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date: 26 March 2023

Cognitive Early Educationfree

Cognitive Early Educationfree

  • H. Carl HaywoodH. Carl HaywoodProfessor Emeritus of Psychology, Vanderbilt University


Cognitive early education, for children between ages 3 and 6 years, is designed to help learners develop and apply logic tools of systematic thinking, perceiving, learning, and problem-solving, usually as supplements to the content-oriented preschool and kindergarten curricula. Key concepts in cognitive early education include metacognition, executive functions, motivation, cognition, and learning. Most programs of cognitive early education are based on conceptions of cognitive development attributed to Jean Piaget, Lev S. Vygotsky, A. R. Luria, and Reuven Feuerstein. Piagetians and neoPiagetians hold that children must construct their personal repertoire of basic thinking processes on the basis of their early experience at gathering, assimilating, and reconciling knowledge. Vygotskians and neoVygotskians believe that cognitive development comes about through adults’ mediation of basic learning tools, which children internalize and apply. Adherents to Feuerstein’s concepts likewise accord a prominent role to mediated learning experiences. Followers of Luria believe that important styles of information processing underlie learning processes. Most programs emphasize, to varying degrees, habits of metacognition, that is, thinking about one’s own thinking as well as selecting and applying learning and problem-solving strategies. An important subset of metacognition is development and application of executive functions: self-regulation, management of one’s intellectual resources. Helping children to develop the motivation to learn and to derive satisfaction from information processing and learning is an important aspect of cognitive early education. Widely used programs of cognitive early education include Tools of the Mind, Bright Start, FIE-Basic, Des Procedures aux Concepts (DPC), PREP/COGENT, and Systematic Concept Teaching.


  • Cognition, Emotion, and Learning
  • Curriculum and Pedagogy
  • Education, Change, and Development
  • Education, Cultures, and Ethnicities


Early education is typically defined as education for children between the ages of 3 and 8 years. For present purposes the term refers primarily to the preschool years, ages 3–6. Cognitive education refers to pedagogic methods whose primary goal is to help learners develop and apply logical tools of systematic thinking, perceiving, learning, and problem solving, that is, the tools for effective learning (see, e.g., Carlson & Wiedl, 2013; Haywood, 2013; Hessels & Schlatter, 2013; Sternberg, 2013). Cognitive early education is most often a supplement to the standard preschool and kindergarten curricula rather than a substitute for them. Most current programs are based primarily on cognitive developmental concepts of Lev S. Vygotsky, Alexander R. Luria, Jean Piaget, and Reuven Feuerstein. Key concepts in cognitive early education include metacognition, executive functions, motivation, cognition, and learning.

In this article the theoretical bases of cognitive education are explored from the perspective of the nature and development of processes of logical thinking. Within that context important concepts that relate to both cognitive development and cognitive education are presented. These include metacognition, executive function and self-regulation, mediation, intrinsic motivation, and conceptualization. Six widely used programs of cognitive early education that are derived from the foregoing concepts and that have been evaluated systematically are described. Conclusions regarding the utility, application, and efficacy of cognitive early education are suggested.

Major Views of Cognitive Development

In order to know how to help children to acquire, elaborate, and apply effective modes of logical thinking, it is important to have a systematic view of the ways in which children typically develop cognition—or fail to do so. Two overarching but contrasting views of the nature and development of fundamental processes of thinking (cognitive processes) have had strong influence on cognitive education: the cognitive constructivist view and the sociocultural/historical view. These broad perspectives are discussed in the next sections.

