Unit 2 > Human Growth & Development > Intellectual Development

Introduction to intellectual development

Intellectual development is all about learning.   It is about how individuals organise their minds, ideas and thoughts to make sense of the world they live in.  

Here is are some of the  many ways that individuals learn.

Trial and error         copying         exploring         repeating

       Questioning         doing         experimenting         talking         

             Experiencing         looking         role play         listening         playing

Children learn through the other areas of development .

Physical development – through the senses by touching, tasting, listening and playing.

Emotionally and socially -  through playing with other children and being with people.

Important tools of intellectual development are language and communication skills

The two main areas of intellectual development are:

  • Language development – helps us to organise thoughts and make sense of the world around us
  • Cognitive development – is about how we use our minds and organises thinking to understand the world around us .

They are closely linked.

Intellectual development milestones

Learning to read

Being read to

Looking at books

Recognising a picture

Linking alphabet symbols linked to picture symbols

Recognising combinations of alphabet symbols and linking these to picture symbols

Reading from 4+ years old






First words

Problem solving

Trial and error

Identify the problem

Work out a solution

Predict what might happen

Language development – helps us to organise thoughts and make sense of the world around us.  It helps an individual to ask questions and develop simple ideas into more complex ideas.

Language  development depends upon the child’s own pattern of development, their age, the opportunity to experiment and use language.

All individuals have a need to communicate and language is the tool that allows this.  

Language develops in two phases and begins at birth.

Pre-linguistic – birth to 12 months

Unintentional crying

Intentional crying

Cooing and gurgling


First words

Linguistic – 12 – 15 months

First words



Telegraphic phrases

Complex sentences


Need to be:

  • Talked to
  • Listened to
  • Praised
  • Encouraged

Helped by:

  • Using different intonation
  • Speaking clearly
  • Speaking slowly
  • Always answering
  • Listening
  • Asking questions
  • Correcting nicely
  • Being patient

Cognitive development – is about how we use our minds and organises thinking to understand the world around us.   

Cognitive development depends upon the child’s own pattern of development, the opportunity for playing with toys and games and experiences of activities and events.

Cognitive development includes:

  • Imagination – being able to picture things when they are not in front of you.                 Children use their imagination for pretend play, pretend games, to tell stories, when drawing, painting, reading, model making, and dressing up.
  • Problem solving – the ability to solve simple and difficult problems It follows a set pattern of:  

trial and error               identify the problem          work out a solution  predict what might happen  

Activities -  shapes in a shape sorter, learning to ride a bicycle.  

  • Creativity – being able to express imaginative ideas in a unique way .  Activities  - painting, drawing, collage, dance, music, cardboard box toy.
  • Concepts – putting information into an understandable form.  Activities – numbers, colours, shape, time, volume, speed, mass(weight)
  • Memory -  the ability to store and recall information, ideas and events.  Activities – questioning, telling or writing about a visit, dates, days of the week.
  • Concentration – ability to pay attention.  Children concentrate more if they are interested in the task/activity.  They need to concentrate to be able to store and sort information
  • Object permanence – understanding that something still exists even though it can’t be seen.  Activities – peek-a-boo, hid and seek, treasure hunt
  • Reasoning – understanding that actions have a cause and effect.  Activity – play centres with push and pull buttons to make a bell ring, a toy pop up.

Cognitive development can be negatively affected by:

  • Illness
  • Absence from school
  • Impaired eyesight
  • Impaired hearing
  • Lack of verbal communication
  • Lack of stimulation
  • Insecurity
  • Poor concentration
  • Lack of confidence
  • Lack of meeting other people

Reading is an  important intellectual skill.  A baby is born into an environment where it  is surrounded by words and symbols.    Learning to read is the skill of being able to recognise, interpret and understand hundreds of symbols and the combinations of those symbols so that they have meaning.

The process is gradual and has a pattern.

  • Recognising a picture
  • Linking  a letter symbol to a picture symbol
  • Recognising  combinations of letters and linking to a picture symbol

Children will learn to read when they are ready and must progress at their own pace.  Pressure to read may lead to a reluctance to read.   Real reading may not start until the age of 4 years old.

Activities that help a child develop skills need for reading:

Paintingsorting  gamescard gamesmatching games   dominoes       

rhymeslabelsmusic  books  - being read to, looking at pictures

Useful tips for using books

  • Begin at the top of the page
  • Hold the book the right way up
  • Read from left to right
  • Turn the page from left to right