Learning how children develop intellectually is rooted in cognitive and developmental psychology, based on the studies of Jean Piaget, John Dewey, Erik Erickson, Jerome Bruner and others. Many of these theorists contributed to the constructionist approach, which stated that children learn by building upon previous knowledge and experiences.
Piaget proposed that assimilation and accommodation are two methods that people use to process new information. Assimilation is the process of accepting new information by relating it to previous experiences, while accommodation is the process of accepting new information or experiences that are unlike anything experienced in the past. Piaget also proposed four basic stages of development: sensorimotor (infancy), pre-operational (toddler), concrete operational (elementary) and formal operational (adolescence and adulthood).
Jerome Bruner proposed that humans learn through modes of representation and he suggests that as a long as a student of any age is presented with information in a certain order, that student will learn it. First the student must engage the new information through activity (enactive representation), then through images (iconic representation) and finally through language (symbolic representation). Bruner also suggests that humans acquire knowledge by categorising, by fitting new information into previously known categories.
Development in Infancy
Infants start by reacting to the world through simple reflexes, then as they grow older, they learn to control their reactions. Important developmental steps before the first year usually include the child's ability to move intentionally and to recognise her own ability to move objects. Infants also learn object permanence, that is, that objects exist even when they are out of sight.
Development in Early Childhood
After the first year, children often begin developing speech and mimicking the words and actions of others. An important intellectual development at this stage is the ability to associate a symbol with an object, such as the word for cat and a cat, or an image of a cat and the real thing. Young children also learn to start grouping like objects together, categorising items into larger groups (such as cars or animals) and understanding qualities that make items similar or different. Logical and abstract thinking come in later childhood and adulthood.