Cognitive Constructivism

Cognitive constructivism, associated with Piaget and neoPiagetian theorists, holds that children must build their personal repertoire of cognitive processes. Children’s initial developmental task is to gather knowledge about themselves, the world around them, other persons (and creatures), and relations between self and non-self. When knowledge accumulates to a critical mass, a change occurs in the interpretation and meaning of the knowledge, leading to the development of understanding, a change that signals progression to the next stage of cognitive development. This change comes about through cognitive conflict (a discrepancy between prior knowledge and new experience) and its resolution through the twin processes of assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation occurs when new experience is consonant with the store of prior knowledge and is therefore incorporated into preexisting categories of knowledge. Accommodation occurs when new experience is sufficiently different from stored prior knowledge that it cannot be assimilated, requiring change in the individual’s store of knowledge: expanding preexisting categories, changing the meaning of prior knowledge, or creating new categories of knowledge. Although both processes promote cognitive growth, it is accommodation that leads to large advances in cognitive development. Cognitive growth occurs as a result of children’s successive encounters with their environment, in the developmental sequence knowledge→understanding→operations (manipulation of thoughts, objects, events)→strategies (purposive behavior, behaving to reach one’s goals). These events reflect what happens in children’s thinking, that is, mental events. Education enters the picture when we need to know how the actions of others affect cognitive development. That question is taken up by both neoPiagetians and followers of Vygotsky.

NeoPiagetian Perspective

Adherents to neoPiagetian perspective have retained Piaget’s concept of stepwise progression through sensorimotor, pre-operatory, concrete operatory, and formal operations periods or stages of cognitive development, but a persistent question is how children make the leap from one stage to the next higher one, and how to help them do so. For example, children at the pre-operatory stage are typically able to compare events according to their similarities and differences but are not yet classifying on the basis of such comparison. With practice, they become better and better comparers, and Piaget’s view seems to have been that it is accumulation of experience up to some critical level that enables them to make the leap to the stage of concrete operations (which includes classification, leading to verbal abstracting of classes, which leads to class inclusion and then to seriation), aided by successive experiences of cognitive conflict resolved by assimilation and accommodation.

Juan Pascual-Leone founded the neoPiagetian movement and first used the term “neoPiagetian” (Pascual-Leone & Smith, 1969). He asserted, as a constructivist, that “human performances of all sorts are initially neither innate as such, nor simply learned from direct external experience, or simply copied from human models,” but instead are “dynamically/dialectically synthesized as an epigenesis by endogenous constructive processes” (Cardellini & Pascual-Leone, 2004, p. 201). One of his principal goals was to explain how children advance from one of Piaget’s stages of cognitive development to the next. He formulated the concept of constructive complexity, which quantified the interstage transition as an increase in “the number of essential aspects, relations, or constraints (schemes) that children have to consider simultaneously in order to produce the performance in question” (Cardellini & Pascual-Leone, 2004, p. 202). This led to the idea of mental power, reflecting individuals’ growing ability to meet the mental demands of tasks by applying an increasing number of cognitive processes to task performance and problem-solving.

Jean-Louis Paour regards conceptualization as a key to transition from the pre-operatory stage to the stage of concrete operations and ultimately to the stage of formal operations. According to Paour:

Conceptualization consists of forming an explicit, more or less complete (mental) representation of the elements and functioning of a relational system (object, word, class of objects, actions, physical, social, or psychological phenomenon, text, formal system … ) described in a way that is manipulable, communicable, and generalizable (whether pictured, verbal, symbolic, or graphic … ) and to use that representation to identify, understand and explain, predict, discover, correct, help (to solve), transpose, transform, invent … the different states of a relational system.

(Paour, 2012, p. 5)

He asserted further that this definition of conceptualization is valid whatever the relational system considered, from the simplest to the most complex.

What changes with age and then with expertise, is the support (provided by) … the relations to be abstracted and the cognitive tools mobilized in order to do it. For young children, conceptualization essentially bears on the know-how-to-do and know-how-to-say that mobilizes, without understanding them fully.

(Paour, 2012, p. 5)

He emphasized the importance of children’s understanding of the procedures they employ; that is, in addition to being able to perform certain mental operations, understanding how they have performed those operations, and whenever possible being able to specify what they have done, helps move children from one stage of cognitive development to the next stage.

