Early Brain Development

Development of Midbrain, Forebrain and Hindbrain

When the fetus is about 3 to 4 weeks old, a long tube develops in the brain which is divided into three round sections which are the forebrain – includes the hemispheres and central brain structures; midbrain – forming part of the CNS; and hindbrain – includes the cerebellum, pons and medulla oblongata and below which is the spinal cord. By 5 weeks old, the forebrain splits into an anterior (front) and posterior (behind) section and the hindbrain splits through the middle.

Development of the Cerebellum and Medulla

The cerebellum can be seen at around 6 weeks and grows three times in size after a year. It controls the physical skills which grow over time – accounting for the cerebellum’s increase in size. It is involved in responses (like fear) and in functions like processing sense information.

The medulla oblongata (aka medulla) is found in front of the cerebellum and controls involuntary responses such as sneezing, breathing and heart rate. It is formed by the time the foetus is 20 weeks old and connects the brain to the spinal cord.


According to Piaget, there are 4 stages that an individual goes through to development cognitively in their life–

1) Sensorimotor stage: This is a stage that occurs between the age of 0-2. There are a few key features to remember in this stage. Firstly, the child/infant receives most of its information through its sense organs. They learn and develop by repeating actions once seen, for example sucking, grasping, etc. Secondly, the child beings to develop object permanence. This term is used to describe a phenomenon in which a child beings to realize that an object exists in the world even if it is not in their sight/ viewpoint/ view.

2) Pre-Operational Stage: This stage lasts from ages 2-7. It is essentially divided into 2 sub-stages.

  1. Symbolic Play: There are 2 key aspects/ features in this stage. Firstly, Animism. This describes a phenomenon in which a child gives a non-living object, human-like characteristics and behaves like it is alive. It could also describe a child’s actions that allow it to perceive something it is not by allowing himself/herself to imagine that they have imaginary characteristics. Secondly, Egocentricism. This describes a phenomenon in which a child is unable to see a situation in another individual’s perspective.
  3. Intuitive Thought Stage: This is a stage in which a child should be encouraged to learn through discovery, rather than being taught things. In this stage, a child develops decentration, conservation, irreversibility. Decentration describes a phenomenon in which a child cannot take into account multiple perspectives of a complex issue. Conservation is not achieved. Conservation describes a phenomenon in which a child realizes that changing an objects physical characteristics does not change its volume, size or weight

3) Concrete Operational Stage: This stage lasts from ages 7-11. In this stage, a child develops

  • Conservation
  • Centration
  • Seriation
  • Classification
  • Reversibility

Furthermore, it is typical of a child to be rid of egocentric behaviourisms in this stage. In this stage, a child begins to understand abstract concepts such as morality but does not fully understand them yet.

4) Formal Operational Stage: This stage usually occurs in ages 12 and above. In this stage, a child understands abstract concepts, have control over their actions and understand that there are consequences to certain actions.


1) Piaget’s Theory has a multitude of practical applications and this strengthens his theory. The discovery theory draws on Piaget’s ideas about focusing on the individual child’s stage of development.

2) There is a lot of qualitative and quantitative data to prove Piaget’s theory(for example, Piaget and Inhelder’s 3 Mountains Task). This makes the theory more scientifically and experimentally valid


1) Piaget did not look into the influence of social interactions or cultural settings on the development of cognitive thinking patterns. A study done by Pierre Dansen(1994) found that Aboriginal children developed conservation in a later stage, then compared to Piaget’s Swiss sample. This reduces the credibility of the experiment and reduces generalizability, closing doors for further research.

2) Most of the observations recorded have been developed from the comments of children. This may have made his experiment subjective due to demand characteristics, thus decreasing validity.


Dweck’s Mindset Theory talks extensively about having a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset describes a person believing that their abilities and skills are fixed and cannot be changed. A growth mindset describes a person believing that their abilities and skills can change for the better with effort and attention. A fixed mindset causes an individual to believe that failure in a task is caused by the assumption that the skill or ability is simply not within them. It causes an individual to stop taking challenges, and eventually stop trying. This may lead them to become depressed. A growth mindset encourages the idea of effort bringing success. This makes challenges more worthwhile and feedback is taken notice of.

Mindset – A set of beliefs we have about our ability to succeed in education and other areas of our life.

Growth mindset – Believing that practice and effort can improve abilities

Fixed mindset – Believing that your abilities are fixed and unchangeable


1) The theory has several practical applications. Teachers and parents can focus on praising effort. In addition to this, a study done by Yeager and Dweck(2012) shows that adolescents found it easier to deal with not fitting in if they had a growth mindset

2) The theory itself is positive as it encourages a growth mindset, thus helping society a whole


1) Many studies were done to prove the theory was conducted in an artificial setting (except Gunderson’s study). This reduces the ecological validity of the theory and thus the theory cannot be used in a real-life setting.

