What does it mean?
Psychologist Jean Piaget first
described young children as having a unique set of physical, cognitive, social
and emotional attributes that differentiates them from any other age
group. He described the constructivist theory-that children construct
knowledge out of their exploratory actions on the environment. This
theory forms the basis of the modern interactive, hands-on approach to
Piaget also described how children’s
thinking changed over time. By observing children’s behavior, he noted
four distinct stages: sensorimoter, preoperational, concrete operational and
Why is it important?
Young children think differently
than adults. Because of this, we have difficulty interpreting their
actions, emotions and reactions. They have little concept of the past, present
and future; they confuse reality with fantasy; they think that everyone feels,
thinks and acts like they do. It is essential for us to understand not
only how young children think but why they thin what they do and change our
Piaget’s Four Stages of Development
According to this concept, there a
re four stages of cognitive development;
Babies and toddlers, birth to two
•Babies are a bundle of reflexes.
•Very little intention to their movements.
•Rely on adults and environment for stimulation.
•Cannot think of an object when it is out of sight.
•Increasing awareness of relations between own actions, objects and
•Major milestone is object permanence-holding an image or event in memory.
Preschoolers, two to six
•Little knowledge of cause and effect.
•Difficulty taking another’s point of view.
•Think inanimate objects have human feelings.
•Cannot understand that something remains the same even
though it changes form. For example, a peanut butter sandwich cut into four
pieces is more than one cut into two pieces.
•Lack logical thought. For example, a child might
think that the moon follows him wherever he goes.
•Major milestones is the emergence of logical
thought-thinking is no longer limited by perception.
Concrete Operational Stage
School age, six to eleven
•Begin to think more logically.
•Begin to reason and understand abstract concepts.
•Understand moral concepts of rules, intentionality and justice.
•Major milestone of this stage is the mastery of logical thought.
Formal Operational Stage
Adolescents, twelve to nineteen
•Can reason about the past, present and future.
•Can think about their own thoughts and feelings as if they were objects.
•Major milestone is the development of hypothetical and
deductive reasoning abilities.
Want to know more:
Miller, Karen. 2001 Ages and
Stages: Developmental Descriptions and Activities, Birth though Eight
Years. Beltsville, MD: Telshare Publishing.
Used with Permission:
Oltman, M. Editor. 2002.
Natural Wonders. A Guide to Early Childhood for Environmental Educators.
Minnesota Early childhood Enviornmental Education Consortium. www.SEEK.state.mn.us
click on Natural Wonders.