The Social-Cultural (or Social-Historical) View

The social-cultural (or social-historical) view, associated most directly with Vygotsky (e.g., 1978), holds that rather than developing through independent construction of tools for thinking and problem-solving, as Piaget held, children’s cognitive development comes about through mediation. Mediation is the process by which adults provide children with psychological tools such as language, thinking strategies, mnemonics, and rules. Children acquire and master these tools in the course of their use under the adults’ supervision. As a result, the tools become internalized, children become able to use them without adult help, and the tools then come to mediate the children’s mental processes independently, without further need of mediation from adults. Mental processes mediated by psychological tools are referred to as higher mental processes, to distinguish them from inborn simpler mental processes. Thus, the necessary elements of cognitive development are already present in the culture in which children grow up, and adequate cognitive development depends on the transmission of cognitively important aspects of the culture to the children, especially in learning situations.

Theorists and researchers in the Vygotskian tradition have modified, clarified, and extended Vygotsky’s concepts and educational methods (see, e.g., Galperin 1985; Galperin & Talyzina, 1961; Galperin, Zaporozhets, & Elkonin, 1963; Karpov, 2005, 2014). One such approach, theoretical learning (Karpov, 2014), although not specifically addressed to preschool and kindergarten children, could be adapted to enrich cognitive education for that developmental level (e.g., Pantina, 1957).

Structural Cognitive Modifiability and Mediated Learning

Reflecting elements of both Piagetian and Vygotskian theories, Reuven Feuerstein proposed a very important role for mediation, by parents and other more cognitively advanced persons, including teachers, of fundamental thinking modes, presenting the concept of mediated learning experience (Feuerstein & Feuerstein, 1991; Feuerstein & Rand, 1974) as a sine qua non of adequate cognitive development. He regarded delayed or deficient cognitive development and failure to learn effectively as consequences of insufficient mediated learning experiences, and he developed classroom materials and teaching methods to address these issues in both preventive and remedial modes (Feuerstein, Rand, Hoffman, & Miller, 1980; Feuerstein, Feuerstein, Falik, & Rand, 2006). This view of the vital role of intergenerational cultural transfer is reflected in Feuerstein’s (1990; Feuerstein, Klein, & Tannenbaum, 1999) concepts of structural cognitive modifiability and mediated learning, in which cultural transmission is promoted, and its cognitive aspects applied, by a process of mediation, that is, generalizable interpretation of basic principles of logical thinking, from parents and other teachers to children.

When mediation of culture-based thinking modes is inadequate for children’s cognitive development and learning effectiveness for a variety of reasons, such as transculturality, language difference, developmental or psychiatric disabilities, sensory disabilities, poverty, social isolation or discrimination, neurological impairment, cognitive development can be promoted at school. The role of cognitive early education is to help children acquire, elaborate, and apply essential modes of logical thinking and to use those processes to enhance their learning in academic and social domains. The idea that cognitive development can and should be accelerated in preschool education is in contrast to the “readiness” approach, which holds that teaching basic cognitive processes, as well as basic academic subjects such as reading and writing, should await development of certain critical neural structures, making one neurologically ready for developmentally appropriate processes to occur naturally (see, e.g., the statement of principles of the National Association for the Education of Young Children; 2002; National Association for the Education of Young Children & National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education, 1991). Developmentally appropriate methods and goals in early education are followed by a very large number of early education programs and have strong influence, especially in North America. For authoritative presentation from this perspective, see especially Bredekamp (2014) and Copple, Bredekamp, Kralek, and Charner (2013). These programs are applied in classrooms, clinics, and homes with individual children and with groups, with typically developing children as well as those who have special needs.

Key Concepts

Metacognition and Executive Functions

Two closely related concepts, metacognition and executive functions, are central to most programs of cognitive early education: Metacognition means literally “thinking about thinking,” but beyond that gross definition the term refers to becoming aware of one’s intellectual resources, selecting and applying cognitive strategies from one’s store of such resources in learning and problem-solving situations, and thinking critically about the outcomes of one’s use of cognitive strategies, that is, evaluating one’s applications of thinking, learning, behaving, and problem-solving strategies. Executive function, a subset of metacognition, refers to a specific group of metacognitive operations by which one manages one’s cognitive-intellective resources in order to think and behave effectively, especially in learning and problem-solving situations. Borkowski, Chan, and Muthukrishna (2000) identified the principal executive function tools as analysis, strategy selection and revision, and monitoring. Borkowski, Nicholson, and Turner (2004) made this analysis of the very practical importance of executive function:

