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Module 3: Cognitive Development

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The Preoperational Stage

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In the preoperational stage, children use their new ability to represent objects in a wide variety of activities, but they do not yet do it in ways that are organised or fully logical. One of the most obvious examples of this kind of cognition is dramatic play, the improvised make-believe of preschool children .

Example:
Ashley holds a plastic banana to her ear and says: “Hello, Mom? Can you be sure to bring me my baby doll? OK!” Then she hangs up the banana and pours tea for Jeremy into an invisible cup. Jeremy giggles at the sight of all of this and exclaims: “Rinnng! Oh Ashley, the phone is ringing again! You better answer it.” And on it goes.

In a way, children immersed in make-believe seem “mentally insane”, in that they do not think realistically. But they are not truly insane because they have not really taken leave of their senses. At some level, Ashley and Jeremy always know that the banana is still a banana and not really a telephone; they are merely representing it as a telephone. They are thinking on two levels at once—one imaginative and the other realistic.

This dual processing of experience makes dramatic play an early example of metacognition, or reflecting on and monitoring of thinking itself. Metacognition is a highly desirable skill for success in school, one that teachers often encourage (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997; Paley, 2005). Partly for this reason, teachers of young children (preschool, kindergarten, and even first or second grade) often make time and space in their classrooms for dramatic play, and sometimes even participate in it themselves to help develop the play further.