The Cognitive Development of Children

When I first started reading relevant articles on cognition, I couldn’t decide what to write about. However, I came across an article referencing Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, who studied children in order to understand the development of cognition. This caught my attention immediately because I am just about to become an aunt. I have babysat many times before and have had several jobs working with children, but I’ve never been around a child long enough to see consistent cognitive development. This article does a great job of explaining Piaget’s theory on the different stages of child development, which is both educational and intriguing, and it raises some interesting questions about what we should do with this information.

This article, titled The 4 Stages of Cognitive Development, starts off by talking about Piaget’s theory. After observing children, Piaget believed that adults were not necessarily smarter than children, humans just have different thought processes at different stages of life. With this in mind, he came up with four stages of intellectual development, a theory, that categorized the different changes in cognition in children into different categories known as stages. Piaget’s theory includes the sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage, and formal operational stage. The sensorimotor stage is arguably one of the most important stages, and it involves children from ages of 0 to 2 years old. This stage is said to be when infants use senses and abilities they are born with (vision, hearing, sucking, etc.) to figure out the world. The sensorimotor stage also includes milestones such as reflexes, coordination of reactions (intentional actions), etc. Next, the preoperational stage is said to begin at age 2 and end around age 7. This stage is often noticed as a crucial part of language development in children. In in preoperational stage, children also tend to develop an imagination but at the same time, they struggle to imagine what other people may see. In this case, this lack of perspective is known as egocentrism. Following the preoperational stage is the concrete operational stage which begins at age 7 and goes to about age 11. This stage is all about logic and reasoning. This means that, in the concrete operational stage, children are finally able to think hypothetically. Lastly, the formal operational stage usually lasts from age 12 to adulthood. In this stage, children develop skills to problem solve with logic and reasoning, and their thinking has developed greatly overall.

All in all, this theory has given us a great idea of just how our minds develop from the day we are born. With this being said, the article mentions how much this theory has helped us. It is important to recognize that Piaget’s theory is still used today for educational purposes, meaning that this information tells us just what a child is capable of learning and when. Many educational systems are built around this model, and it is thought to set children up for success. However, there is also a significant amount of criticism surrounding Piaget’s popular research. For instance, it is clear that Piaget started off his research with sample bias. When he first wanted to learn more about child cognition, he observed his own family. Not to mention, his later experiments included children that all came from “well-educated professionals”. This threw generalization out the window because not only did he have a small sample size, but he also had sample bias which means that his data is difficult to apply to the general population. Additionally, many people struggle with the limitations of Piaget’s theory. Many people wonder how accurate this theory truly is. Why don’t all children progress cognitively the way Piaget’s stages says they should? While these stages can be educational, they can be harmful as well. Some parents become concerned when their child doesn’t keep up with the stages. For example, if a child’s language doesn’t properly develop during the preoperational stage, parents may start to panic. Piaget’s theory also doesn’t recognize children with disabilities such as down syndrome, autism, anxiety, etc. Furthermore, it doesn’t mention the effects environmental factors can have on a child’s cognition. Lastly, does Piaget’s theory of stages truly help children, or is it holding them back?

While Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development have shed some light on the changes in a child’s mind, this theory has its faults. There is evidence to show that this theory is accurate; however, Piaget’s research will always be hard to replicate. This is all relevant today because the public doesn’t exactly know what to do with this information. Many people wonder if Piaget’s research can be trusted and argue whether or not it should be applied in educational situations for a child’s benefit. Although, we still do not fully understand cognitive development in children, I think that it is safe to say Piaget’s theory is a great start.

1 thought on “The Cognitive Development of Children

  1. hmckeen

    I really enjoyed reading your post! I have a little boy who is 15 months old, so I take great interest in relating research like this to my own experiences as a parent. I definitely agree with the “controversial” aspect of Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development. While I think his theory lays a good framework and provides helpful insight to parents and educators, your point that not all children develop on identical trajectories is exactly right. Children develop at their own pace, and the vast majority go on to lead happy and healthy lives. My son was an early communicator and knows a lot of words for his age, but is just starting to take his first steps. One of his friends who has been walking for months just started communicating with words. They are both completely normal and as happy and healthy as can be! While it may impose some stress on parents, I think it is also helpful for parents to know what to expect at each stage of their child’s development. In my child development psychology course, we discussed the ways that this model can help parents provide age appropriate rewards, punishments, and developmental activities for their children through their understanding of the abilities and milestones associated with each of the four stages of cognitive development. Similarly, this model can help educators design lessons and assessments that activate different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy appropriate to their student’s stage of cognitive development. For example, in the final stage of cognitive development students may show a greater propensity for higher order thinking. Our differences make the world a beautiful place, so why stress over children fitting into these precisely defined molds? Well done!

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