2) Studying a child may result in the child becoming the focus if there are problems with their progress, rather than the quality and quantity of what the teacher is teaching



1) To see the extent that a child could inoculate another perspective into their cognitive thinking process

2) Children’s overall system of putting things together and in perspective


4-6.5: 21

6.5-8: 30

8-9.5: 33


TOTAL: 100


1) Children were shown a 3 dimensional model of mountains and asked questions about they could see from different positions and pictures

2) The model was 1 meter squared and around 12 to centimetres in height.

3) The lowest mountain was green in colour and had a house on top of it. The lowest mountain had a path coming down from it

4) The second mountain was brown and had a red cross on top of it. The second mountain had a stream coming down from it

5) The third mountain( the highest mountain) was grey with a white top, to depict snow.

6) 10 pictures were taken from different perspectives. These pictures were taken so that the colour and features were clear and precise

7) There were 3 pieces of card, each of the same colour as the mountains so that the child could arrange the cards, according to the way they see the mountains from different positions

8) There was also a wooden doll of 3 cm, with no facial features


1) The child was asked to use the cardboard shapes to show how the mountain scene looked from different viewpoints.

2) They were also asked to place the shapes to show the view they were looking at.

3) They were also asked to place the shapes to describe the doll’s viewpoint of the mountains, from different positions

4) They were shown 10 pictures and they had to pick out their perspective from different positions of the mountain

5) They were also asked to pick out the picture that showed the doll’s viewpoint when placed at different positions on the model

6) The child was also given a picture and asked to place the doll in a way that its viewpoint would match the picture chosen.


1) Pre-Operational Stage: Children in the Pre-Operational Stage(i.e. from ages 4-6.5) were unable to describe and perceive different perspectives. For Example, when asked to describe the doll’s perspective from a different perspective, they continually showed their perspective. Furthermore, children were unable to place the doll so that it would have the viewpoint shown in the chosen picture. Although older children began to show the understanding of different perspectives, they are still egocentric.

2) Concrete Operational Stage: Children from ages 7 and above were non-egocentric. They were able to portray an apt understanding of different perspectives and could place the doll, shapes and cards to portray the same understanding.


1) There was extensive qualitative and quantitative data to prove the theory of egocentrism and the fact that it exists in children under the age of 7. The qualitative was in-depth and rich in detail, recording the errors made and said by each child. This meant that the child could show, for example, how near the child was to the next stage of cognitive development.

2) Piaget and Inhelder used experimental methods, making the experiment more valid and credible, both scientifically and experimentally. In addition to this, various controls were used, in order to remove any extraneous variables. This meant that the same type of question and the same model was shown for each child. This allowed for comparisons between results and children of different ages


1) The experiment lacked ecological validity, which means that the same results could be used in a real-life situation and scenarios. In addition to this, the results found were not the same as other experiments that had ecological validity. For Example, in an experiment conducted by Betty Repacholi and Alison Gopnik(1997), children at 18months could also show non-egocentric behaviourisms

2) The study conducted was thought to be too difficult and extensive for the consensus of children, although it was successfully used for the Swiss sample of children.

Using Piaget’s Stages in Education

Sensorimotor Stage

Smells, sights, tastes, sounds and different textures can be provided as stimulation. Bright colours can help children easily distinguish them. Human voices are responded to so singing and rhythm can stimulate children and help in language development. Exploring with the mouth helps learn about shapes and taste. Schemas are built when children are engaged with the world and get stimulation, helping them learn.

Pre-operational Stage

Hands-on learning helps children to learn. They should be encouraged to learn by discovery through interacting with their environment. Models, objects and visual aids such as drawings and diagrams can help learning while instructions are kept short.

Concrete Operational Stage

Teachers should ask children to concentrate on more than one aspect of an issue and can assume children understand different viewpoints from their own and so can structure tasks accordingly.

Formal Operational Stage

Children can discuss abstract concepts and be asked complex questions involving mental reasoning.

Implications for Teaching by Robert Slavin (2005)

Focus on child’s processes of learning are more important than the right answer. Discovery learning is required and children should engage with their environment. Children do not think like adults; they develop at different rates so classrooms should be managed to suit all individual children. Whole-class teaching is not advised.


