Jean Piaget has been referred as the greatest psychologist of his time. In the 18th century, Piaget carried out extensive research in the field of child psychology. His findings are still applicable in today’s society. In fact, Piaget’s work has widely been accepted and his ideas are used in schools and other institutions. Many researchers are also using Piaget’s work as secondary literature in different fields including psychology and biology to carry out more research related to the child psychology. In this research paper, I will focus on Piaget’s work to help us in understanding children and cognitive development.
To begin with, I have to mention that this paper contains a report of an assessment that I carried out over the weekend on a three and a half-year-old child (42 months). Prior having this interview with the child, I took some time to talk to the child’s parents and I explained in details the reasons as to why I wanted to assess their child. About a week before, I had also explained to both parents about the nature of the assignment and how I would use the findings (for education purpose). Because the child’s parent knew me very well, they did not worry about the safety of their son. Having explained to the parents about my interest and reasons to interview their son, they gave me the permission to proceed.
My subject of study was a young boy aged three and half-years-old. The young boy’s name is Johnson [insert name]. I developed an interest to assess Johnson as my subject of study because we were close relatives. Therefore, I knew that I would not have trouble dealing with the child. I also knew that Johnson would feel comfortable around me. Because I live a few blocks away from Johnson’s house, I am not a stranger to Johnson and we usually meet on a regular basis. In most times, Johnson is found outside their house playing with his friends namely, Mary (aged 5), Steve (aged 54 months) and Stanley (aged 4).
I did this interview last week on a Saturday afternoon. I carried out the assignment outside Johnson’s house where I found him playing with his friends as usual. I choose this environment because it is more friendly and comfortable to Johnson. I decided to have the interview on a weekend since this is the only time I am free. I also knew that Johnson would be available on a weekend unlike on weekdays when he is at school. Around noon, I got prepared and went straight to my aunt’s place where I found Johnson playing with his friends. In order to make him feel comfortable, I brought with me presents for Johnson and his friends. Because I found them playing outside the house, I joined them and we continued playing for some time. Ideally, playing with the children was aimed at making Johnson and his friends feel free and comfortable around me.
During the time we were playing as a group, I was very keen and I made some observations. After observing the children play for some time, I tried to compare different cognitive features among the four children. Based on what I observed, I made some important conclusions. First, I observed that despite the fact that the four children had a slight age difference, they all behaved in a very similar way. For instance, Johnson would become annoyed if the playing ball was not passed over to him, Steve cried if I gave his toy to one of his friends. Apart from this, most of them pretended to be tired, hence, sitting constantly on the floor. The moments spent with these children helped me in understanding how to deal with children of this age bracket especially Johnson who was the youngest of them all.
When I was sure that Johnson was tired playing, I sat with him under a shade as the other kids continued playing. It was at this particular moment when I began my assessment, which lasted for about 35 minutes. However, I did not make the session to appear anything unique rather I just made everything look normal in order to acquire valid results. During my assessment, I observed that Johnson had an egocentric behavior and he was very easy to persuade. For instance, whenever he became angry, I only promised him a present and this would calm him down. Based on Johnson’s age and behavior, I can tell that he falls in preoperational stage. Johnson’s friends also fall in this stage as they all behave in a similar manner.
Apart from the observation that I made when the children were playing, I had developed two specific tasks for Johnson, which were aimed at assessing the level of cognitive development of the child. As already mentioned, the two tasks were done outside Johnson’s house. From what I observed, the child was comfortable throughout the assessment session. Once all the children were tired playing, Johnson and I moved to a shade where I began the session. It is important to note that I did not notify the child that I was doing an assessment on him in order to get valid results. The first task required the child to pick a bottle of juice for himself and one for his friend. The second task required the child to show his friends one of his favorite photos.