Instead of relying on rote memory to solve a complex problem, a child with EF makes a wise selection of an appropriate strategy for the task at hand and then monitors that strategy during its implementation. For instance, memorizing a math equation in rote fashion helps a child solve only a limited number of problems; however, learning how to formulate the equation provides the skills necessary for adapting the formula to different problem-solving situations.

(2004, p. 189)

Emphasis on these related processes is important in any cognitive education program but is especially important in preschool and primary education because young children are just developing and learning to exercise their abilities to examine, shape, and apply their own thinking processes. To the extent that young children can develop their awareness and control of their intellective resources, often with mediational help from parents and other teachers, their learning of academic, social, and emotional content can become increasingly effective.

Many cognitive education curricula include lessons designed to improve children’s self-regulation, a primary element of executive function. That focus typically begins with motoric regulation of behavior, progresses to cognitive self-regulation of behavior (managing one’s own behavior by thinking about it and applying rules), and finally to self-regulation of one’s intellective resources, that is, cognitive processes. Cooper-Kahn and Dietzel (2008) suggested a short list of executive functions that are important in early education: Taking time to think before acting, being flexible in thought and behavior, recognizing and managing emotions, initiating, maintaining, and ending activity, holding information in mind, planning, organizing, and summarizing, and self-monitoring. This list overlaps significantly Feuerstein’s list of cognitive functions, as well as the cognitive processes and executive functions addressed by several cognitive early education programs.

Cognitive and metacognitive intervention, including classroom cognitive education, does not create intelligence where it was not before. All people function at less than their intellectual capacity. That is an optimistic statement, implying that in every person there is room for improvement. Children who are underperforming already have the ability to think, learn, and behave at a higher level but have not developed habits of exercising executive functions in support of cognitive efficiency and effectiveness. Promoting the children’s cognitive development is thus in large part a matter of helping them develop metacognitive habits, habits of thinking about how they can identify, manage, regulate, and apply the intellectual resources they already have, and exercising executive functioning (Haywood, 2006, 2010).

Motivation, Cognition, and Learning

Motivation plays a vital role in both cognitive development and learning effectiveness (Haywood, 1971; Haywood & Switzky, 1986; Hunt, 1965; Switzky & Haywood, 1974). Intrinsic motivation is an especially important quality for promoting enduring enthusiasm for learning (Hunt, 1965). Hunt (1963) proposed a cognitive theory of motivation in which repeated exposure to and cognitive processing of novel events may lead to increased tolerance of and preference for novelty, which may then form a basis for development of intrinsic motivation, that is, the tendency to engage in information processing for its own sake and as its own reward. Haywood and Burke (1977) proposed a motivational theory of cognition in which individual differences in intrinsic motivation play an important role in the efficiency and effectiveness of such cognitive processes as perception, information processing, and learning. These complementary conceptual systems provided much of the basis of a transactional perspective on human ability (Haywood, 2006, 2010; Haywood & Wachs, 1981). The transactional perspective rests on three concepts as the foundation of human ability: (a) intelligence, which is essentially biological, largely genetic in origin and relatively resistant to change; (b) cognitive processes, defined as modes of thinking, which are acquired through experience, thus modifiable also by experience; and (c) intrinsic motivation, defined as a trait reflecting the tendency to derive personal satisfaction from information processing and action, whose development depends substantially on experience. The various ways in which these three essential variables combine form a very broad range of individual differences in learning efficiency and effectiveness. Intelligence has a very important effect on learning aptitude, but it also leaves a significant portion of the variance in learning effectiveness associated with other variables. Using IQ as an indicator of intelligence, many researchers have examined the correlation of IQ with scores on subsequent tests of school achievement. Such studies typically yield a correlation coefficient around +.70, meaning that 50% of the variance in school achievement scores is associated with variables other than intelligence. Given that intelligence (at least as reflected by IQ) is difficult to change, at least in a positive direction, it is reasonable to focus attempts to enhance learning effectiveness on the two remaining bases of ability, cognitive processes and intrinsic motivation, because there is strong evidence that both are modifiable. Thus, successful programs of cognitive early education are typically focused on promoting fundamental modes of logical thinking, habits of applying those processes in everyday life, and encouraging the development of personality traits that emphasize learning for its own sake and as its own reward, that is, intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation has been shown to be associated with higher levels of academic achievement, greater enthusiasm for learning, better retention of learned material, more efficient and effective learning in laboratory learning tasks, and preference for performing tasks without extrinsic incentives or rewards (Haywood, 1992, 2006; Haywood & Switzky, 1986).

