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Piaget Theory of Cognitive Development


Psychologists have examined the growth of human beings from infancy to adulthood. They have focused on the aspects that contribute to personality traits, the way of living, and also mental development. Of keen interest are the effects of some stimuli of human development for example does genetics pre-program an individual to be an extrovert or is the trait a result of a certain life event? Theories suggest that children do not understand their surroundings until they have attained a particular age or stage of cognitive development.

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Cognitive development is the process in which children become aware of the changes occurring around them as they grow up and gain and experience. According to (Gauvain 2001), Cognitive theories analyze the qualitative and quantitative mental capabilities that occur during development. Piaget summarized the cognitive development of children into four stages. He observed that different stages differ from each other in the amount of information acquired and the level of understanding as a result. He suggested that, in attaining the appropriate level of maturity and experience, a child can move from one level to the other. Sensorimotor stage:

This is the infancy stage. It commences from the time of birth and goes on to around two years. The stage marks the development of motor skills without any symbolic representation. This means that children are incapable of comprehending things outside their immediate sight. Knowledge of their surrounding is limited. They begin acquiring their intellectual ability through physical development. (Gauvain, 2001).

Pre-operational stage (toddler early childhood)

It starts from around two years to seven years. Children demonstrate their cognitive abilities by the use of language and symbolic representations. They are dominated by egocentric thinking. They develop memory and can internalize things that are in absentia but they are not able to interpret how others interpret what they cannot. For example, children will hide by covering their faces with hands thinking that since they cannot see, the others cannot see them either. (Flavell, 1985).

Concrete operational stage

It is the age between elementary and early adolescence. It is observed between the ages of seven to twelve years. Children start developing clear ways of thinking. The stage is marked by a reduction of egocentric thinking. They show their cognitive abilities through the orderly and logical use of symbols and by showing that they understand the passage of time and also space. In this stage, children have trouble understanding abstract thoughts.

The formal operational stage is the age between adolescence and adulthood. The stage begins from the age of twelve to adulthood. The adolescent develops a logical form of thinking and starts to understand abstract concepts. They can understand the concept of casualty and choices available as they can relate an outcome with a cause of action and see different outcomes from different actions. Only a few percentages of the general population reach this final stage. The percentage is far much lower in developing countries due to low technological advancement.


Piaget’s suggestion that cognitive readiness is achieved by maturity and environmental stimuli has shaped the structure of the education curriculum. Supporting a child’s interest and discovering learning are the two fundamental instructional techniques. Teachers and parents should challenge a child but not with the information above a child’s level. The teachers should also use broad concrete experiences in helping the children to learn.

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  1. John H Flavell, (1985) Cognitive development. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
  2. Mary Gauvain, (2001), the social context of cognitive development, Guilford Press, New York.
  3. Robert Siegler; Judy DeLoache& Nancy Eisenberg,(2003) How children develop, Worth, New York

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