Piaget Theory: Childhood cognitive developmental stages- Is your child developing on time?
How can I tell if my child is developing properly for his age? How do children think, and what are the stages of their cognitive development? Is it normal for my daughter to make mistakes when she talks or tries to reason? The Piaget Theory explains the different developmental stages of children. Find out if your child is developing properly for their age. We’ll help you find the answers!
Piaget is one of the most well-known psychologists of our time because to his discoveries about childhood development and intelligence. Piaget dedicated his life to investigating the different stages of development and to understanding how learning and thought patterns developed throughout childhood, as well as cognitive development. This article explains the Piaget Theory and offers an explanation for the different stages of childhood development.
The Piaget Theory affirms that children go through specific stages according to their intellect and ability to perceive mature relationships. These childhood stages occur in the same order in all children, across all cultures and backgrounds. However, the age at which the stage comes may vary slightly from child to child.
It’s quite common for young children to have trouble empathizing as an adult might, and they will likely have egocentric thinking depending on their age and abilities, just like it’s normal for them to make mistakes.
During childhood, children will have a natural cognitive development stage where the child “learns to think”, or interact in the world in which they live. Doing this requires a series of evolutionary changes in the child’s life, marked by stages throughout all of their childhood, from the time they’re born until pre-adolescence. These stages, where certain cognitive abilities will be developed, are known to be divided according to the Piaget stages.
What is the Piaget Theory? Jean Piaget (Swiss psychologist and biologist) conducted a number of studies about childhood, dividing it into stages called Stages. Piaget Theory classifies the stages during the cognitive development of a child into different ages.
Piaget stages are a set of stages in the human development process that occur in time. For example, the type of language that children use will depend on their age (cooing, made-up words, pseudowords, using the third person, etc.), as well as their thinking (self-centered, in that everything happening in the world his happening in front of him or her), or physical skills (mimic, crawling, walking, running, etc.). All of this cognitive development happens continuously and progressively in the Piaget stages, depending on the approximate age.
Will every developmental stage happen at the exact same time, according to the Piaget Theory?
No, not all children will hit the same stages at exactly the same age, but there are “sensitive periods” for all ages, where it is more probable that a child will develop certain cognitive skills. Developmentally, it is easier to learn a determined skill at a specific age, like learning the beginning of language at about age one and perfecting it at about age 7.
Cognitive development stages in children according to Piaget Theory
Piaget proposed four childhood development stages: 1- Sensorimotor Period (0-2 years), 2- Preoperational Period (2-7 years). 3- Concrete Operational Period (7-11), 4- Formal Operational Period (11 and older, until about 19 years old). We will look at these stages in depth below.
1-Piaget Theory: Sensorimotor Stage (children 0-2)
This developmental stage is characterized by how the child understands the world, bringing together sensory experience with physical action. This is the period where the child improves innate reflexes.
- Children at this age like bright, shiny, moving stimuli with lots of contrast.
- They construct schemes by trying to repeat an action with their own body, like making noise by hitting their toy, throwing something, or moving a blanket to get something that’s on top of it. At this age, children repeat actions randomly, experimenting with their own bodies.
- First contact with language: The first time the baby has contact with language is when it is still in the mother’s womb, when it starts getting familiar with the parents’ voices. Research shows that during the baby’s first few months of life, they prefer the sound of human voices to any other sound. It’s surprising how used to language they are since from when the baby is born, they have an exceptional ability to distinguish spoken language. Research from Casper and Spence show that children are especially attracted to their mother’s voice, which they can recognize better than the voice of a stranger.
- How do children aged 0-2 years communicate? After a baby is born, its main form of communication is crying, as they’re still not able to produce other sounds. During the first few months of life, their communication will be primarily prelinguistic, using smiles and crying involuntarily. These actions will later become voluntary when they learn to use them in a communicative manner. However, the parents are able to understand a cry or a smile from their baby, making it an unintentional form of communication. At about 6 months, the baby will learn to babble and make consonant-vocal sounds like “da da da”. The first appearance of words is at about 12 months.
