School‐age children think systematically about multiple topics more easily than preschoolers. Older children have keener metacognition, a sense of their own inner world. These children become increasingly skilled at problem solving.
Cognitive Development: Age 7–11
Piaget referred to the cognitive development occurring between ages 7 and 11 as the concrete operations stage. Piaget used the term operations to refer to reversible abilities that the child has not yet developed. By reversible, Piaget referred to mental or physical actions that can occur in more than one way, or in differing directions. While in the concrete operations stage, older children cannot think both logically and abstractly. School‐age children are limited to thinking concretely—in tangible, definite, exact, and uni‐directional terms—based on real and concrete experiences rather than on abstractions. Older children do not use magical thinking and are not as easily misled as younger children. Unlike preschoolers, school‐age children know better than to ask their parents to take them flying in the air just like the birds do.
Piaget noted that children's thinking processes change significantly during the concrete operations stage. School‐age children can engage in classification, or the ability to group according to features, and serial ordering, or the ability to group according to logical progression. Older children come to understand cause‐and‐effect relationships and become adept at mathematics and science. Comprehending the concept of stable identity—that one's self remains consistent even when circumstances change—is another concept grasped by older children. For example, older children understand the stable identity concept of a father maintaining a male identity regardless of what he wears or how old he becomes.
In Piaget's view, children at the beginning of the concrete operations stage demonstrate conservation, or the ability to see how physical properties remain constant as appearance and form change. Unlike preschoolers, school‐age children understand that the same amount of clay molded into different shapes remains the same amount. A concrete operational child will tell you that five golf balls are the same number as five marbles, but the golf balls are larger and take up more space than the marbles.
Piaget believed that preoperational cognitive abilities are limited by egocentrism—the inability to understand the point of view of others. But egocentrism is not found in children in the concrete operations stage. By the school years, children have usually learned that other people have their own views, feelings, and desires.
Piaget's model of cognitive development has come under increasing attacks in recent years. Modern developmentalists have frequently referred to experimental research that contradicts certain aspects of Piaget's theories. For example, cognitive theorists like Robert Siegler have explained the phenomenon of conservation as a slow, progressive change in the rules that children use to solve problems, rather than a sudden change in cognitive capacities and schemas. Other researchers have shown that younger and older children develop by progressing through a continuum of capacities rather than a series of discrete stages. In addition, these researchers believe that children understand far more than Piaget theorized. With training, for instance, younger children may perform many of the same tasks as older children. Researchers have also found that children are not as egocentric, suggestible, magical, or concrete as Piaget held, and that their cognitive development is largely determined by biological and cultural influences.
School‐age children are better at the skill of remembering than are younger children. Experiencing more of the world, older children have more to draw upon when encoding and recalling information. In school, older children also learn how to use mnemonic devices, or memory strategies. Creating humorous lyrics, devising acronyms, chunking facts (breaking long lists of items into groups of three's and four's), and rehearsing facts (repeating them many times) help children memorize increasingly complicated amounts and types of information.
Youngsters may remember more when participating in cooperative learning, in which adult‐supervised education relies on peers interacting, sharing, planning, and supporting each other. Develop‐mentalists disagree on the relative value of cooperative learning versus didactic learning, in which a teacher lectures to students.
School‐age children also begin to evince metamemory, or the ability to comprehend the nature of memory and predict how well one will remember something. Metamemory helps children sense how much study time is needed for next week's math test.
Psychologists and other authorities are keenly interested in childhood intelligence. Intelligence is an inferred cognitive capacity that relates to a person's knowledge, adaptation, and ability to reason and act purposefully. Around the beginning of the twentieth century, Alfred Binet and Theophile Simon measured perception, memory, and vocabulary in children. These researchers divided a child's mental age, or level of intellectual attainment, by his or her chronological age, or actual age, to yield the child's intelligence quotient (IQ). Years later, the average IQ for a child was set at 100. Today, the two most famous IQ tests for children are the Stanford‐Binet Intelligence Scale and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), both of which have been updated numerous times.
Some psychologists indicate that the multifaceted nature of intelligence necessitates a distinction between basic intelligence (academic IQ) and applied intelligence (practical IQ). For instance, Howard Gardner proposed that children exhibit multiple intelligences, including musical ability, complex movement, and empathy. Similarly, Robert Sternberg proposed the triarchic theory of intelligence, which states that intelligence consists of three factors: information‐processing skills, context, and experience. These three factors determine whether cognition or behavior is intelligent.
An individual's intelligence, at least as measured by IQ tests, remains fairly constant throughout life. Yet considerable differences in IQ scores exist across a range of individuals. These individual differences are probably the result of some combination of genetics, home and educational environment, motivation, nutrition and health, socioeconomic status, and culture.
Critics repeatedly question the value of measuring intelligence, especially when the most commonly used testing instruments are inherently culture‐specific. Critics point out that minorities score lower on IQ tests that are devised and standardized using white, middle‐class subjects. These same minorities score higher on IQ tests devised and standardized using subjects from their own cultural background. Proponents of IQ tests suggest that it is possible to develop culture‐fair (fair for all members in a culture) and culture‐free (without cultural content) IQ tests, such as Raven's Progressive Matrices Test. This IQ test gauges the subject's ability to solve problems that are presented in unfamiliar designs. Proponents also claim that IQ scores effectively predict future academic performance—what these tests were originally designed to measure.
A great deal of uproar occurred in the 1970s in response to schools placing minorities into special education classes based on their IQ scores. These scores were obtained from culturally biased IQ tests. Today, IQ tests cannot be used as academic achievement or placement tests.