The Play Years Early childhood is often characterized by endless make-believe and socio dramatic play which indicates the development of mental representation. Sociodramtic play differs from simple make-believe play in that it involves play with peers. This stage of play is often referred to as the Preoperational Stage. This is the stage immediately after Piaget's Sensorimotor Stage. The Preoperational Stage spans from two to about five or six years of age. At this stage, according to Piaget, children acquire skills in the area of mental imagery, and especially language.

They are very self-oriented, and have an egocentric view; that is, pre operational children can use these representational skills only to view the world from their own perspective (web Street/Dictionary / contents /P/piaget's stages. html). Throughout early childhood, children's pre operational cognitive development is observed. Egocentrism -- being unaware of any perspectives other then their own -- is often seen is children ranging from two to six or seven years.

Piaget's three mountain problem illustrates this phenomenon clearly; that is, children who looked at three mountain peaks, designated by different colors, could not pick a picture representing the three peaks from a doll's point of view. Instead, the pictures represented their own point of view. Conservation problems also are characteristic of early childhood. Conservation refers the changing of an object's outward appearance while its physical make-up stays the same.

For example: Joe and Judy both receive a box of raisins each. Joe eats his from the box while Judy spreads hers out onto the table. Joe seeing that Judy's raisins appear to take up more space, declares that 'Judy got more than I did.' ; Although the skill of reasoning makes improvements during childhood, often times, children link two unrelated events together in a cause-and-effect fashion. This reasoning is called reasoning and results from the lack of reversibility, or the ability to work backwards to the starting point.

Children, in their play, develop animistic thinking: assigning inanimate objects lifelike qualities. Cardinality is another important development from play. Children begin to associate the last number in a counting sequence with the quantity of items in front of them. Vygotsky's Sociocultural Theory stresses the social context of cognitive development during early childhood. Much of Vygotsky's theory is based around the development of language and the social impacts that result. During early childhood, 'young children frequently talk aloud to themselves as they go about their activities at play and at school'; (Berk 1986).

Piaget referred to this speech as egocentric speech, in reference to his belief that children cannot take any perspective except that of their own. On the other hand, Vygotsky objected this point of view and believed that private speech, as Vygotsky preferred to call it, was for self-guidance and self-direction. He also believe that it is also a foundation for higher cognitive processes (such as sustained attention, deliberate memory, planning, problem solving, and self-reflection). One possible source of private speech, is the development of the zone of proximal development.

As parents or care givers help children work through more difficult processes, they learn to work through more challenging processes themselves through private speech. Later on, this private speech becomes less audible, and then internalized (Berk 1986). During early childhood, it isn't hard to observe just how short children's attention spans are. The capacity for children to sustain attention does improve during early childhood; however, even some five and six-year-olds can't remain attentive for that long.

But during early childhood, attention becomes more playful; attention becomes more systematic and more attention is paid to detail. Improvements in memory also mark early childhood. Recognition memory, the ability to recognize familiar stimuli from unfamiliar stimuli is quite good, and in some cases, perfect. Recall, on the other hand, is not as proficient, and few children are able to generate an image of absent stimuli.

This deficiency is often attributed to the in-effective use of memory strategies. Children do show the development of memory strategies, but usage is usually limited earlier on. Dramatic steps in language acquisition are seen from ages two through six. The explosion of vocabulary is attributed to the connection of a new vocabulary word to new concept using a process called fast-mapping. Children only start to grasp the basics of grammar by constructing simple sentences. Over regularization occurs when acquired grammatical rules are used so consistently that they overuse the rules and miss the exceptions to the rules.

Many advances in cognitive development are seen throughout early childhood. Both Piaget and Vygotsky contribute theories which attempt to explain the background and development of these advances.