Chapter 9


Physical and Cognitive Development in Middle Childhood


Chapter Outline



I.        Physical Development

A.     The Growing Body

1.      Beginning at age 6 and continuing to age 12, these years are often referred to as the "school years."

2.      Compared with the swift growth during the first 5 years, physical growth during middle childhood is slow but steady.

a)      School-aged children grow, on average, 2 to 3 inches per year.

b)      This is the only time during the life span when girls are, on average, taller than boys.

c)      By age 11, the average girl is 4' 10".

d)      The average 11-year-old boy is 4' 9".

e)      During middle childhood, both boys and girls gain from 5 to 7 pounds a year.

f)       Variations of a half a foot in children the same age are not uncommon.

g)      Height and weight variations can be affected by poor nutrition and racial or ethnic background.

h)      Available only the last decade, prototropin and other artificial human growth hormones are being given to abnormally short children.

(1)   Some question whether shortness is serious enough to warrant drug intervention.

(2)   The drug is costly and may lead to premature puberty (which can restrict later growth).

(3)   These artificial hormones are effective, adding over a foot of height.

i)        Proper nutrition is linked to positive personality traits and cognitive performance.

j)        Obesity is defined as body weight that is more than 20 percent above the average for a person of a given height and weight.

(1)   10 percent of all children are obese.

(2)   This proportion has risen 54 percent since the 1960s.

(3)   Obesity can be caused by a combination of genetic and social characteristics.

(i)     Adopted children’s weight is more like their biological parents than their adoptive parents.

(b)   Children’s poor diets can also contribute.

(c)    School-age children tend to engage in little exercise and are not particularly fit.

(d)   The correlation between TV viewing and obesity is strong.


B.     Motor Development

1.      School-age children's gross and fine motor skills develop substantially over middle childhood.

a)      An important improvement in gross motor skills is muscle coordination.

b)      Fine motor skills advance because of increases in the amount of myelin, the protective insulation surrounding parts of nerve cells which speeds the electrical impulses between neurons.

C.     Health During Middle Childhood

1.      More than 90 percent of children in middle childhood have at least one serious medical condition, although most are short-term illnesses.

2.      ASTHMA, a chronic condition characterized by periodic attacks of wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath, has increased significantly in the last several decades.

a)      More than 15 million children in the U.S. suffer from this illness.

b)      Asthma occurs when the airways leading to the lungs constrict, partially blocking the passage of oxygen.

c)      Asthma attacks are triggered by a variety of factors.

(1)   respiratory infections

(2)   allergic reactions to airborne irritants

(3)   stress

(4)   exercise

(5)   a sudden change in air temperature or humidity

d)      Children can use an aerosol container with a special mouthpiece to spray drugs into the lungs.

e)      Some researchers believe the increase in asthma is due to pollution, dust, better insulated buildings, and poverty.

3.      Psychological Disorders

a)      Childhood depression is often overlooked by teachers and parents.

b)      It is characterized by the expression of exaggerated fears, clinginess, or avoidance of everyday activities.

c)      In older children it may produce sulking, school problems, and acts of delinquency.

d)      It can be treated with a variety of drugs.

e)      Between 2 and 5 percent of school-age children suffer from depression.

f)       8 to 9 percent of school-age children suffer from anxiety disorders, in which they experience intense, uncontrollable anxiety about situations that most people would not find bothersome.

D.     Children with Special Needs

1.      One student in a thousand requires special education services relating to VISUAL IMPAIRMENT, legally defined as difficulties in seeing that may include blindness  (less than or 20/200 after correction) or partial sightedness (20/70 after correction).

a)      Visual impairments can also include the inability to see up-close and disabilities in color, depth, and light perception.

2.      AUDITORY IMPAIRMENT, a special need that involves the loss of hearing or some aspect of hearing, affects one to two percent of school-age children and can vary across a number of dimensions.

a)      The loss may be limited to certain frequencies.

b)      Loss in infancy is more severe than after age 3.