Although many cognitive early education programs emphasize and encourage seeking new experience (learning) for its own sake and as its own reward, other early education programs still rely on behaviorist (contingent reinforcement, applied behavior analysis, behavior modification) systems that emphasize task-extrinsic incentives and rewards. The two approaches appear to be incompatible, although both types of programs appear to lead to the effects that are specifically sought by their respective approaches (see, e.g., Dale & Cole, 1988). In evaluating potential applications of cognitive early education, it is important to examine each program’s approach to motivating children to find satisfaction in learning and to be certain that the program’s motivational approach is consistent with its methods for advancing cognitive development and learning effectiveness.

Six Programs of Cognitive Early Education

Although the majority of cognitive education programs have been addressed to older children, adolescents, and adults, there are several widely used programs and cognitive curricula focused on young children, and a few designed specifically for children of preschool age (3–6 years). The following is a sample of some such cognitive early education programs that draw upon the basic principles.

Tools of the Mind

The Tools of the Mind program of Bodrova and Leong (1996, 2007) is based on Vygotsky’s social-historical concepts of cognitive development and neoVygotskian models of educational intervention. It is designed to enhance children’s executive functioning, including self-regulation, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. It is both a pedagogical method and a set of classroom guides, with systematic application of special teaching methods. Its focus on executive functions takes place in the context of academic and preacademic learning, setting the stage for the classroom learning of the early grades. At the pre-kindergarten level, Tools of the Mind is centered on play themes in learning centers devoted to joint teacher-children development of fantasy activities that reflect reality. In the course of the make-believe activities, academic learning occurs, with introduction and development of reading, math, and science along with self-regulation and executive functions. Tools of the Mind classrooms are often inclusive, as are many cognitive early education programs, with typically developing children and children with special needs participating together in the same activities, each child performing roles appropriate to their current developmental reach. Literacy learning rests to some extent on a write-to-read approach, with children writing every day using the Tools methods, which incorporates scaffolded writing and individualized teacher-guided work aimed at the children’s individual development. For example, each day the children decode mystery messages that appear in the class’s mailbox, and these become materials for reading instruction and for stimulating the development of a need-to-know motive for gathering and analyzing information and solving problems. The early program-evaluation studies included in the What Works Clearinghouse (2008) report were disappointing, effects being “small for oral language, print knowledge, cognition, and math” (What Works Clearinghouse, 2008, p. 3). In a more recent study, Blair and Raver (2014) found positive differential effects on stress reduction; working memory and processing speed; faster application of executive functions; math, reading, and nonverbal reasoning; and vocabulary. They noted especially large effect sizes in schools in high poverty areas: 0.08–0.14 in the total sample (all schools together) versus 0.28–0.82 in high-poverty schools. Mackay (2013) studied effects of the Tools program on reading and math achievement, differentially by socioeconomic status. Effects were small. Tools of the Mind is solidly based on Vygotskian and neoVygotskian theory, contains a clearly communicable teaching style, and is seen as attractive by a large number of preschool educators. Across evaluation studies it has been shown to achieve mainly advances in behavior regulation and language use, among its primary goals, with more limited differential effects on reading and math achievement.

