List some teaching practices that foster children’s achievement and some that undermine it. From your understanding of the reading(s) or your own experience(s), which do you believe to be the most beneficial and the most detrimental to achievement?
Physical growth during the school years continues at the slow, regular pace of early childhood. Bones of the body lengthen and broaden, and primary teeth are replaced with permanent teeth.
Although most children appear to be at their healthiest in middle childhood, a variety of health problems do occur, especially in children who live in poverty. Nearsightedness may develop, while ear infections become less common. Over the past several decades, a rise in overweight and obesity has occurred in many Western nations, putting many children at risk for lifelong health problems. Children experience a somewhat higher rate of illness during the first two years of elementary school than they will later, because of exposure to sick children and an immune system that is still developing. The frequency of injury fatalities increases from middle childhood into adolescence, especially for boys.
Gains in flexibility, balance, agility, and force contribute to school-age children’s advances in gross-motor development. Steady gains in reaction time also occur. Fine-motor development improves over the school years, and sex differences in motor skills that appeared in the preschool years continue and, in some instances, become more pronounced in middle childhood. School-age boys’ genetic advantage in muscle mass is not sufficient to account for their gross-motor superiority; the social environment plays a larger role. Games with rules become common in the school years, as does rough-and-tumble play, which helps children, especially boys, establish a dominance hierarchy. High-quality physical education classes that focus on individual exercise rather than competitive sports help ensure that all children have access to the benefits of regular exercise and play.
During Piaget’s concrete operational stage, children’s thought becomes far more logical, flexible, and organized than in early childhood. A limitation of concrete operational thought is that children’s mental operations work poorly with abstract ideas. Specific cultural and school practices affect children’s mastery of Piagetian tasks. Some neo-Piagetian theorists argue that the development of operational thinking can best be understood in terms of gains in information-processing speed rather than a sudden shift to a new stage.
In contrast to Piaget’s focus on overall cognitive change, the information-processing perspective examines separate aspects of thinking. Brain development contributes to an increase in information-processing speed and capacity and gains in cognitive inhibition. In addition, attention becomes more selective, adaptable, and planful. As attention improves, so do memory strategies. School-age children’s theory of mind, or metacognition, expands, as does their understanding of sources of knowledge and of false belief. However, they are not yet good at cognitive self-regulation. Fundamental discoveries about the development of information processing have been applied to children’s learning of reading and mathematics.
Around age 6, IQ becomes more stable than it was at earlier ages, and it correlates well with academic achievement. Intelligence tests provide an overall score (the IQ), which represents general intelligence, as well as an array of scores measuring specific mental abilities. Sternberg’s triarchic theory of successful intelligence identifies three broad, interacting intelligences: analytical intelligence, creative intelligence, and practical intelligence. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences identifies at least eight mental abilities, each with a distinct biological basis and course of development. SES accounts for some, but not all, of the black–white IQ difference, and many experts acknowledge that IQ scores can underestimate the intelligence of culturally different children.
Vocabulary, grammar, and pragmatics continue to develop in middle childhood, although less obviously than at earlier ages. In addition, school-age children develop language awareness. Many children throughout the world grow up bilingual; as with first-language development, a sensitive period for second-language development exists. Research shows that bilingualism has positive consequences for development, but the question of how to educate bilingual children continues to be hotly debated.
Schools are vital forces in children’s cognitive development, with class size, educational philosophies, teacher–student relationships, and the larger cultural context all playing a role. Teaching children with learning disabilities, as well as those with special gifts and talents, presents unique challenges. U.S. students fare poorly when their achievement is compared to that of children in other industrialized nations. Families, schools, and the larger society must work together to upgrade U.S. education.
According to Erikson, the combination of adult expectations and children’s drive toward mastery sets the stage for the psychosocial conflict of middle childhood—industry versus inferiority—which is resolved positively when experiences lead children to develop a sense of competence at useful skills and tasks. Psychological traits and social comparisons appear in children’s self-concepts, and a hierarchically organized self-esteem emerges. Children who make mastery-oriented attributions credit success to ability and failure to controllable factors, but children who receive negative feedback about their ability are likely to develop learned helplessness, attributing success to external factors, such as luck, and failure to low ability. Greater self-awareness and social sensitivity support emotional development in middle childhood. Gains take place in experience of self-conscious emotions, understanding of emotional states, and emotional self-regulation. Cognitive maturity and experiences in which adults and peers encourage children to take note of another’s viewpoint support gains in perspective-taking skill. By middle childhood, children have internalized rules for good conduct. They clarify and link moral imperatives and social conventions, considering the purpose of the rule, people’s intentions, and the context of their actions.
By the end of middle childhood, children form peer groups, which give them insight into larger social structures. Friendship becomes more complex and psychologically based, providing children with a context for the development of trust and sensitivity. Peer acceptance becomes a powerful predictor of current and future psychological adjustment.
School-age children extend their awareness of gender stereotypes to personality traits and academic subjects. Boys’ masculine gender identities strengthen, whereas girls’ identities become more flexible. Cultural values and parental attitudes influence these trends.
In middle childhood, the amount of time children spend with parents declines dramatically. Child rearing shifts toward coregulation as parents grant children more decision-making power. Sibling rivalry tends to increase in middle childhood, and in response, siblings often strive to be different from one another. When children experience divorce—often followed by entry into blended families as a result of remarriage—child, parent, and family characteristics all influence how well they fare. Growing up in dual-earner families can have many benefits for school-age children, particularly when mothers enjoy their work, when work settings and communities support their child-rearing responsibilities, and when high-quality child care is available, including appropriate after-school activities for school-age children.
Fears and anxieties in middle childhood are directed toward new concerns, including physical safety, media events, academic performance, parents’ health, and peer relations. Child sexual abuse has devastating consequences for children and is especially difficult to treat. Personal characteristics of children, a warm parental relationship, and social supports outside the immediate family are related to the development of resilience: the ability to cope with stressful life conditions.
- Berk, Laura E. (2018). Development through the lifespan, 7th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson. ISBN: 9780134419909
- Chapter 9: Physical and Cognitive Development in Middle Childhood
- Chapter 10: Emotional and Social Development in Middle Childhood
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