Inside the Child’s Mind – Metacognition in Children

Have you ever wondered what goes on inside child’s mind when learning? Why they struggle with certain tasks while excelling at others? Or how can we support their growth and development in the best way possible? If we want to understand children and help them reach their full potential, is necessarily to bring metacognition in discussion. Metacognition is the ability to think about thinking. It’s the process of becoming aware of one’s own thinking and learning strategies, and using that awareness to make adjustments and improvements. In other words, it’s the ability to reflect on how we learn and what we know, and to use that knowledge to learn more effectively. Metacognition is not just an abstract concept – it has a real impact on children’s lives. Children who have strong metacognitive skills are better able to plan, monitor, and evaluate their own learning. They are able to set goals and work towards them, and to adjust their approach when they encounter difficulties. They are also more likely to be motivated and engaged learners.

But metacognition is not a static skill – it develops and changes over time as children grow and mature and gets shaped by culture and life overall. Let’s first explore for the beginning (I) the way in which the environment and culture (what the literature would approximately call „the proximal development area”) influence the approach to metacognition and then, in a secondary but practical way, (II) the stages of metacognitive development in children.

I. Cultural Influences on Metacognition

The concept of the proximal development area, or Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, refers to the difference between a learner’s current level of knowledge and their potential level of understanding with the guidance of a more knowledgeable other. This concept is central to Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development, which emphasizes the importance of social interactions and cultural context in shaping a person’s learning and development. The individ’s culture so, plays a crucial role in shaping an individual’s learning experiences and outcomes, as it provides the social and linguistic tools necessary for knowledge acquisition.

The proximal development area and culture are intimately connected, as culture provides the context within which the zone of proximal development is situated. A person’s cultural background shapes their experiences and opportunities for learning, and influences the ways in which they engage with the world around them. For example, cultural practices and norms may influence the types of activities that a learner engages in, as well as the degree of scaffolding or guidance that is provided by others.Moreover, the culture in which a learner is situated may also influence the types of knowledge and skills that are valued and emphasized within that society. This can have significant implications for educational practices, as it may affect the types of curriculum, teaching methods, and assessments that are used to evaluate learners’ knowledge and progress. In summary,

the proximal development area and culture are deeply intertwined, as culture provides the context and resources necessary for effective learning and development

Understanding the classroom culture and the more general cultural influences on learning and development is therefore essential for educators and researchers seeking to promote optimal outcomes for all learners.

Culture can of course influence the development of metacognitive skills and the relationship between culture and metacognition is a complex and fascinating topic. Culture refers to the shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts that characterize a group or society. Metacognition, on the other hand, refers to our ability to think about our own thinking, which includes our awareness of our own thoughts, knowledge, and cognitive processes.

For example, in some cultures, children may be encouraged to rely more on intuition and emotion in decision-making, whereas in others, they may be taught to think more analytically and systematically. It’s important to take these cultural differences into account when studying metacognition. One way in which culture can influence metacognition is through the way in which people are taught to think about thinking. Different cultures may place different emphasis on metacognitive processes, such as reflection, self-evaluation, and self-regulation. For example, some cultures may value a more introspective approach to thinking, encouraging individuals to engage in reflection and self-evaluation, while other cultures may emphasize a more outward focus, such as attending to the needs of the community or the group. Another way in which culture can influence metacognition is through the way in which people are taught to learn. Different cultures may have different ways of approaching and organizing knowledge, such as through storytelling, memorization, or critical analysis. These different approaches can influence how individuals develop their metacognitive skills, such as their ability to monitor their own learning progress and adjust their strategies accordingly.

Moreover, the cultural values and expectations of parents, educators, and peers can shape the development of children’s metacognitive abilities. For instance, parents in certain cultures may place more emphasis on the importance of self-reflection and self-improvement, which can lead to a greater emphasis on developing metacognitive skills in their children.

Finally, cultural differences in communication styles and language can also impact metacognition. Some languages may have more words and concepts related to metacognition, making it easier for individuals to think and talk about their own thinking. Additionally, cultural differences in communication styles may influence how individuals approach self-reflection and introspection.

All together, the relationship between the child’s culture, the overall teaching culture, and its metacognition is complex and multifaceted.

By better understanding how culture influences the development of metacognitive abilities, parents and educators can help support the growth of these important skills in children from diverse backgrounds.