(1)   Children who have little or no exposure to the sound of language are unable to understand or produce oral language themselves.

(2)   Abstract thinking may be affected.

3.      Auditory impairments are sometimes accompanied by SPEECH IMPAIRMENTS, speech that is impaired when it deviates so much from the speech of others that it calls attention to itself, interferes with communication, or produces maladjustments in the speaker.

a)      3 to 5 percent of school-age children have speech impairments.

b)      STUTTERING, a substantial disruption in the rhythm and fluency of speech is the most common speech impairment.

4.      Some 2.6 million school-age children in the U.S. are officially labeled as having LEARNING DISABILITIES, difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities.

a)      Some suffer from dyslexia, a reading disability that can result in the reversal of letters during reading and writing, confusion between left and right, and difficulties in spelling.

b)      ATTENTION-DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER (ADHD) is a learning disability marked by inattention, impulsiveness, a low tolerance for frustration, and generally a great deal of inappropriate activity.

(1)   3 to 5 percent of school-age children are estimated to have ADHD.

(2)   Ritalin or Dexadrine are stimulants used to reduce hyperactivity levels in children with ADHD.

(a)    These drugs help in increasing attention span and compliance, however, the side effects are considerable.

(b)   Some studies suggest that after a few years children treated with drugs do not perform academically any better than those untreated.

(c)    Drugs are prescribed more frequently in the U.S. than in any other country, suggesting that they may be overprescribed.

(3)   Common signs of ADHD include:

(a)    Persistent difficulty finishing tasks, following instructions, and organizing work;

(b)   Inability to watch an entire television program;

(c)    Frequent interruption of others;

(d)   And a tendency to jump into a task before hearing all the instructions.

II.                 Intellectual Development

A.     Piagetian Approaches to Cognitive Development

1.      The school-age child enters the CONCRETE OPERATIONAL STAGE, the period of cognitive development between seven and twelve years of age, which is characterized by the active, and appropriate use of logic.

a)      Concrete operational thought involves applying logical operations to concrete problems.

b)      Children at this stage can solve conservation problems.

c)      Because they are less egocentric, they can take multiple aspects of a situation into account, a process known as DECENTERING.

d)      They attain the concept of reversibility, realizing that a stimulus can be reversed, returning to its original form.

e)      They can understand such concepts as relationships between time and speed.

f)       However they are tied to concrete, physical reality and cannot understand abstract or hypothetical reasoning.

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

3.      Research suggests that Piaget was more right than wrong although children in some cultures may differ from Westerners in demonstrating certain cognitive skills.

B.     Information Processing in Middle Childhood

1.      Children become increasingly able to handle information because their memories improve.

2.      MEMORY is the process by which information is initially encoded, stored, and retrieved.

a)      Encoding is the process by which information is initially recorded in a form usable to memory.

b)      The information must be stored, or placed and maintained in the memory system.

c)      Information must be retrieved, located and brought into awareness.

3.      During middle childhood, short-term memory capacity improves significantly.

a)      This may explain why children have trouble solving conservation problems during the preschool period.

4.      META-MEMORY, an understanding about the processes that underlie memory, emerges and improves during middle childhood.

a)      Children use control strategies, conscious, intentionally used tactics to improve cognitive functioning.

b)      Children can be trained to use control strategies.

C.     Vygotskys Approach to Cognitive Development and Classroom Instruction

1.      Vygotskys approach has been particularly influential in the development of several classroom practices.

a)      Classrooms are seen as places where children should have the opportunity to try out new activities.

b)      Specifically, Vygotsky suggests that children should focus on activities that involve interaction with others.

(1)   Cooperative learning incorporates several aspects of Vygotskys theory.

(2)   Reciprocal teaching, a technique where students are taught to skim the content of a passage, raise questions about its central point, summarize the passage, and finally, predict what will happen next, helps lead students through the zone of proximal development.

