The first twelve months of a child’s life are crucial for physical and cognitive development. At six months an infant should be able to reach for and grasp objects so that during months 6-12 they learn to transfer objects from one hand to the other, grasp a spoon across their palm, can sit without support, begin to crawl, pull themselves up and walk with assistance, and may begin to walk without assistance. These process of these developments are explained in cognitive theories.
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One of the most influential cognitive theorists of development is Jean Piaget (1896-1980). ‘Piaget proposed that a child is born with a repertoire of sensory and motor schemes, such as looking, tasting, touching, hearing and reaching’ (Boyd & Bee, 2009). Through the process of assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration, a child’s schemes evolve into more complex mental schemes. Piaget proposed that this happens through the course of four stages: sensorimotor stage, pre-operational stage, concrete operational stage, and formal operational stage. It is the sensorimotor stage that concerns the development of schemes in an infant. During the sensorimotor stage, a baby understands the world through its senses and motor actions. In relation to the development of an infant from 6-12 months are Piaget’s substages of secondary circular reactions, and coordination of secondary schemes.
Secondary circular reactions, which are noticeable around six months are an infants repetitive actions oriented around external objects. Also, at this stage, infants may show some signs of imitation, and an understanding of object concept (understanding of the nature of objects and how they behave) and object permanence (that objects continue to exist when they are out of sight) (Boyd & Bee, 2009).
At around 8 months of age, an infant reaches the fourth substage of Piaget’s sensorimotor stage – the coordination of secondary schemes. In this stage, an infant begins to show an understanding for causal connections, which leads to means-end behaviour, ‘purposeful behaviour carried out in pursuit of a specific goal’. An infant can now combine schemes, and can transfer information from one sense to another (cross-modal perception).
Another cognitive theory is that of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, which ‘asserts that complex forms of thinking have their origins in social interaction rather than in an individuals private explorations’ (book). Vygotsky believed that a child’s learning of new cognitive skills is guided by an adult (or a more skilled child/sibling) through scaffolding – a structured learning experience which is most beneficial when adapted to the child’s zone of proximal development (developmental level). Vygotsky also emphasizes the importance of active exploration, in particular, assisted discovery.
Little Bird Told Me Softly Snail Snuggle-time Play-mat and Gym
This colourful, multi-textural play-mat contributes to the secondary circular reaction stage of Piaget’s sensorimotor stage. The mat is designed to develop fine motor skills with the help of its detachable rattle toys and teething rings. Features such as its musical antennae and baby safe mirror are included to help develop sensory schemes. The pillow, which comes with the play-mat, can help an infant to develop motor skills as it can be used as a chest support for tummy play, which can also encourage the development of gross motor skills such as rolling over, and crawling. This toy is also beneficial as it can assist infants in the coordination of secondary schemes, for example, the means-end behaviour of pressing the antennae to hear some music. This toy is also ideal for a 6 month old infant to learn through assisted discovery, as Vygotsky suggested.
VTech Singing Nursery Rhyme Book
This interactive book, which is full of rhymes and flashing lights, along with ‘hide and seek’ functional features, of different colours and textures, is suitable for an infant of 6 months or older. This book is designed to stimulate the senses and improve hand to eye coordination. While it is an ideal toy to demonstrate Vygotsky’s assisted discovery with the help of an adult, it is also a toy that can help with Piaget’s secondary circular reactions and the coordination of such secondary schemes, such as understanding object permanence, and causal connections. This toy is also durable through further stages, as it is can help teach different language sounds, and colours.
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Fisher Price Rainforest Jumparoo
This toy includes a variety of colours, textures, sounds, and moving toys. Not only does it encourage the development of fine motor skills through the use of toys, but it also encourages the development of gross motor skills such as standing, and turning. Jumping movements activate lights and sounds, which stimulate the infant’s senses, and also cause the movement of the hanging toys which help with the development of Piaget’s coordination of secondary schemes, e.g. intentional means-end behaviour, and cross-modal perception. This toy is full of features to facilitate Vygotsky’s assisted discovery, e.g. understanding cause and effect and encouraging hand-eye coordination.
Go Go Caterpillar
This small moving toy, suitable for 9 months plus, is colourful, and contains colourful and noisy beads within its wheels. It encourages the development of gross motor skills as it pushes the infant to crawl or continue after the toy. The toys also has letters and numbers on it, which through the help of Vygotsky’s scaffolding, can lead to the learning of different letter sounds. Also the simple process of pressing the toy to make it move encourages the development of Piaget’s coordination of secondary schemes, such as learning cause and effect through repetition, and developing cross-modal perception.
Little Superstar Sing Along Stage
This toy (suitable for 6 months and older) encourages singing, dancing, and discovery on a number of levels. It has colourful features, which each make unique noises, including rattles and buttons, and also has a lights display. Along with this is a microphone and instruments which play songs, and there is a built in child friendly mirror. The toy in general motivates expression and movement, and is ideal for assisted discovery, while the use of the instruments and microphone encourage the development of fine motor skills such as hand-eye coordination, and the coordination of schemes such as means-end behaviour. The colours, lights, and mirror function as sensory stimulants, while the toy as a whole helps develop the coordination of schemes, and encourages activity.
Overall, cognitive development in an infant is highly important. Piaget and Vygotsky both have cognitive theories to explain development, and while they both have limitations, they can both be applied to all of the five toys I have chosen as the best toys for physical and cognitive development of an infant, and in particular an infant between 6 and 12 months. For Piaget, the most important developments between these months are those secondary circular schemes, and the coordination of these schemes, including fine and gross motor skills, through assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration, while Vygotsky suggests that development occurs through social interactions guided through scaffolding, and assisted discovery.
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