant relationship between age and type of response. This finding is consistent with the theory suggested by Vygotsky and Bandura that we can assume that with age come higher chances of exposure to external reinforcement and exploratory experiences which indicated higher level of acceptance of scientific concepts, which will result in a better understanding of scientific concepts presented to them.
However, in the current research, the use of discrete variables rendered some information on the responses collected, immeasurable as they do not indicate the level of understanding of scientific concepts. And also the uncontrolled backgrounds of the individual children does not imply the saturation of experience the child had been exposed to prior to the test and therefore the result do not indicate a clear estimate of the level of influence that external reinforcement have on the child’s cognitive development.
Through this research we can notice that the different methodology adopted by various researchers had yielded consistent and coherent response from the children across both age groups. It therefore implies that the mental model that children construct remains as it is until a new knowledge had been introduced, which will then change or modify their existing mental schemas to formulate a new mental model. This is in line with Erikson’s psychosocial stage theory where the development of ego identity, where positive reinforcements such as the conscious sense of self that develops through normal social interaction and changes due to new experiences and information that is being acquired in our daily interactions with others and also the sense of competence motivates behaviors and actions (Erikson E. , 1963).