D.     Language Development:  What Words Mean

1.      Vocabulary continues to increase during the school years.

2.      School-age children's mastery of grammar improves.

3.      Children's understanding of syntax, the rules that indicate how words and phrases can be combined to form sentences, grows during childhood.

4.      Certain phonemes, units of sound, remain troublesome (j, v, h, zh).

5.      School-age children may have difficulty decoding sentences when the meaning depends on intonation, or tone of voice.

6.      Children become more competent in their use of pragmatics, the rules governing the use of language to communicate in a social context.

7.      One of the most significant developments in middle childhood is the increase in METALINGUISTIC AWARENESS, an understanding of one's own use of language.

8.      Language helps children control their behavior.

E.      BILINGUALISM is the use of more than one language.

1.      English is a second language for more than 32 million Americans.

2.      Educators are challenged by children speaking little or no English.

a)      One approach is bilingual education, in which children are initially taught in their native language, while at the same time learning English.

3.      An alternative approach is to immerse students in English.

4.      Being bilingual may have cognitive advantages.

a)      greater cognitive flexibility

b)      higher self-esteem

c)      greater metalinguistic awareness

d)      may improve scores on IQ tests

F.      Developmental Diversity:  The Benefits of Bilingualism:  Children Do Swimmingly in Language-Immersion Programs

1.      Children in language-immersion programs – where the school teaches all of its subjects in a foreign language – make rapid advances in the foreign language.

a)      Raises self-esteem

b)      Teaches cultural sensitivity

c)      Still do well in English grammar, reading comprehension, and tests of English vocabulary.

2.      However, not all language-immersion programs are successful.

a)      Children whose native language is not English who are immersed in English-only programs may perform worse in both English and their native language.

G.     The Ebonics Controversy:  Is Black English a Separate Language from Standard English?

1.      The word evolved from ebony and phonics.

2.      Proponents claim Ebonics is a distinct language with roots in Africa but not all linguists agree.

3.      Issues revolving around Ebonics, or Black English, or African American Vernacular English, raises important issues that are social as well as linguistic.

III.               Schooling:  The Three Rs (and More) of Middle Childhood

A.     Schooling Around the World:  Who Gets Educated?

1.      In the U.S. and most developed countries, a primary school education is both a universal right and a legal requirement.

2.      Children in other parts of the world are not so fortunate.

a)      More than 160 million children do not have access to even a primary school education.

b)      In developing countries, females receive less formal education than males.

B.     What Makes Children Ready for School?

1.      Recent research suggests that delaying children’s entry into school does not necessarily provide an advantage and in some cases may actually be harmful.

2.      The start of formal schooling is more reasonably tied to developmental readiness.

C.     Reading:  Learning to Decode the Meaning Behind Words

1.      Development of reading skill generally occurs in several broad, frequently overlapping stages.

a)      Stage 0, from birth to the start of first grade, where children learn the essential prerequisites for reading, including identification of the letters in the alphabet, writing their names, and reading a few words.

b)      Stage 1 (first and second grade) is the first real reading, but it is largely phonological decoding skill where children can sound out words by sounding out and blending letters.

c)      Stage 2, typically around second and third grades, children learn to read aloud with fluency.

d)      Stage 3 extends from fourth to eighth grades where reading becomes a means to an end and an enjoyable way to learn.

e)      Stage 4 is where the child understands reading in terms of reflecting multiple points of view.

2.      There is an ongoing debate among educators regarding the most effective way to teach reading.

a)      Code-based approaches to reading emphasize phonics and how letters and sounds are combined to make words.

b)      Whole-language approaches to reading are based on the notion that children should learn to read as they learn to talk, by exposure to complete writing and being immersed in literature.

3.      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.

D.     Educational Trends:  Beyond the Three Rs

1.      Schools in the U.S. are experiencing a return to educational fundamentals – the three Rs – reading, writing, and arithmetic.

2.      Elementary schools today also stress accountability.

a)      Students are likely to take tests, developed at the state or national level, to assess their competence.

b)      Many students are also being given large quantities of homework.

