Jean Piaget showed an interest in children’s cognitive development from an early age. As a child, he showed great curiosity to know the reasons behind wrong answers given by children in his school. This initial inquisitiveness laid the foundation for his later work in understanding the cognitive processes of children. He worked closely with Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon as they standardized the IQ test, a benchmark used to determine intelligence.
Jean Piaget theory of cognitive development dispels the myth that babies and young children are miniature adults with the same cognitive abilities and needs. Indeed, Piaget realized that children go through distinct stages of development. What are the four stages of Piaget’s cognitive development theory?
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Stage one: Birth to 24 months
During the sensorimotor stage of Piaget’s theory, babies and toddlers learn through experimentation and by observing the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes of their environment. Their urge to touch things and put them in their mouths is explained by a need to understand the environment around them from a sensory perspective.
As babies become toddlers, they begin to understand the principle of cause and effect. They learn that if they drop something, they have to pick it up again. Children learn a phenomenal amount in a relatively short period during this stage, including that objects are separate and continue to exist even when they cannot be seen. For example, a toddler learns that their favorite teddy bear is still waiting in their bedroom when they come home.
Stage two: 24 months to seven years
The Piaget preoperational stage is characterized by further language acquisition. This period is marked by a noticeable increase in vocabulary, grammar, and overall linguistic abilities. Children in this stage of Jean Piaget Theory start expressing themselves more coherently and with greater complexity. This is significant compared to what it is in the earlier sensorimotor stage.
Children no longer use language to prattle away, instead now understand that it is a mechanism for making themselves understood. Children learn that objects have names and can be represented by symbols. They also begin to realize that objects can be grouped according to similarities or distinguished by differences.
Children in the preoperational stage are imaginative and love playing ‘pretend’ games. However, they sometimes struggle to interact with others as they cannot necessarily see a situation from someone else’s perspective.
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Stage three: Seven to eleven years
The concrete operational stage features the development of more organized and logical thinking processes. At this time, children might abandon ‘pretend’ games for more practical play activities. Kids also become less egocentric and start understanding that their perspectives might differ from others.
During the concrete operational stage, kids find understanding hypothetical, abstract thinking challenging. For instance, talking about situations they have not experienced might be beyond their comprehension. They mostly tend to view things in a black-and-white manner. They adhere strictly to rules and established norms as anything that deviates from the rules is unsettling for them. They have a rigid perception of the world around them and find deviations from any rules as they understand them baffling.
Stage four: Twelve years and older
Abstract concepts and hypotheticals begin to make more sense to children during the formal operational stage. Kids start using deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. Their ability to solve problems and make decisions improves as they can see a situation from multiple perspectives and come to a logical conclusion. They factor morals, social values, and ethics into their decisions and interactions with others.
Fully understanding cause and effect is a critical indicator of mental growth in kids. During the formal operational stage, children begin to understand long-term consequences and take responsibility for them.
Using Jean Piaget Theory
The application of Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is utilized by educators and education specialists in a mental development assessment of a child. It is wrong to assume that a child has reached the next stage in Piaget’s theory simply because they meet its age parameters. Children learn at different paces, and some may take longer to reach the next phase than others.
Piaget stressed the need to understand that stages of cognitive development do not revolve around how much knowledge a child has. Instead, they revolve around how a child uses the information they have at their disposal.
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