Bright Start: Cognitive Curriculum for Young Children

The Bright Start program (Haywood, 2003; Brooks & Haywood, 2003; Haywood, Brooks, & Burns, 1986, 1992; Chatelanat & Haywood, 1995) was developed specifically for use in classroom-based programs of early education with children who are at risk of failure or sub-average performance in school. Based conceptually on Piaget’s (1952) stages of cognitive development, Vygotsky’s (1978) social-historical theory of cognitive development, Feuerstein’s (1990; Feuerstein & Feuerstein, 1991) concepts of structural cognitive modifiability and mediated learning, and Haywood’s (2010; Haywood & Wachs, 1981) transactional perspective on human ability, Bright Start is focused on accession to and growth in the stage of concrete operations, that is, symbolic, representational thinking. The program includes an integrated theoretical base, a mediational teaching style, eight curriculum units comprising 190 lessons, a cognitive-mediational system for behavior management, and a system for parent participation. The curriculum units are self-regulation, number concepts, comparison, role taking, classification, sequence and pattern, letter-shape concepts, and transformation. Within each lesson there is a cognitive function of the day that is the focus of the lesson that is also emphasized in all other activities during the school day, including academic content lessons, play periods, and lunchtime, in order to promote transfer and generalization of the cognitive function. There are 93 cognitive functions that are emphasized in Bright Start lessons, with much repetition of these through the school year.

Bright Start has been applied with typically developing children and with children who are socioeconomically underprivileged, migrant and language-different, and children with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, psychiatric and behavior disorders, attention deficit disorders, learning disabilities, speech and language disorders, and sensory impairment. Program-evaluation research has shown positive effects (compared with children who received equal time and attention in standard preschool and kindergarten curricula) in cognitive development (e.g., Cèbe, 2000; Gil, 1995; Tzuriel, Kaniel, Zeliger, Friedman, & Haywood, 1998; Tzuriel, Kaniel, Kanner, & Haywood, 1999; Vanden Wijngaert, 1991; Warnez, 1991), intelligence test scores (Haywood, Brooks, & Burns, 1986; Molina & Vived, 2004; Samuels, Fagan, MacKenzie, & Killip 1988), language skills (e.g., Tzuriel, Isman, Klung, & Haywood, 2017), intrinsic motivation (Cèbe, 2000; Paour, Cèbe, Lagarrigue, & Luiu, 1992), and classroom behavior (Haywood et al., 1986; Nevalainen, 2002). One year of Bright Start at preschool helps overcome the subsequent learning deficits associated with first-generation immigrant status and poverty, substantially diminishing school achievement differences between poor immigrant children and their more privileged native-born age peers, when tested in grades 1, 2, and 3 (Cèbe, 2000; Paour, Cèbe, & Haywood, 2000). For children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, one school year of Bright Start appears to reduce the likelihood of being placed in special classes (Price, 1992). One year of Bright Start is associated with superiority in reading, both in mechanics and comprehension (Cèbe, 2000; Cèbe & Paour, 2000; Paour et al, 2000), as well as mathematics problem-solving and transfer of training (Tzuriel, Haywood, & Mandel, 2005).

Instrumental Enrichment-Basic

The Instrumental Enrichment-Basic program, referred to as FIE-B (Ben-Hur & Feuerstein, 2011; Feuerstein, Feuerstein, & Falik, 2005) is essentially a downward extension of the more familiar Instrumental Enrichment program (Feuerstein, Rand, Hoffman, & Miller, 1980; Feuerstein, Feuerstein, Falik, & Rand, 2006). FIE-B “provides the student with mediation of the preliminary and preparatory cognitive functions and mastery of selected content which are prerequisite to the necessary higher levels of functioning” (Feuerstein et al., 2006, p. 323). Based on Feuerstein’s concepts of structural cognitive modifiability (Feuerstein, 1990) and mediated learning (Feuerstein & Feuerstein, 1991), FIE-B is designed to accelerate the development and application of fundamental thinking processes that might have been missed or delayed because of inadequate mediation or that might require supplemental mediation because of neurological, developmental, or environmental obstacles to typical cognitive development. It is thus both preventive and remedial.

