The preschool children learn a lot of things through their interaction with the environment. In psychology, the preschool stage is where children try to acquire life skills that can help them for their life span. Psychology has also established that children acquire good nutrition and eating habits at this stage. The preschool state of development is critical for children as whatever they learn here will influence their whole life. Theory of Cognitive development has been known to be useful in nutrition education for the preschool children. This paper will examine the application of theory cognitive development in nutrition education for preschool children.
Cognitive development theory was developed by Jean Piaget to help understand human environment can influence their cognitive development. Piaget tried to understand how human complex reasoning and knowledge could be influenced by their interaction with the environment (Dayan & Ziv, 2012). Piaget was a Swiss psychologist who came up with the theory of how to explain and understand the development of intelligence in human beings from the infant stage to adulthood. This theory established a foundation for studying and understanding the relationship between the environment and intelligence acquisition in human beings (Dayan & Ziv, 2012). Most of the life skills that human beings need for their development are acquired at the infant stage or preschool stage. Nutrition knowledge is one of the skills that human beings need as it is one of the essential human needs. Research shows that children should acquire the nutrition education when they are still young because it can help them live a healthy life (Baskale et al., 2009). According to Baskale et al. (2009), nutrition and good health are closely related concepts that parents should understand before choosing the kind of nutrition that we should administer to our children.
At the preschool stage, children are trying to understand themselves and their environment. Nutrition knowledge at this stage will influence them through their entire life or to adulthood (Baskale et al., 2009). Research indicates that people die of critical diseases such as cancer and obesity because they lacked good nutrition education during their early stages of development. The kind of diet one takes will greatly determine the kind of healthy life that one will live. Human life expectancy has significantly reduced over the past decades because we assume some simple and very important things like nutrition education. Most people only focus on how to acquire knowledge that can help them acquire better jobs but they forget that they also need life skills. Therefore, it is important to teach children not only about good nutrition but also good eating habits.
Research shows that cognitive development theory can play a great role in developing the attitude towards the young people or infants (Lovatt & Hedges, 2015). This is the theory that is mostly applied in nursing especially where they deal with the children. Baskale et al. (2009) explains that a nurse with effective and good background knowledge about cognitive development theory can significantly find it easy to deal with the children as this knowledge will help him/her maintain good communication that can assist build a positive relationship between them.
Cognitive development theory identifies the role of memory in the cognitive development of the young children. The proponents of cognitive theory argue that children develop the remembering abilities when they are still young; the same time their language development starts to develop (Baskale et al., 2009). It is the stage where children try to communicate using signs and symbols. Children have the schemata that assist them in acquisition of knowledge when they interact with their environment. The schemata are organized behavior pattern that Piaget, the pioneer of cognitive theory came up with to help him understand how children were able to acquire knowledge from their interaction with the environment. He defined the schemata as the generalized behavior patterns in children which helps them to acquire knowledge through repetition of similar circumstances (Baskale et al., 2009). According to Baskale et al. (2009) schemata enable children to understand their new environment as they use it to respond to new situations that they try to understand. Piaget established knowledge that children are able to assimilate new information from the environment through the help of schemata. This is what children use to perceive new objects in their environment. Piaget also confirmed through his experiments that children tend to acquire knowledge through mistakes and testing of situations (Baskale et al., 2009).
In nutrition education, it is important to communicate with the children through the ways they can easily understand and relate with. Preschool children like to communicate through signs and symbols (Baskale et al., 2009); therefore, one can begin by telling them to draw some of their favorite foods. Drawing is one of the symbols that children like to communicate with and it is important to appreciate their efforts even if they draw something that does not make sense. Again, showing them kinds of foods in photographs and pictures can help them create the new food schemata in their mind. Showing them the right food that they should eat either by carrying the real food sample to them or photographing it can be very helpful to their nutrition education. Piagets theory explains that the intelligence one has is as a result of the interaction between people with the environment. This theory tries to establish that all knowledge that one acquires is obtained from the environment (Baskale et al., 2009). The assumption that Piaget made was that children are able to adapt to the environment (Baskale et al., 2009); therefore, adaptation became one of the essential ways that children use to understand their environment. The theory also makes an assumption that assimilation is also a significant factor in the development of mental structures of children. Assimilation is the reaction that children give to new objects around them (Baskale et al., 2009); this is a way to understand new things. However, the reaction may be significantly influenced by the previous experiences on the same circumstance. According to the proponents of cognitive development theory, children will always try to engage with a new object in a manner that they have interacted with other similar objects even if they are not completely the same (Baskale et al., 2009). Therefore, cognitive development theory tries explaining how children assimilate to new knowledge in their environment. Although food is also assimilated through the mouth and transferred to the body through the blood stream, children need to understand the concept and be able to differentiate different kinds of foods. Cognitive development theory can be used to explain this concept in various ways; for instance, one has to ensure that the child is familiar with the food. If one was teaching the child about type of food such as fruits, vegetables or any other he/she has to ensure that the child gets the opportunity to interact with the foods. The childs encounter with these foods practically can help him assimilate the knowledge about their differences. In order to grasp the knowledge about the kinds of food, the child need to physical and mental development which he/she can only acquire through encounter with the foods either through social transmission or direct experience. Piaget tried to prove this concept of assimilation through his experiment with his daughter; he observed his daughters reaction to what he did with the pencils. In the experiment he pieced an ivory plate and tried to fit both sharpened and unsharpened pencils in the holes that he had pieced. His daughter observed him and after he finished she tried to do the same with different pencils. Piaget observed that his daughter was able to piece the holes with the sharpened end of the pencil and whenever she was provided with the pen upside down she would turn it upright so that it fits into the holes (Baskale et al., 2009). However, when she was given the unsharpened one; she tried to fit it in but it could not. She also tried with different holes but still it could not. However, the thirtieth time she turned the pencil upside down to see whether it will fit. Piaget confirmed the concept of assimilation through this experiment and explained that children can grasp knowledge through encounter with the objects (Baskale et al., 2009). Therefore, nutrition educationists can also imply the same concept; introduce children to experiences that can help them assimilate the knowledge such as incorporating the food groups in games. Some of the games that can help them assimilate this knowledge include food pyramid that explains to children what kinds of food they need to eat so as to live a healthy life, giving the children pictures and telling them to draw what they have observed from the photographs, and also creating a puzzle from the food pyramid.
Cognitive development theory has been found to be useful and an essential theoretical framework that can be used to educate children on many life skills that they need for their development. Nutrition education is one of the education areas that this theory is majorly applied. Preschool children can be difficult to understand because they have not yet developed good language for communication; therefore, when we have some knowledge on cognitive development theory we can be able to understand them and build a good and positive relationship with them through an effective communication. Children need also to understand the importance of good eating habits and nutrition for their health. Cognitive development theory has shown that children are able to grasp knowledge when they are still young; therefore, educating them on good nutrition will help them live a healthy life even in their adulthood.
Baskale, H., Bahar, Z., Baser, G., & Ari, M. (2009). Use of Piaget's theory in preschool nutrition education. Revista de Nutricao, 22(6), 905-917.
Dayan, Y., & Ziv, M. (2012). Children's perspective research in pre-service early childhood student education. International Journal of Early Years Education, 20(3), 280-289.
Lovatt, D., & Hedges, H. (2015). Children's working theories: invoking disequilibrium. Early Child Development and Care, 185(6), 909-925.
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