Jean Piaget is widely recognized as one of the most well-known and impactful developmental psychologists in the history of the field (Slavin, 2015). Initially, Piaget majored in biology and then shifted to psychology. As a result, his focus was on the application of the principles and knowledge of biology to the psychological development of people. Mainly, Piaget explored the change in the mental abilities that most individuals experience throughout the course of their lives and attempted to understand why the change was happening and how it proceeded.
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According to the point of view of the psychologist, the mental development of children is driven by their interactions with the environment through which they learn to understand its aspects (Slavin, 2015). As a result, Piaget proposed a theory of cognitive development that described the development of a child based on four stages each of which was characterized by the emergence of specific features and abilities. The four stages presented by Piaget are sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational.
Sensorimotor stage characterizes the cognitive development of the children aged 0 to 2 and involves the concepts of a scheme defined as the behaviors applied by an infant for a purpose to study the objects around (Slavin, 2015). These behaviors begin to appear at the later period of this stage when a child is able to interact with the environment. At the earlier periods of life, an infant’s responses to the external effects are reflexes – the inborn reactions to stimuli of various types.
Based on these reactions, the doctors are able to detect whether or not the development of a child is going well. One of the most well-known reflexes is the grasping reflex. In my practice, this age was not represented as it is very young. This is why my example of this stage of cognitive development comes from a person experience of observing my friend’s children Ryan, who is 3 months old, and Jennie, who is one and a half. I was able to see different levels of cognitive development observing these children.
For example, Ryan demonstrates grasping reflex when an object is put in his open hand. Some of the behaviors typical for the later period of the sensorimotor stage are throwing, banging, kicking, and sucking (Sensorimotor stage, n. d.). For example, Jennie’s parents watch carefully which objects she plays with because her instinctual behavior is to grab everything she can reach and then bang it against surfaces. That way, she learns about the qualities of the objects and the surfaces.
Preoperational stage happens between two and seven years of age. This stage is described by the children’s ability to employ symbols to represent objects (Slavin, 2015). I can remember one example of an early period of this stage in another child of a friend – Dana, who was three at that time. Dana took time to learn to speak properly and at the age of three she used symbolic language. When she saw an ice cream van, instead of asking for ice cream verbally, Dana used to demonstrate the gesture of licking an ice cream. An example of a behavior typical for a later period of preoperational comes from my experience with preschoolers.
Once I asked Densel, a boy of 5 years old to solve a task about three children playing a game where one would put a toy under the bed, another would then leave the room and the third child would take the toy from under the bed and place it under the pillow. I asked Densel to tell me where the first child would search for the toy once he comes back to the room. Densel’s answer was “under the pillow”. The boy demonstrated an ego-centric perspective typical for this stage and illogically provided a judgment based on his own perspective and knowledge (Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development, n. d.).
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Concrete Operational Stage
This stage falls between seven and eleven years of age. The cognitive development of the children at this stage is more logical and less ego-centric than during the previous stage. However, there is still the lack of abstract thinking (Slavin, 2015). This feature shows differently in children of various ages. For instance, children may experience difficulties with the tasks that involve the descriptions of abstract characters.
That is why during the lessons in elementary school, I prefer to use pictures of specifically prepared characters to explain the problems. Basically, the children require a clear presentation of a character in order to imagine an action with their participation. They cannot think of a random boy; they need a particular picture of a boy with a name in order to comprehend a task with the participation of this character.
Another example of the lack of abstract thinking occurred when I had to speak to the mother of one of my learners. Her eight-year old son Parker would ignore homework till late at night and she was unable to make him understand the consequences of this action. It seemed that Parker was sure that not doing his homework was a way out of it. His lack of abstract thinking limited his prospective understanding of connections.
This stage of development covers the individuals’ life since eleven years old to adulthood and demonstrates logical and abstract thinking, and an ability to solve complex experimental tasks. Faced with a task, the adolescents of this age are able to work out theories and then test them until one is proved to be correct. I tested the abstract thinking of the children of this stage with the younger learners asking them to image their ideal birthday celebration. The younger children (seven and six-year olds) used fantasies and imaginary characters, places, and abilities in their stories. The formal operational adolescents (twelve years of age) told more realistic stories with the inclusion of actual people and possible scenarios.
The stages of cognitive development outlined by Piaget are actual tendencies that I got to observe and test out. It is crucial for an educator to know about these stages, when they appear and what characteristics they have. Otherwise, the successful teaching process would be difficult to achieve simply because the teacher’s tasks would be unsuitable for the cognitive abilities of the students.
Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development. (n. d.). Web.
Sensorimotor stage. (n. d.). Web.
Slavin, R. E. (2015). Educational Psychology: Theory and Practice (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.