  • Piaget’s work has practical applications and can be used in education to help children to develop into the next stage.
  • Research shows the existence of the stages
  • Piaget’s data came from interviews and observations with children


  • Some studies show children develop earlier than Piaget thought
  • Piaget’s theory did not look at the influence of social interactions or cultural setting.
  • Repeating Piaget’s research in a more natural setting produced different results.

Schema development

Schemas – Mental representations of the world based on one’s experiences,

Equilibrium – Children experience the world around them and the schemas work for them. E.g.: a child sees an animal with four legs and calls it a horse as this is a schema they have. Therefore, if the child’s schema can explain all they experience, they are in a state of equilibrium (mental balance)

Disequilibrium – As they experience new things in life, new information is added which does not make sense in terms of their schema. E.g.: a child sees a zebra and it has four legs but it’s not a horse. If the child’s schema can’t explain what they experience, they are in a state of disequilibrium and either adaptation takes place or new schemas are made. 

Adaptation – Using assimilation and accommodation to make sense of the world.

Assimilation – Children need to incorporate new information into their schema to accommodate new info. E.g. A child learns about new animals = assimilation.

Accommodate – when new information or experiences cause you to modify your existing schemas.



1) Person Praise: Someone praises an individual rather than what they’re doing

2) Process Praise: Someone praises what is being done and not the individual.

3) Entity Framework: A belief that behaviour or ability stems from a person’s nature

4) Incremental Framework: A belief that effort drives behaviour and ability, which can change.

Background – There are two types of praise given to children. The type of praise can affect the type of motivational framework (basic understanding of ideas and facts used when making decisions) that the child develops.

Person praise (praising the individual) – leads to child developing an entity motivational framework.

Entity motivational framework – Behaviour and ability is fixed and based on a child’s nature

Process praise (praising the child’s behaviour) – leads to child developing an incremental motivational framework

Incremental motivational framework – Behaviour and ability can be changed with effort

Background – The theory is built on Carol Dweck’s mindset theory and on various studies that show that boys tend to have an incremental framework while girls tend to have an entity framework.

Aims – To find out if children are affected by different types of parental praise; whether parents give more person praise to girls than boys; and does the use of parents’ praise predict their motivation in later life.

Procedure – The sample included 29 boys and 24 girls. This included a range of cultures e.g. 64% were white, 17% were African American, 11% were Hispanic, and 8% were multiracial.

Longitudinal study – Children were assessed using a questionnaire at 14 months, 26 months and 38 months. Five years later their motivation was reviewed. The questionnaire included a range of questionnaires about their motivation, morality, beliefs and intelligence. Neither those being assessed, nor those collecting data knew the true nature of the study – thought it was about language development. 

At each visit, the parents were asked to go about a typical day at home. The caregiver-child interactions were videotaped in 90-minute sessions. 

At 7-8 years old, the same children answered two questionnaires about what they thought led to a person’s intelligence and what led people to act morally (or not). The questions covered 18 items covering children’s ideas – their motivational frameworks – about what underpins intelligence and socio-moral views.


Overall parents gave more process praise than person praise.
Process praise was given more to boys than girls.

24% process praise to boys
10% process praise to girls

3 % of all parental comments were praise

18% of all praise was process praise

16% of all praise was person praise


The more process praise received the more the child believes that “putting in the effort is worthwhile” and children who were exposed to more process praise were more likely to develop an increment motivational framework. This proves a strong relationship between a growth mindset and process praise. However, the study is only partly true as there has been no proven relationship between an entity motivational framework and person praise. In the experiment, boys were exposed to more process praise and were likely to develop an increment motivational framework and girls were more likely to blame their problems on their abilities rather than the effort put in.


1) It has ecological validity as the experiment was conducted within the house itself(field experiment)

2) There is no to minimal researchers bias as the researchers or experimenters or recorders were not aware that the experiment was in reality on praise but they thought it was on language development

3) They collected both Qualitative and Quantitative data


1) The experiment did not include debriefing and is, therefore, a deception to the participants and thus a violation of human rights and privacy

2) Social Desirability: As the participants were being recorded, it may cause the participants to act differently or in a more socially desirable manner and show demand characteristics.

3) Lacks Generalizability: Only 54 participants were tested on in the experiment which is a very minimal amount of the total population

 4) The ethics can be criticised. The participants were told that the study was on child development and weren’t debriefed

Daniel Willingham’s Learning Theory

Willingham suggested that to learn and develop skills you must have previous knowledge. Knowledge frees up space in our working memory. This allows us to practice skills such as problem solving.

Working memory has different parts for processing information coming from our senses (including visual and sound data) and also involves a decision-making part.