After giving Johnson his present as promised, I removed two bottles of juice that contained the same amount of juice but had different shapes. The first bottle was tall and thin while the other bottle was short and wide. To begin with, I asked the child to call his best friend, which he did with a lot of excitement. I instructed Johnson to pick one bottle of juice for himself and then give the other one to his friend. Without hesitation, the child picked the tall-thin bottle for himself and he gave the short-wide bottle of juice to his friend.
I was very curious why he choose the tall-thin bottle of juice and not the other one. When I made an enquiry about this issue, Johnson told me that he had picked the tall-thin bottle because it contained more juice compared to the other bottle. I also noted that his friend had a sad face because he expected to have the tall-thin bottle that contained “more juice”.
For the second task, I went inside Johnson’s house and came out with one of his favorite photos. I asked the child to show his beautiful photo to his friends. At first, the child was reluctant to show his photo to his friends but after a few minutes of persuasion, he agreed to show it. I was very keen and noted how he held his photo in what I can describe as possessive behavior. I could tell that he was not willing to show it to his friends. When showing the photo to his friends, I observed that Johnson was holding the photo the whole time while explaining something.
In addition, he did not allow his friends to hold the picture despite the constant complains that they were not able to see the photo clearly. Johnson was holding the photo at an angle that only he could see. At this point, Steve one of his friends was almost crying and he wanted to hold the picture too. Funny enough, Johnson could not understand why his friends were complaining about not being able to see the photo while he could see it clearly. Johnson assumed that everyone else could see the photo from his angle.
After carrying out this particular task, I tried to find out why Johnson could not understand his friends. When I asked him why he held the picture the whole time, he told me that everyone could see the picture since he could see it. I concluded that, according to him, his friends were being stubborn by making complaints.
From the first task, I observed that Johnson had the perception that the tall-thin bottle contained more juice compared to the short and wide bottle. According to Piaget, theory of cognitive development, Johnson lacked the conservancy ability because he could not understand that the amount of juice was the same in both containers (Boeree 1). This is what Piaget refers as conservancy ability. It is clear that Johnson and his friends who belong to the same age bracket lack the conservancy ability at this stage of development.
In addition to this, the child (Johnson) portrayed characteristics of self-centeredness. This was because he thought that all his friends could have a clear view of his photo when he was actually holding it from an angle that enabled him to have the view alone. His perception was that all the children could see the photograph from his angle of view. The manner in which Johnson was holding the picture also shows that he was possessive and selfish. This can be termed as self-centered behavior (Boeree 1).
Analysis of observation
After my assessment, I concluded that Johnson belonged to the preoperational stage of development that occurred between two and seven years. At this stage, children develop language but are not able to reason clearly. In addition to this, children lack the mental capability to digest information and only see things from their own perspective (Boeree 1). I also noticed that Johnson and his friends were drawing different symbols. At this stage, a child is able to develop behaviors that follow a pattern of normal life. For instance, a child develops a certain behavior and he may use objects to represent something else. He/she can use tree trunk as a table and clay can be used as cookies.
When playing, I also observed that, at some point, there was role-playing and some children took different roles such as a father, mother, children, teacher, or either doctor. I concluded my assessment in two major concepts, namely, egocentrism and conservancy.
Egocentrism: Piaget observed that children at this stage only see things from their own perspective (Boeree 1). Children are not able to see things from another person’s point of view. For instance, Johnson believed that all his friends could see the photograph because he was able to see it. From my observation, I can say that Johnson believes that everything is the way he sees it and not what other people think. When one is able to see something, say a photograph from one view, a child thinks that everyone is able to see from its angle. Johnson could not understand why the other children could not see the photograph while he was able to see it. He believed that the other children were being stubborn. At preoperational stage, children always think that everything happens because of what they need. As I was talking to Johnson, he told me that he knew that his parents would get a lot of money to buy him more toys and presents in the future. At preoperational stage of development, a child thinks that all things are focused on him and not any other person.
