Middle Childhood:
Physical & Cognitive Development

Prepared by Ethel Cantu

Based on Development Across the Life Span,
by Robert Feldman, Prentice-Hall



Physical Development in Middle Childhood


Physical development of school-age children is steady, but at a slower pace than in infancy and early childhood.

Middle childhood is a relatively healthy time, but many are not as healthy or as physically fit as they should be.






Motor Skill Development



Body weight doubles

Girls become taller and heavier than boys from ages 10 - 12

Growth rates and sizes vary widely

Malnutrition and infectious diseases slow growth



Mild to moderate malnutrition suffered by 40-60% of world’s children

Negatively affects ALL aspects of development

Treatment requires adequate nutrition, medical care and environmental stimulation



Rate of childhood obesity doubled from 1981 to 1991 in US

10% of all children are obese

Inherited tendency aggravated by too little exercise and too much food

Obese children tend to become obese adults with increased risk for health problems

Obese children suffer emotionally

Motor Skill Development

Rough-and-tumble play

Vigorous free play:  wrestling, hitting, chasing

Diminishes as children play games with rules

Differences between boys’ and girls’ motor skills increases as puberty approaches

Greater upper body strength of males

Different expectations, experiences, and encouragement

Cognitive Development in Middle Childhood


Cognitively, school-age children are able to think logically and make more mature judgments.

Memory and problem-solving improves.

Experiences in school affects and is affected by every aspect of children's development.


Concrete Operational Stage





Concrete Operational Stage

Use operations to solve concrete problems

Can decenter, so able to focus on more than one aspect of a situation

Less egocentric, so more able to understand other people’s viewpoints

Limited to thinking about the here and now

Can solve actual problems

Do not think hypothetically or abstractly

Concrete Operational Stage

Understand conservation

Use logical principles of identity, reversibility

Inconsistent in application of principles because thinking is concrete

Understand classification and seriation

Distinguish between fantasy and reality

A brief critique of Piaget’s views of intellectual development

Piaget is criticized for underestimating children's abilities and for exaggerating the universality of the progression through the stages.

Research suggests that Piaget was more right than wrong.

Cross-cultural research increasingly implies children universally achieve concrete operations, and that training with conservation tasks improves performance.


Improves greatly

Better able to focus attention

Can concentrate longer

Can screen out irrelevant information

STM capacity increases because processing time decreases

Develop metamemory

Can devise strategies to help them remember


Cognitive advantages

Greater cognitive flexibility

Greater metalinguistic awareness

May improve IQ scores

Controversy over teaching languages

Mixed results depending on culture

2nd language learning enhanced when language is valued

Second-language Education

English-immersion (ESL)

Taught in English only in special classes

Part-time ESL programs are least effective

Bilingual education

Taught academic subjects in native language while learning English;  Switch to English once proficient

Children who remained in bilingual programs until 6th grade caught up with or surpassed native-speaking peers


Non-English and English speakers taught together using both languages

Values both languages;  Builds self-confidence and self-esteem

English speakers learn foreign language during critical period

Most successful approach

School: Reading

Debate over teaching of reading

Two major approaches

Code-based approaches emphasize phonics

Whole-language approaches emphasize writing & literature

The National Research Council, in a landmark decision in 1998, argued that the optimum approach was to use a combination of elements from both approaches.

School:  Multicultural Education

Cultural assimilation model

Melting pot

Adopt dominant culture

Pluralistic society model

Fruit salad

Preserve cultural features

Bicultural identity model

Learn both dominant & individual cultures

School Achievement Influences






Interest, attention, active participation are associated with higher achievement test scores

1st grade is critical to form good learning habits

Empathy creates positive social environment that contributes to cognitive achievement

Depression and aggression lead to problems with schoolwork;  bi-directional link


Intrinsic motivation works best

Interest in work itself  develops from praise for ability and hard work, not praise for grades

Authoritative parenting correlated with highest achievement

Fosters autonomy and enjoyment of learning

Authoritarian parenting correlated with lower achievement

Extrinsic motivation lowers children’s autonomy;  Rely on parental approval

Permissive parenting correlated with lower achievement

Parents are uninvolved;  Don’t seem to care


Family socioeconomic status

Higher income correlated with higher achievement; Supportive, involved, harmonious

Parental expectations

Placing high value on education and helping children overcome obstacles is more important than SES


Belief in child’s ability influences how well child performs

Self-fulfilling prophecy:  live up or down to other people’s expectations

Teacher may convey lower expectations to minority and poor children


Apply Vygotsky’s cooperative learning approach

Build small, personal learning communities

Integrate subject matter fields

Teach reading and writing in social studies

Teach math through study of music

Build on children’s interests and talents

Cooperative projects, hands-on, concrete

Encourage parent-teacher cooperation


Controversy over whether intelligence is unidimensional or multidimensional


Single underlying mental ability factor  “g”

Measured by Stanford-Binet & Wechsler intelligence scales


Two kinds: fluid & crystallized

Gardner: 7 distinct intelligences

Sternberg: triarchic


Controversy over heritability of intelligence

Fueled by book The Bell Curve, 1994

Implications for education of minorities

If primarily inherited, no need to modify environment

Concluded by The Bell Curve

If primarily environmental, then modify social conditions

Concluded by most developmental psychologists