E.      Developmental Diversity:  Multicultural Education

1.      Culture is a set of behaviors, beliefs, values, and expectations shared by members of a particular society.

2.      Subcultural groups are particular racial, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic or gender groups within a given culture.

3.      In recent years the goal has been to establish MULTICULTURAL EDUCATION to help minority students develop competence in the culture of the majority group while maintaining positive group identities that build on their original culture.

4.      Multicultural education is based on several models.

a)      The CULTURAL ASSIMILATION MODEL fosters the view of the American society as the proverbial melting pot.

b)      More recent trends are based on the PLURALISTIC SOCIETY MODEL, which is the concept that American society is made up of diverse, coequal cultural groups that should preserve their individual cultural features.

c)      Today, most educators recommend that children develop a BICULTURAL IDENTITY, by maintaining their original cultural identity while integrating into the dominant culture.

F.      Intelligence:  Determining Individual Strengths

1.      INTELLIGENCE is the capacity to understand the world, think rationally, and use resources effectively when faced with challenges.

2.      Understanding what is meant by intelligence has proven to be a major challenge – how do you separate the intelligent from intelligent behavior?

a)      Alfred Binet's pioneering efforts in intelligence testing left three important legacies.

(1)   He defined intelligence pragmatically as that which his test measured.

(2)   Intelligence tests should be reasonable indicators of school success.

(3)   He invented the concept of IQ, INTELLIGENCE QUOTIENT, a measure of intelligence that takes into account a student's mental and chronological age (MA) CA X 100 = IQ).

(a)    MENTAL AGE is the typical intelligence level found for people at a given chronological age.

(b)   CHRONOLOGICAL (OR PHYSICAL) AGE is the actual age of the child taking the intelligence test.

(c)    Scores today are deviation IQ scores, so that the degree of deviation from the average (100) permits a calculation of the proportion of people who have similar scores.

(i)     2/3 of all people fall within 15 points of the average.

(ii)   As scores rise and fall beyond this range, the percentage of people falls significantly.

b)      Intelligence tests have become increasingly sophisticated.

(1)   On of the most widely used tests today is the STANFORD-BINET INTELLIGENCE SCALE, a test that consists of a series of items that vary according to the age of the person being tested.

(2)   The WECHSLER INTELLIGENCE SCALE FOR CHILDREN-REVISED (WISC-III) is a test for children that provides verbal and performance (or nonverbal) skills as well as a total score.

(3)   The WECHSLER ADULT INTELLIGENCE SCALE-REVISED (WAIS-III) is a test for adults that provides separate measures of verbal and performance (or nonverbal) skills as well as a total score.

c)      Intelligence tests are based on the notion that intelligence is composed of a single, unitary mental ability – “g”.

d)      Many theorists dispute the notion that intelligence is unidimensional.

(1)   Some psychologists suggest there are two kinds of intelligence.

(a)    FLUID INTELLIGENCE is the ability to deal with new problems and situations.

(b)   CRYSTALLIZED INTELLIGENCE is the store of information, skills, and strategies that people have acquired through education and prior experiences, and through their previous use of fluid intelligence.

(2)   Howard Gardner suggests there are eight distinct intelligences.

(a)   Musical intelligence

(b)   Bodily kinesthetic intelligence

(c)    Logical mathematical intelligence

(d)   Linguistic intelligence

(e)    Spatial intelligence

(f)     Interpersonal intelligence

(g)   Intrapersonal intelligence

(h)   Naturalist intelligence

(3)   Vygotsky suggests that to assess intelligence, we should look not only at those cognitive processes that are fully developed, but at those that are currently being developed as well.

(4)   Robert Sternberg developed the TRIARCHIC THEORY OF INTELLIGENCE, which states that intelligence consists of three aspects of information processing: componential, experiential, and contextual.

(a)    The componential element reflects how people process and analyze information.

(i)     infer relationships between parts

(ii)   solve problems

(iii) evaluate solutions

(iv) score highest on traditional IQ tests

(b)   The experiential element is the insightful component.