Practice and Effort – Practicing allows knowledge and skills to move from short-term memory (STM) to long-term memory (LTM). Enough practice allows you to do things automatically. This leaves space in your working memory to learn new things.

Importance for Building Knowledge – STM involves practise which must be rehearsed (repeated over and over to make information stick) and this information goes into the LTM where the material has to be repeated and practised in order to be remembered. With enough practise and effort, the material will be fixed in the LTM and is much less likely to be forgotten than if it wasn’t practised and focused on.

Importance for Building Skills – Skills such as problem-solving and creative-thinking are skills that a student needs to learn and they use working memory. Because of this, skills need to be practised so that they become automatic and use little space in working memory.

Cognitive, Physical and Social Development – Willingham believed that we can boost children’s cognitive, physical and social development and suggested strategies that teachers should do to support this:

Cognitive development – 

  • Use problems that are not too far out of student’s reach.
  • Understand child’s developmental stage
  • Remember that children’s abilities change every day.
  • Consider factors apart from developmental level, such as understanding that may affect the task

Physical Development –

  • Focus on what movements would be necessary for a task and in what order they must be carried out
  • Practice the motor skills (muscle movements) in that order enough times to make the muscle commands automatic and to build a skill set
  • Use conscious effort
  • Make changes in order to develop the motor skill

Social Development –

  • Build on a child’s ability to take the view of someone else into account (decentration)
  • Encourage self-regulation (do not be influenced by others)
  • Demonstrate appropriate behaviour for children to model.
  • Help a child to stop impulsive behaviour and develop appropriate responses to social situations (and remove anything that triggers such behaviour and maintain an organized classroom environment)
  • Delay giving a reward for a task to encourage a child to keep working at it and developing their self-control

Strengths – 

  • Willingham’s work can be applied to education and other situations to promote a child’s development in a positive way
  • Betty Repacholi and Alison Gopnik’s (1997) study provides experimental support, showing that young children needed the knowledge in Piaget’s experiment before they could understand the skills (referred to above)

Weaknesses –

  • Willingham ignored the importance of individual differences in learning. Some of his theory relates to genes (e.g.: working memory) and what is in someone’s genes cannot be changed easily using strategies
  • Willingham’s ideas come from many areas of neuroscience, memory theory and cognitive development. This means that his ideas are not really one singular theory

Kohlberg’s stages of moral development

  • Pre-conventional Morality (Age up to 9 years old)
  • Obedience and punishment – Children are just good to avoid punishment.
  • Individualism – Children focus more on “what’s in it for me”, including what benefit can be gained from moral actions (e.g.: reward for helping someone).
  • Conventional Morality (Most young people and adults)
  • Relationships – The young person or adult is good to look good for other people. Reasoning comes from group norms.
  • Law and order – The young person or adult are good to uphold rules and social order in society and not feel guilty as they see it as a duty.
  • Post-conventional Morality (Only 10% of the population reach this stage)
  • Social contract – See laws as social contracts and realize there may be differences in morality between individuals based on what laws they have agreed to adhere to.
  • Universal Principals – The individual develops their own set of morals and laws.

Damon (1999) on developing a moral self

Damon gives evidence supporting nativist theories – morality comes from nature (e.g.: emotions like empathy are found in babies universally). He also suggests that nurture affects morality (e.g.: Diana Baumrind found that moral development in children is affected by the type of parenting). He concludes that children must hear a consistent message about shared standards in order to develop moral understanding.

  • Early Infancy – Children’s feelings towards others are not different from their feelings toward themselves. There is global empathy
  • Ages 1 to 2 years – Children realize that others are upset and this distresses them but they do not know what to do about it.
  • Early Childhood – Children learn others have a different viewpoint and might react differently (stop being egocentric) and so are more reactive to someone’s distress.
  • Ages 10 to 12 years – Children start to realize other people may live in poverty and have difficulties such as disabilities.

Kohlberg’s stages of moral development

  • Pree-conventional Morality (Age up to 9 years old)
  • Obedience and punishment – Children are just good to avoid punishment.
  • Individualism – Children focus more on “what’s in it for me”, including what benefit can be gained from moral actions (e.g.: reward for helping someone
  • Conventional Morality (Most young people and adults)
  • Relationships – The young person or adult is good to look good for other people. Reasoning comes from group norms.
  • Law and order – The young person or adult are good to uphold rules and social order in society and not feel guilty as they see it as a duty.
  • post-conventional Morality (Only 10% of the population reach this stage)
  • Social contract – See laws as social contracts and realize there may be differences in morality between individuals based on what laws they have agreed to adhere to.
  • Universal Principals – The individual develops their own set of morals and laws.