Between the ages of about 7 and 11, children are in the period of cognitive development that Jean Piaget referred to as the concrete operational stage. During this period of intellectual development, kids become increasingly skilled at understanding logical and concrete information. However, they still struggle to grasp hypothetical or abstract concepts. At this age, kids are able to focus on multiple aspects of a problem or situation and become less egocentric, meaning that they are able to think about and understand things from different viewpoints. However, they tend to be more focused on the "here and now" and less on the future consequences.
How They Think
Cognitive abilities such as concentration and memory improve significantly during the middle childhood years. Kids this age have much better attention spans than they did in early childhood and they are better able to remember information for longer spans of time. Not only is their ability to pay attention for longer periods much improved, their selective attention is also much better. This means that they are capable of tuning out irrelevant distractions in order to concentrate only on salient details. As you can imagine, this ability is of particular importance in the classroom since kids can start to ignore the distractions presented by their classmates in order to pay attention to teachers and textbooks.
Short-term memory improves considerably between the ages of 7 and 11. Thanks to this, kids are capable of paying attention to more than one thing at a time and become capable of thinking much more quickly. These improvements in memory capacity, speed, and information processing become immediately apparent in the classroom. Whereas a younger child might struggle to stay on task and is capable of only focusing on one thing at a time, the average middle-schooler has become quite adept at mental multitasking. A student this age can easily focus on a teacher's question, think about the various possible answers, offer a response, listen to other kids as they offer their responses, and participate in a class discussion.
Encouraging Cognitive Development in Middle Childhood
The advances in cognitive development that occur during the middle school years are mostly tied to learning. As kids learn more, they become increasingly skilled and develop critical areas of their brains. Parents and teachers can foster this cognitive growth by providing ample opportunities for learning between the ages of 7 and 11.
- Encourage kids to read. Reading can improve cognitive abilities in a number of ways, including helping kids expand their knowledge base, increasing language skills, and improving concentration.
- Consider bilingual education. Research has demonstrated that learning a second-language can offer a number of cognitive advantages, including increased mental flexibility.
- Try to build intrinsic motivation. Try offering praise and encouragement when kids express interest in academic pursuits. Extrinsic rewards, such as treats or toys, can get kids to do their homework, but such reinforcement won't necessarily help kids build an internal love of learning. Instead of focusing on praising outcomes, such as good grades, instead focus your efforts on rewarding effort and hard work.