FIE-B relies on a mediational teaching style (Feuerstein & Rand, 1974; Haywood, 1993), as do all of the Feuerstein programs and several others. In an important sense the content is process; that is, the classroom teaching is focused on cognitive functions. There are 10 “instruments” (curriculum units, lesson groups): from unit to group, organization of dots-basic, tri-channel attention learning, orientation in space-basic, identifying emotions, from empathy to action, compare and discover the absurd, thinking and learning to prevent violence, learning to question for reading comprehension, and how things are made.

Through these focused lessons, teachers help children to acquire, apply, and improve their mastery of “domain-general cognitive functioning in … systematic perception, self-regulation abilities, conceptual vocabulary, planning, decoding emotions and social relations” (Kozulin et al., 2010, p. 551). Although relatively new, FIE-B has been studied in several countries with groups of preschool and primary grades children who are typically developing or have intellectual and developmental disabilities or who belong to socioeconomically disadvantaged ethnic minorities (Járy, 2012; Kozulin et al., 2010; Salas et al., 2010). These studies have shown encouraging improvement in cognitive development, language use, general knowledge as assessed by school achievement tests, perceptual-motor skills, analogical thinking, and some subtests of standardized intelligence tests. The studies suggest that systematic application of the program for at least 48 hours over several months can “improve cognitive functioning of children with developmental disability” (Kozulin et al., 2010, p. 551), as well as enhance the learning effectiveness of socially disadvantaged and typically developing children.

Des Procédures aux Concepts (DPC)

Jean-Louis Paour and his students and colleagues have developed sharply focused neoPiagetian tools of learning, referred to collectively as Des Procédures aux Concepts (From Procedures to Concepts) that are centered on the transition from pre-operatory to concrete operatory developmental stages and preparation for advancement to formal operations. These materials are individually focused on specific operations and cognitive processes; that is, they are narrower in scope (more focused) than are the curriculum units in either Bright Start or FIE-Basic, the programs that have significant theoretical overlap with them. The various tools can be used separately or as parts of a sequential program of cognitive early education, according to the developmental status of the learners. Following is an illustrative list of some of these materials.

Catégo (Paour, Bailleux, Cébe, & Goigoux, 2018a). Placing objects and events into categories according to distinguishing features.

Catégo, Phono (Paour, Bailleux, Cébe, & Goigoux, 2018b). This instrument combines exercises in phonological competence with work on categorization.

Imagier, 300 cartes à découper (Paour, Bailleux, Cébe, & Goigoux, 2018c). The children cut out pictures and organize them to tell stories.

Phono (Cébe, Goigoux, & Paour, 2018). Developing phonological competence.

Ordo (Paour, Bailleux, Cébe, & Goigoux, 2011). Understanding the relational system of order (seriation, position, ordinality).

As is true of the other cognitive education programs, the tools of DCP are delivered by use of particular teaching methods that include mediation, emphasis on transfer and generalization to different contexts, and induction of logical rules, as well as a strong focus on progressing from ability to following action sequences to actual understanding of, and ability to specify, relational systems, properties, and concepts—the basis for generalization.


PREP (PASS Reading Enhancement Program; Das, 1999a) and COGENT (Cognition Enhancement), by J. P. Das (2009; Das & Misra, 2015), are closely related programs that bridge cognitive development to application of cognitive principles in school learning, concentrating especially on phonological awareness and literacy. Both systems are based on Das’s PASS (Planning, Attention, Simultaneous and Successive Processing) theory of intelligence (Das, 2010; Das, Naglieri, & Kirby, 1994; Naglieri, Das, & Goldstein, 2012), which is based in part on the neuropsychological concepts of A. R. Luria (Das, 1999b; Luria, 1966, 1973) and the social-historical concepts of L. S. Vygotsky (e.g., Vygotsky, 1978). Both PREP and COGENT are examples of the insistence of Das and other contemporary cognitivists that cognitive functioning can be modified through instruction, which is a basic tenet of all the programs described in this article. Both rest on the principle that children develop cognitive strategies unconsciously by inductive learning. Following this principle, children are presented with many examples of logic-demanding situations from which they progressively induce strategies and explanatory rules. This tactic appears to represent a departure from procedures employed by neoVygotskian educators, who are more likely to present ready-made models to the children, who learn to apply them in a variety of learning and problem-solving situations (see, e.g., Karpov, 2014).

