The way in which we think, reason, analyze, and thereby conclude―do children do the same as well?
This was the thought that was seen to drive Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Jean Piaget was one of the earliest psychologists who took up the study of child development. His study of the behavior of children through observation, led him to conclude and draw up a distinct theory as a part of cognitive psychology which said that the way in which children think and take certain decisions, is guided by a process and divided into stages. He said that children are not capable of undertaking certain tasks until they have reached a particular age and maturity. This process of cognitive development was universal, he said, and no matter how bright or dull a child was, he went through these stages. Jean Piaget theory focuses on explaining cognitive development through these stages and what each of them means. In the following paragraphs, we will focus on this theory and understand the nuances of it.
Based on his belief that a child's cognitive ability changes with age, as he gathers more experience and therefore becomes more mature, Piaget put forth 4 main stages of the cognitive development theory. He said that as a child, every human went through these 4 stages and in each stage he acquired certain skills that helped develop his cognitive abilities, until he was able to reach his maximum cognitive ability. Let us understand these 4 stages in more detail.
Sensori-motor Stage (Stage 1)
This stage lasts from the time period of birth till about 2 years of age. In this stage, the cognitive development in children is guided by limited understanding of the world, but it is in the process of developing with the kind of experiences and interactions that take place. They cannot yet use symbols, images, and language and all their actions are thus guided by their senses. They recognize that they are the facilitators of producing an action and therefore leading toys into motion or into producing sound is guided by them. Language development will soon begin to take place. Another important factor of this stage is that the child has not yet achieved the understanding of object permanence. For them an object that is out of sight, stops existing completely.
Pre-operational Stage (Stage 2)
This stage lasts from ages 2-7 and brings with it a whole lot of cognitive development. The child is now able to use symbols and images to understand things. That is why learning a language, or languages can be easily undertaken. The child's thinking takes on a slightly more complex turn in the sense that the permanence of objects becomes fixed to such an extent that the object does not lose its characteristic style. That is why 'creative play' where certain objects are replaced for others―like a 'cardboard box' becomes the 'couch' can now be undertaken. In this stage of child development, the child also begins to make sense of the past and the future. He can now draw on experience and relate to experiences from before to the present. Even though there is quite a lot of development, the child is still egocentric by nature and in that way fails to take others' points of view into account. He generalizes everyone into having the same knowledge and understanding as he does.
Concrete Operational Stage (Stage 3)
This stage lasts from ages 7-11 and is characterized by a child's ability to think logically and discard the wavered thoughts for clear and precise concepts. He is now able to view the world around him and critique it objectively. The child can now think logically about different subjects, and concepts like reversibility become clearer (an object can be molded back into its original shape. Clay, for example.) This stage will also be privy to the slow discarding of the egocentric personality.
Formal Operations Stage (Stage 4)
This stage begins at age 12 and lasts into adulthood. In this stage, the thoughts are not guided by mere observations, but branch out into the abstract, and involve hypothetical situations. A person is able to think about a situation and use logic to try to deduce facts from it. He is thus able to use cognitive thoughts to understand and critique a situation. It becomes an amalgamation of observation, experience, hypothesis, abstract, and logical thought processes to be able to reach a conclusion. In this way, a person becomes cognitively mature.
A summary of Jean Piaget's theory will help you understand the complex workings of the human mind and how they are guided by certain key traits. The different stages that are a part of cognitive thinking as a part of child development will help you realize just how we develop our thinking into our present patterns. Though there are many theories that suggest that you cannot limit development in stages and that it is not necessary that the said characteristics will always make through, a fact that cannot be denied is that Jean Piaget was able to provide for a theory by which studying the human mind and its development in the areas of thinking and reasoning became possible.