Children’s learning style is different from the one that adult learners have. In this blog post, you will get to know what is happening in an infant cognition up to five years old: we will track the development in the early childhood cognitive development stages, and capabilities of children of such a young age.
First of all, see three different points of view on early cognitive development, changing over time.

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1. Tabula rasa* or blank state

*Locke’s philosophy

Most psychologists used to say that newborn’s mind is a blank state*. The record of experience starts from birth with the help of sensory experiences.
Since there was also an assumption that language is a prerequisite for abstract thought, the infant baby considered not having a knowledge. Babies sleep most of the time for their first months and do not display a big range of behaviors and seem to be passive enough to acquire knowledge.

2. Jean Piaget

A major move away from the blank state view of the infant mind was taken by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. He highlighted several stages of cognitive development of young children. According to him, during the first two years infant’s first ideas about the objects, causality, time, space and self-are stimulated by the environment. Even though their world is egocentric, children comprehend physical environment via gradual coordination of schemes of looking, listening and touching.

3. Zone of proximal development

Psychologist Lev Vygotsky emphasized the role of support in the early child development – in other words, others who assist children in the path of learning. The zone of proximal development is the difference between the level of development by independent problem-solving and the potential level of development under adult guidance. Interestingly, things that a child can perform today with an aid of capable peers, tomorrow will be manageable for them to perform alone.

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Enormous research has been done in the field afterwards, and four amazing discoveries were made.

There is an infants’ predisposition to learn some types of information but not others. (privileged domains)

Infants start to grasp the complexity of the world from the very beginning. It starts with understanding the physical and biological causality, number, and language. This knowledge is biologically programmed to them to learn during their first months, also called privileged domains.


For instance, they understand that objects need support to prevent them from falling or that inanimate objects need contact to be moved when they are only 3-4 month old.

How was it proved? During numerous experiments, infants look longer at the physically inconsistent events than those that are consistent with their expectation. This is due to habituation, as children lose initial interest to a repeated, familiar event.

Generalization works for them well, and once they learned the notion of support it will be transferred to variety of potential objects. First, they need a demonstration of an event, then they will habituate it. By the age of two, they can actually apply what they know, for instance, how to pull an object.


In early childhood cognitive development stages, when babies are already 6 months old, they are able to distinguish the difference between animate and inanimate objects.

How? They already have an understanding that animate objects have the potential to move while inanimate cannot without being propelled into action by external force.

Early number concepts

Toddlers rather respond to numeric data than the shapes or textural complexity of an object. Older kids believe that larger number always represent a bigger quantity or larger unit which is not true, for instance, for fractions.


This part is more complicated than the previous one. How did children start to distinguish linguistic information? They require a stimuli, once they attribute nonlinguistic meaning to words. They use context to understand what others mean. Social environment and situational contexts are essential for this type of learning.

Four-month-old child prefers to listen to words rather than sounds.

Biologically they are becoming fluent at the age of three. Being passive listener is not enough, practice is a key.

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Strategies & Metacognition

Metacognition means the awareness and understanding of one’s own thinking. In this section, we look at how children learn about things that they would not be predisposed to attend to, such as chess or the capital cities of countries. We discuss how children come to be able to learn almost anything through effort and will. Do kids have limited short-term memory capacity compared to adults or there are strategies to enable information-processing to be not restricted?

One theory is that learning abilities in the early childhood cognitive development stages increase with age. For sure, with more mental space when kids mature, they can maintain larger volumes of information. Another view is that older children can perform mental operations faster due to strategies they consciously or unconsciously apply, therefore, they use their mental capacity more efficiently.

Strategies allow using minds better. The development comes with strategies like rehearsal, elaboration, summarization, clustering, chunking effect as well as other mnemonic strategies.

Metacognition is all about self-education, reflecting on own performance and planning. This type of self-regulation appears gradually in children. Between the age of 5 to 10 children start to recognize the need for strategic learning. Many important skills come by as an application of several strategies to solve one problem and a correctly made choice between them.

Howard Earl Gardner, an American developmental psychologist, proposed the existence of seven relatively autonomous intelligences: linguistic, logical, musical, spatial, bodily kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic. Some educators believe a child should develop in each intelligences, some believe that it is a better idea to focus on few on them in each particular case. Theory of multiple intelligences offers different approaches in teaching methods to the topic of those intelligences.

Further reading: magical number 7± 2 of Miller, the theory about short-term memory.