No signs of intellect can be detected in the newborn. The baby’s reactions are instinctive and reflexive with no awareness of their behavior, their control and ability to target them to a specific purpose.
The infant’s first signs of intelligence can be observed after its behavior. They are expressed primarily in motor and later in speech.
The development of children’s intelligence during the first two years of life, the Swiss psychologist Piaget J. divides it into six phases:
Reflex reactions in the child, clumsy whole-body movements, random movements without purpose. (Period without noticeable signs of intelligence)
The child retains and repeats certain movements that give him/her pleasure such as sucking his/her thumb, putting an object in the mouth, grasping the object that is given to it.
The child repeats some simple activity that attracts their interest. (For example: by hand or foot he/she constantly strikes a toy hanging over the crib, in order to swing it.)
At the end of the first year, the child already understands the simplest cause-and-effect relationships. (For example: the sound is the result of a bell ringing) It is able to use certain motor skills that have already been developed to reach the goal such as: the child already knows how to move the pillow to get to the object behind it.
At the beginning of the second year, the child experiments with acquired motor skills, tries new ones, and by the trial and error principle resolves problems, such as succeeding in reaching an object that is out of reach. This means that the child uses various movements to achieve the goal, abandons the movements that do not achieve the goal, and repeats those that enable it to achieve what it intended. This is a period of increased curiosity for the child and his / her need to research their surroundings. At the same time, the child becomes better at understanding speech and the simple demands made on it.
Around the middle of the second year, more complex intellectual functions appear, the child demonstrates the ability to remember. It may, for example, imitate something that is not currently seen or heard, planning a way to solve problems of understanding. This means that it abandons the principle of trial and error, reflecting the lower level of intellectual development. For example: it immediately chooses the most appropriate form of object available to get close to another object, rather than trying randomly selected objects.
During this developmental period, the child shows a growing interest in pictures, starting to play with dolls and toys that represent animals, identifying them with their living models. The child becomes able to distinguish between one’s own body from the environment, smiles at its reflection in the mirror and gradually begins to experience its own “I”. Self-consciousness manifests itself in the fact that at the end of the second year it calls itself by name, and about a year later it begins to use the pronouns “I” and “mine”.
In the first years of life, a child’s intelligence develops rapidly. Later, its development is gradually slowing down. According to Heinis H., a child at the age of 5 reaches half of its intellectual development, and the development of the other half will last until the 21st year. Interestingly, the progress line showing the course of intelligence development coincides with the progression line of brain mass growth.
According to Rubinstein S. L. thinking processes in the child’s psyche develop in two ways, through action and speech.
Thinking in a child is not a stand-alone function, thinking is subordinate to a child’s activity. It serves the child only in combination with trying to accomplish a certain purpose, such as in play. Quite later, at the end of childhood, thinking will achieve such a degree of development that it will be separated from practical activity and formed as a separate theoretical cognitive activity.
Speech development provides the ability for generalization on which the ability to form concepts is based. The common properties of a group of identical or similar objects are summarized in one word as a notion of generalization. At the end of the second year, the child expresses a particular interest and begins to ask, such as, “What is it?” – wanting to hear the name of something. But despite the relatively early creation of the first terms in his mind, according to Rubinstein S. L., his opinion still remains at the so-called level of situational thinking. This means that the child uses terms that are not yet generalized but refer to a specific, individual situation. For example, when it comes to the table, a small child and a preschooler, they think more about the actual table at which the action takes place, than about all the tables at which the same action could take place, the same applies to a cup, a ball, car etc.
When a child is in preschool, at about age 4, he or she shows an interest in understanding, that is, observing the connection between things and phenomena. In the questions to the adults, the terms “how?” and “why?” appear. On his intellectual horizon appear the first thought problems, it sees contradictions, begins to think and reason. It already distinguishes the essentials from the unimportant properties of an object as well as its features.
During the intellectual development, the child becomes more interested in the causes of certain phenomena and the emergence of various things. At times, it even critically refers to explanations given by adults and tries to check if the gained knowledge allows it. According to Stern W., during this period, the child can already draw conclusions, but the conclusions are limited to transduction. In doing so, the child draws conclusions in one particular situation based on another similar situation. For example: “Mom loves me, so Dad loves me.” The child does not take into account the general characteristics of the mother and father. As a comparison, adults would reach that conclusion using general terms such as: “The mother loves the child, the mother is the parent, and the father is the parent: so does the father love his child.”
Simultaneously to going to school, children’s thinking is elevated to a higher level. Now, childish thought breaks up observations, and separates them, creating more general notions. The child slowly adopts systematic knowledge and generalized human experiences. Its idea of things better recognizes the general and special characteristics of things. In this regard, the child becomes capable of making an induction-based conclusion (drawing a general conclusion based on observation). It perceives the relations of things through causal links, and at the age of 10 begins to use abstract notions.
At an older school age, the child’s empirical thinking, which relies heavily on concrete instruction, increasingly places theoretical thinking on the use of abstractions and greatly enriches the field of thinking and reasoning. The children become more aware of reality and this enables them to make intellectual progress.