Conservation: In his theory, Piaget has also observed that children who are in the preoperational stage do not understand conservancy (Boeree 1). During my assessment, I observed that Johnson thought that the tall-thin glass contained more juice than the short-wide glass. Actually, I had poured equal amounts of liquid into two dissimilar containers. Having put the juice in two different containers, the child failed to understand that the liquid is the same amount in terms of volume. Johnson thought that the tall-thin glass contained more liquid because it appeared fuller. He did not understand that the amount of liquid was the same regardless of shape and size of the container. Johnson lacked the conservancy ability. Piaget has also elaborated this concept in his theory.
When I assigned these tasks to Johnson, I did not expect him to fail because he was usually a very bright boy. I was surprised by the outcome of the tasks because I expected Johnson to understand the simple concepts since I consider him a bright young boy. I could not understand how he failed to realize that by holding the picture at his angle of view, others could not see it. In addition, he failed to understand that the shape of the glass did not change the amount of liquid in the bottle.
Generally, Piaget’s theory of development is very practical and his ideas of how children’s cognitive abilities work and grow are very useful in issues of child’s growth to both teachers and parents. I fully agree with Piaget’s ideas and perceptions that children adapt to some roles as they grow. In his theory, Piaget referred to this concept as the role of maturation (Boeree 1). I also have the same opinions that as children grow their capacity to think and perceive different ideas also increases and they get to understand their world better (Boeree 1). It is very true to argue that not all children can carry out certain tasks until they are psychologically mature to undertake a particular task. In the particular assignment that I carried out, I observed that children of certain age bracket have a tendency of thinking and perceiving ideas in a similar way. My assumption is that I had given another older child of 12-years-old the same test I gave to Johnson (aged 3 and half-years-old), the outcome would have been different.
It is important to say that although Johnson has not undergone an IQ test, his abilities are excellent and for a long time I have noticed that he is very smart and bright in different ways. However, after assigning him the two different tasks, I actually observed that he could not be able to have a deeper understanding. Piaget has outlined this concept in his cognitive development theory and he notes that during the time when children are growing, changes occur at 18 months, 7 years, 11 and 12 years (Boeree 1). This can be translated to mean that a child does not have the ability to understand or interpret different concepts until he/she moves from one age bracket to another.
As already highlighted, I observed that Johnson and his friends (who belong to the same age bracket) behaved in a very similar manner. Although there are some exceptional cases, it is generally true that children within the same age bracket usually tend to behave and perceive ideas in a similar way. Some of the exception cases include a situation where some children are reported to manage complex operations earlier than their thoughts (Boeree 1). This is to say that some children develop faster than their growth rate in terms of how they perceive ideas. However, this is very unusual.
From my own observation, I agree that Piaget’s ideas of child’s development in regard to understanding complex procedures is determined by mental development which differ at different stages or levels. I observed that’s children cognitive development has specific rules and follows a particular pattern when the child is growing (Boeree 1).
On the other hand, many researchers criticized Piaget’s ideas arguing that Piaget did not standardize his tests when carrying out his experiments. Some researchers argued that Piaget used difficult tests, which had challenging questions that were hard to interpret and understand. If truth be told, some researchers have produced different results from what Piaget came up with in his experiments. However, this does not mean that Piaget’s research is invalid. In fact, Piaget’s findings are very useful. Indeed, Piaget’s ideas may have been challenged but many researchers have also supported his ideas. From what I observed, some of the patterns as argued by Piaget really do exist. It is very true to say that a nine-year-old boy is definitely more advanced than a three-year-old boy is.
In conclusion, after carrying out my assessment I produced results that are very similar to what was produced by Jean Piaget. Before carrying out the experiment, I did an extensive research. As such, I was not very surprised at the outcome since I expected something close to what I attained.
On the other hand, it is also important to note that Piaget’s ideas have widely been criticized. Nonetheless, his views about child’s cognitive development have been accepted and used in our learning institutions. In a similar way, I believe Piaget’s ideas can be useful in my career when dealing with children since I now understand that children have different abilities at different stages of development.
Boeree, George. Jean Piaget 1896 – 1980. 2012. Web.