2- Piaget Theory- Preoperational Stage (2-7 years-old)
- This the second stage of Piaget’s Theory. Schooling generally starts at about 3 years-old, which brings about an important social change and causes significant social development.
- The child will start relating to other children and people, especially peers. Before this age, the interaction was generally with family.
- How do children aged 2-7 communicate? While between the ages 3-7 the child will largely expand their vocabulary, they are still guided by an “egocentric thinking”, meaning that the child will think according to their individual experiences, which makes their thinking and thoughts starts, intuitive, and lacking logic. This is why children until the age of about 6 will misunderstand events and will have trouble expressing them.
- Talking in the third person is very common in this stage because children still don’t fully understand the concept of “I” or “me” that separates them from the rest of the world.
- Children between 2-7 will be curious and want to learn, which is why they so often as “why”.
- Children of this stage often give human characteristics or feelings to objects. This is called personification.
“Egocentric” thinking, according to Piaget’s Theory: Why do children in this stage have such a hard time putting themselves in other people’s position? This may be related to the “Theory of the Mind”, which refers to the ability to put yourself in someone else’s mind or in “someone else’s shoes”. Children won’t be able to do this until about 4-5 years old, which is why until they reach this age, children will think that others think how they do. This theory helps explain why children don’t know how to lie or use irony until about 5 years-old.
Each of these limitations of the pre-logical stage will be overcome at about 6 or 7 years-old, in the next cognitive developmental stage, and will consolidate until about 14 or 15 years-old.
3- Piaget’s Theory: Concrete Operational Stage (7-11 years-old)
The second-to-last stage of Piaget’s Theory is when children start to use logic thinking, but only in concrete situations. It is at this stage that the child will be able to do more difficult and complex tasks that require logic, like math problems. However, while their ability to use logic thinking has advanced, their logic may have certain limitations during this period: the “here and now” will always be easy. Children at this age will still not use abstract thinking. In other words, they will be able to apply their knowledge to a subject that they don’t know, but it’s still difficult at this age.
4- Piaget’s Theory: Formal Operational (11 years and older)
- This last period is characterized by the acquisition of logical reasoning under all circumstances, including abstract reasoning.
- The new aspect of this last period in relation to intelligence is, as Piaget mentions, the ability to hypothesize about something that they haven’t learned specifically.
- This is where learning starts to take place as a “whole”, rather than a concrete form like in the previous stage.
Should you be worried about a delay in your child’s development?
- First, be patient. It’s true that some periods or stages are more sensitive to learning language, as well as other skills like motor skills, cognitive development, reading, etc., but according to Piaget’s Theory, you have to keep in mind that it’s a continuous process that may take some child more time to reach, while others hit their milestones ahead of time. Sometimes children will take longer to reach a certain stage, and that’s OK.
- If, for example, when the child is starting school, the child shows noticeable delays in either communication or another area (playing, learning, trouble fitting in with other kids), you may want to think about bringing them to see a specialist (either a school counselor or pediatrician can give you some answers).
- If the child doesn’t have any type of developmental or learning problem, if they are delayed, or if they have difficulties in any specific area, it’s important to reinforce skills at home and at school. Remember that a slight delay isn’t a cause for panic, and just because a child takes longer to learn something doesn’t mean that there is any problem. Not following the timeline of Piaget’s Theory doesn’t mean that the child won’t later develop their cognitive skills properly with the help of support and patience.
- Remember that a 3-year-old can’t lie (that’s where the saying “kids always tell the truth” comes from), they can only talk about the small part of the world that they know. As such, you have to remember that they’re not adults and that they are learning to develop in a world where they will be more independent in the future.
Piaget’s Theory, aside from explaining the different stages of development in children, also talks about the magic of children, which their egocentric thinking, their curiosity for the works, and their innocence, which can help us, as adults, reflect and understand how the child sees the world.
This article was originally written in Spanish and translated to English.