II. Stages of metacognitive development in children – The Emergence of Metacognition

The seeds of metacognition are present even in very young children. As infants and toddlers begin to explore their environment and interact with others, they start to develop a sense of agency and control over their actions. Welcome – this is the beginning of metacognition – the ability to think about and regulate one’s own thoughts and actions!

1. Emergent Metacognition (0-2 years old): During this stage, infants and toddlers begin to understand that their own actions can have an impact on the world around them. They might learn that by shaking a rattle, they can make noise, or by throwing a ball, they can make it bounce. They are just starting to understand cause and effect. Adults can support this stage by providing opportunities for exploration and play, and by encouraging children to ask questions and make connections between their actions and the world around them. For example, parents can ask questions like „What do you think will happen if you push this button?” or „What can you do to make the toy move?”

2. Basic Metacognition (3-5 years old): During this stage, children become more aware of their own thoughts and feelings. They might recognize when they are feeling happy or sad, or they might start to ask questions like „Why?” and „How?” as they try to understand the world around them. Adults can support this stage by encouraging children to talk about their thoughts and feelings, and by helping them to identify and label their emotions. For example, parents can ask questions like „How do you feel about going to school today?” or „What made you happy today?”

3. Transitional Metacognition (6-10 years old): During this stage, children begin to develop more complex metacognitive strategies. They might start to plan ahead for a task, monitor their own progress as they work on it, and evaluate their own performance when they are done. Adults can support this stage by helping children to set goals and make plans, by encouraging them to reflect on their own learning and problem-solving strategies, and by providing feedback that helps them to improve. For example, parents can ask questions like „What’s your plan for finishing your homework tonight?” or „How do you think you can improve your performance on this test?”

4. Proficient Metacognition (11+ years old): During this stage, children become more adept at using metacognitive strategies to control their own thinking and learning. They might use strategies like summarizing, outlining, or mind-mapping to help them organize and remember information, or they might use self-questioning techniques to monitor and evaluate their own understanding. Adults can support this stage by encouraging children to take ownership of their own learning, by helping them to develop a growth mindset, and by providing opportunities for them to apply their metacognitive skills in real-world situations. For example, parents can ask questions like „What can you do to improve your performance in this class?” or „How can you use what you’ve learned in school to solve a real-world problem?”

As children enter middle childhood, their metacognitive abilities become more sophisticated. They begin to understand the different types of cognitive processes involved in learning and problem-solving, and they start to develop a more strategic approach to their own thinking. During this stage, children may use a variety of metacognitive strategies to support their learning, such as note-taking, summarizing, and self-testing. They also become more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and they may seek out opportunities to improve their skills. In adolescence, metacognitive abilities continue to develop and become more complex. Adolescents become more reflective and introspective, and they may engage in more elaborate forms of planning and goal-setting. At this stage, adolescents may also become more aware of the limitations of their own thinking and begin to question their assumptions and beliefs. They may develop a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of social situations and begin to reflect on their own biases and prejudices.

In the end, it’s important to note that metacognitive development is not a linear process, and children may vary in their metacognitive abilities at different stages of development. Some children may be more advanced in their metacognitive skills than others, and individual differences in personality and cognitive style may also play a role. But anyhow, metacognition is an essential skill that plays a critical role in education and life.

In education, metacognition is particularly important as it has been shown to significantly enhance learning outcomes. When students are taught to be aware of their own learning processes, they are better able to identify areas where they need to improve and adjust their learning strategies accordingly.

This leads to a more effective and efficient learning experience, as students are able to take ownership of their own learning and become more self-directed learners. Furthermore, metacognitive skills are particularly important in the development of critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. When individuals are able to reflect on their own thought processes and cognitive strategies, they are better able to approach problems in a systematic and effective manner. This allows them to identify the root cause of a problem and come up with innovative solutions.

In addition to its importance in education, metacognition is also essential in life. Individuals who are able to monitor and regulate their own thought processes are better able to manage their emotions, make better decisions, and communicate more effectively with others. The ability to think critically and reflect on one’s own thought processes is particularly important in the workplace, where it can lead to more effective problem-solving, decision-making, and communication.


prof. Oana Onciu

Facultatea de Psihologie și Științe ale Educației, Universitatea Alexandru Ioan Cuza, Iași (Iaşi) , România
Profil iTeach:

Articole asemănătoare