Jean Piaget          

 Cognitive Developmental Stages 

Sensorimotor (Birth to 2 years)

    In this first stage of development the infants behavior is largely reflexive. The infant interacts with his environment through his senses and motor activities. The infant increasingly senses stimuli (sensory reaction) and responds by moving muscles (motoric reaction). His world is restricted to interaction with objects within his immediate environment. Space involves only that which surrounds him. Time for the infant is "now" he thinks of neither past nor future. He functions only in the present for he has no mental images. Reflexes are the foundations of what will later become intelligent action. Through repeated physical experiences the infant begins to organize, he builds and combines basic schemas, slowly beginning the process of assimilation and accommodation. The reflexive schemas are strengthened through repetitive actions. The baby kicks his crib and the mobil overhead moves, he kicks again and the mobil moves again. The infant has now accomplished directed behavior. The infant gradually advances from reflexive schemas to repetitive actions to intentional coordination and goal-directed behavior, to what Piaget terms practical intelligence. During this stage the infant also develops object permanence. In the first few months the baby is totally unaware that an object continues to exist after it has passed from his view, out of sight is out of mind. The acquisition of object permanence is not abrupt, it develops gradually through out infancy. Hide the baby's toy under his blanket and he will look for it only momentarily. Two months later he will look for the toy with more determination. By late infancy the child will be able to find the hidden toy days later. Object permanence is significant in that it helps the child learn to deal with the existence of the world around him. The child learns that he is one among many.

Preoperational Stage (2-7yrs.)

    Preoperational --"before mental action"-- the period before the child can perform mental operations or reason logically. Mental development during this stage involves imitation, symbolic play, symbolic drawing and language. The child now functions intellectually with mental images. He has the ability to make something (a mental symbol, a word or object) stand for or represent something else. In the beginning the child identifies words and symbols with objects. The toddler constantly asking "Whatzat?" is asking for words to symbolize and identify objects. The rapid development of spoken language occurs between the ages of 2 and 4 years of age. By 4 years the child has almost mastered his/her native language. The child can now build fairly complex sentences. According to Piaget, play is one of the most important functions of childhood, it is a vehicle for total development. Play helps the child overcome egocentrism. Egocentricity is not selfishness, rather the inability of the child to take into account the feelings of others. Through repeated social interaction, other's needs, interests and goals can come into focus for the child. The give and take of play and imitation is one way the child learns about the world. The child's concept of space and time has also broadened. The child moves from action space to mapped space (location of objects that are linked) his house, yard, neighborhood. However, his geographic space, State, Country, World, is still very limited. The child now thinks not only in terms of the present but can recall yesterday and think of tomorrow. However, the child's extension of time is limited to short periods not too distant from the present. Though the child in this stage may know the names of numbers and how to count, he does not yet recognize the significance of their properties. The preoperational child cannot perform logical mental operations because of certain blocks to logical thought. At this time he can only perform simple classifications and seriation tasks.

Concrete Operational Stage (7-11yrs.)

    A major cognitive shift takes place between the preschool and school years, the child gradually moves toward the performance of mental operation. During the stage of concrete operations the child's reasoning processes become more logical. Mental processes are now incorporated into coherent systems. The concrete operational child learns best through exploration and manipulation of his environment. Reversibility is accomplished in this stage, thus allowing the child to operate mentally. Another aspect of this stage is transition, which allows the child to follow a process and understand the relationship between successive stages. The school-age child has usually mastered the fundamentals of language, they now begin to sense that the words and things they refer to belong to distinct levels of reality. This distinction of levels gives the child freedom to manipulate symbols as is seen in rhymes, codes, anagrams and dual meaning of puns. Children this age play games with rules that are essentially social. The assimilation and accommodation process expands, the child develops schemas for the skills required to use the tools and toys and play the games of the culture. Children now become aware of the rules that regulate their lives. Piaget believes, the child's moral judgment shifts from an objective orientation to a subjective orientation. The child now has a conceptual understanding of space and time. Their thoughts turn toward the world at large and they begin to understand about things distant in time and space. The child develops a systematic, coordinated method of seriating that reflects a completely developed seriation structure, leading to the development of number concepts. By the end of the concrete stage, he can add, subtract, multiply, divide, place in order, substitute and reverse. The school age child becomes very curious about the mechanics of things, how they work and how they are made. The concrete logical child moves from simple classification to multiple classification and class inclusion.

Formal Operational Stage (11-15yrs.)

    The adolescent's cognitive development has moved from knowledge through physical action to symbolic pre-logical intuitive thought, to formal logical patterns of reasoning about abstract ideas and problems. The cognitive structures are sufficiently stable to assimilate a variety of situations. Piaget states, that by the end of adolescence the individual's way of thinking is almost fully formed. The structures themselves undergo little change after adolescence. The adolescent thinks beyond the present forming theories about everything. Their acts of thought are completed on situations and information that has not or may never occur. The adolescent can transcend the here and now and deal with abstract concepts and verbal propositions. He can conceive of himself as wholly separate from family, friends and institutions. The adolescent can now plan his own life and assume responsibility for his own fate and systems of belief. In the formal stage theoretical prepositional, hypothetical and combinational reasoning patterns are characteristic. The youth can reason with alternate hypotheses, thinking over the possible and probable as well as the abstract and concrete. Theoretical reasoning enables the youth to interact more effectively in the environment. His understanding of time and space increases, he thinks of distant places, larger units of space and longer periods of time. He can conceive of both present and future problems. The cognitive changes in the symbolic process enables adolescents to exert their influences in humor, irony and jokes. He can understand metaphors and double meanings. The youth has the capacity to combine all variables and find a solution to the problem. He has developed the ability to use symbol for symbols, to reason inductively and deductively and to provide generalizations from sorted facts. In the process of exploring his new intellectual abilities, the adolescent sometimes loses touch with reality. He develops many idealistic schemas and feels that he can accomplish them all. The adolescent's moral development is tempered by his new cognitive abilities, he now internalizes social values rather than simply imitating them. Not every adolescent is a formal operator, but every normal adolescent displays some signs of formal operations in science, moral judgment and literary understanding.