COGENT, designed for children from 4 to 7 years of age with both typical development and special educational needs, is essentially remedial, compensating for poor literacy experience, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and language and learning disabilities, including limited exposure to the dominant language of their resident culture. The program is focused strongly on cognitive development, enhancing and supporting children’s motivation to learn, and learning in an appropriately structured environment. Executive functions are emphasized, especially self-regulation and metacognitive use of language as an efficient substitute for direct experience (i.e., using language, including private speech, as a symbolic representation of objects, events, experiences, and logical relations).

COGENT has been used in India with children between 7 and 9 years of age who lived in an orphanage and had limited command of English (Das, 2009). They received only three of the five curriculum modules of the program for three months but showed gains across the four cognitive processes of the PASS model, showing, as Das observed, that the program can be effective with disadvantaged children. Subsequent studies revealed significant gains in word reading and comprehension (Hayward, Das, & Jantzen, 2007) and in both simultaneous and successive processing (using COGEST, a Catalan version of COGENT; Mayoral, Timoneda, Pérez, & Das, 2015).

Of the programs presented here, PREP and COGENT, together with Tools of the Mind, are perhaps the ones in which cognitive process is most closely associated with the contents of academic learning, such as reading and mathematics.

Systematic Concept Teaching (SCT)

Systematic Concept Teaching (Hansen, 2009) is a cognitive education program for preschool, kindergarten, and school-age children. Inspired by the late Magne Nyborg (e.g., 1993), the program is the recent work of Andreas Hansen and Kelly Morgan (2019). Developed and tested in Norway, an English-language version of the curriculum (Hansen & Morgan, 2019) can be downloaded online. SCT is heavily dependent on language, because verbal conceptualization (explicitation; Bruderlein, 2004) is a major goal as well as a primary tool of cognitive education. SCT’s emphasis is on teaching concepts that are fundamental to academic learning in primary and elementary grades, such as color, shape, position, place, direction, surface pattern, number, and time. Beyond content, the teaching method focuses on comparing objects, ideas, and events according to the basic concepts, with strong emphasis on building metacognitive habits. Evaluation data have shown positive effects on cognitive development itself and on subsequent school achievement (Hansen, 2009).


Cognitive early education has the primary goal of preparing young children to be effective learners by promoting the development of systematic modes of logical thinking and habits of applying them in learning, problem-solving, and social interaction. Cognitive early education programs have been built upon theoretical concepts regarding how children acquire and apply logical thinking and how such acquisition and application can be supported in educational settings. Evaluative research has shown a variety of such programs to be effective, to varying degrees, in promoting cognitive development itself, as well as regulation of behavior, enthusiasm for academic learning, and scholastic performance in subsequent school years, especially in literacy, language, and numeracy. Many evaluative studies have revealed positive but relatively modest effects on subsequent school achievement, suggesting that the educational programs can be improved, especially with respect to teaching methods, promotion of generalization, and transfer of thinking concepts and modes of learning. The most effective programs emphasize a mediational style of teaching, metacognitive habits, focus on specific cognitive processes, and promotion of motivation to learn.

Research so far has been concentrated on evaluation of whole curricula or the major parts of programs. Although such studies are encouraging regarding the gross effects of cognitive early education, they do not yield understanding of precisely what components or practices are associated most closely with improvements in children’s subsequent performance. Future studies should include the ability to isolate the most effective variables and practices, and to respond to questions such as which programs work best with what groups of children, what teacher characteristics are associated with positive outcomes, how transfer and generalization can be most effectively promoted, and how the durability of effects can be enhanced.

Further Reading

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