(i)     compare new information to what is already known

(ii)   can combine and relate facts in novel and creative ways

(c)    The contextual deals with practical intelligence - the demands of everyday environment.

3.      The question of how to interpret differences between intelligence scores of different cultural groups is a major controversy.

4.      If intelligence is primarily determined by heredity and largely fixed at birth, attempts to alter intelligence will not be successful.

5.      If intelligence is largely environmentally determined, modifying social conditions is a promising strategy for increasing intelligence.

a)      Herrnstein and Murray, in the book The Bell Curve, argue that IQ is primarily inherited.

b)      Most developmentalists disagree with The Bell Curve, believing that cultural and social minority groups may score lower due to the nature of the tests themselves.

G.     Below and Above Intelligence Norms:  Mental Retardation and the Intellectually Gifted

1.      In 1975, Public Law 94-142, called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, was enacted.

a)      It ensured that children with special needs be put in the LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT, the setting that is most similar to that of children without special needs.

b)      This act came to be called MAINSTREAMING, an educational approach in which exceptional children are integrated to the extent possible in the traditional educational system and are provided with a broad range of educational alternatives.

(1)   Research failed to discern any advantages for special needs children placed in separate, rather than regular classrooms.

(2)   The labeling of students relegated to special classrooms often produced negative expectations and self-concepts.

(3)   Special needs children must learn to function in a normal environment.

(4)   Research shows that special-needs children and normal children benefit from mainstream classrooms.

(5)   The benefits of mainstreaming have led some professionals to promote an alternative educational model know as full inclusion, the integrations of all students, even those with the most severe disabilities, into regular classrooms.

2.      MENTAL RETARDATION, defined as a significantly subaverage level of intellectual functioning that occurs with related limitations in two or more skill areas, is found in approximately 1 to 3 percent of the school-age population.

a)      About 1 to 3 percent of the school-age population is mentally retarded.

b)      Mentally retardation is typically measured by IQ tests.

(1)   90 percent are classified as MILD RETARDATION, where IQ is in the range of 50 or 55 to 70.

(a)    can reach 3rd to 6th grade level in school

(b)   can hold jobs and function independently

(2)   5 to 10 percent are classified as MODERATE RETARDATION, where IQ is from 35 or 40 to 50 or 55.

(a)    slow to develop language and motor skills

(b)   generally cannot progress beyond 2nd grade

(c)    capable of training and social skills but typically need supervision

(3)   Those with SEVERE RETARDATION, IQs ranging from 20 or 25 to 35 or 40, and PROFOUND RETARDATION, where IQ is below 20 or 25 are the most limited.

(a)    no speech

(b)   poor motor control

(c)    need 24-hour care

3.      3 to 5 percent of school-age children are GIFTED AND TALENTED, who show evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership capacity, or specific academic fields.

a)      Contrary to stereotypes, research shows that highly intelligent people also tend to be outgoing, well adjusted, and popular.

b)      Two approaches to educating the gifted and talented exist.

(1)   ACCELERATION, where special programs allow gifted students to move ahead at their own pace, even if this means skipping to higher grade levels.

(2)   ENRICHMENT is an approach through which students are kept at grade level but are enrolled in special programs and given individual activities to allow greater depth of study in a given topic.



Key Terms and Concepts




Visual impairment

Auditory impairment

Speech impairment


Learning disabilities

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder


Concrete operational stage




Metalinguistic awareness


Multicultural education

Cultural assimilation model

Pluralistic society model

Bicultural identity


Mental age

Chronological (or physical) age

Intelligence quotient (or IQ score)

Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale

Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-

  Revised (WISC-III)

Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-

  Revised (WAIS-III)

Kaufman Assessment Battery for

  Children (K-ABC)

Fluid intelligence

Crystallized intelligence

Triarchic theory of intelligence

Least restrictive environment


Mental retardation

Mild retardation

Moderate retardation

Severe retardation

Profound retardation

Gifted and talented