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Jean Piaget Essay

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Updated: May 1st, 2019

Jean Piaget was born on August 9, 1896 in Neuchatel Switzerland, son of Arthur a professor of medieval literature Piaget and Rebecca Jackson an intelligent and energetic person.

He married and had three children. The birth of his children prompted his interest on what happens in children’s early lives and their later development. His children were his subject for his experiments and which he came up with the cognitive development theory.

His works and studies made him famous. He mainly dealt with intellectual growth of children. Piaget believed that a child’s thinking, like that of an adult, was adaptive to the dynamic characteristics, facilitated by operative intelligence, and static characteristics, facilitated by figurative intelligence, of life’s reality.

As he advanced in his study, Piaget realized that assimilation and accommodation dominated interchangeably but that one process could not exist without the other. Piaget came up with a theory that described the developmental stages in children.

The theory was very significant in different fields like sociology, psychology and education providing an essential part in the foundation for constructivist learning as lasting contribution to psychology.

Piaget legacy has greatly influenced many other people like him in understanding the way children develop and his work is regarded with awe by psychologists all over the world.

Although his theory has received a lot of criticism, his view of the mechanism with which the children’s minds work has gone a long way in helping people to understand the thought process of children development and why they cannot perform tasks for which they are not mature enough psychologically to undertake.

He continues to inspire more people working in the fields of psychology, sociology, education, law and economics through his existing works up to this date. Today his works are being used in the field of artificial knowledge to expand on the present knowledge in this field.

For instance there are robots which are being created that will be used to evidently show the cognitive abilities of children’s development in a similar pattern step by step as described by Piaget. ( Woodhead, 1998 53)

Learning is a process that involves a change of behavior because of the experiences faced by a person in their lifetime. The way people learn is different from person to person. There are those who learn through their own experiences or from other people’s experiences but the most complex question is how an individual cautiously is aware of what is going on around him/her particularly at very young age.

Children undergo informal learning which is accounted for by what they see people around them do. As a child’s grows up then it is able to be introduced to formal learning. The process of formal learning includes going to school hence its good to note that learning process is present both at school and family context.. ( Cohen 2002 29)

How an individual learns is a process that is dictated by the kind of environment one is in. One way of learning is through thought and language. These two processes are helpful in terms of developing communicative literacy. The ability to comprehensively understand both speech and symbolic language as a way of communicating ideas and to interpret their meaning is perceived as learning.

Several theories have been formulated to explain the relationship between language, thinking and learning. That is why Piaget among other scholars embarked on a research that would explain and help us understand how children developed using language and cognition. Piaget discussed the following stages:

Sensorimotor stage/period (ages from birth-2yrs). Piaget described this stage mainly by observing one of his daughters, Jacqueline, while playing with her plastic duck and it fell behind a fold out of Jacqueline’s sight. Piaget realized that although his daughter could see where the duck had fallen, she had no interest in reaching for it unlike when it was in her sight, she seemed to forget its existence when it was not in sight.

Piaget describes this stage as the period when infants interact with their surrounding environment using reflexes. A period where they learn to control and coordinate their bodies. He explains that the mental development of children resulted from several social dynamic factors and it happens step by step.

These children should be taught through senses like frowning or laughing as this kind of teaching works more on the child’s sensory system.

Preoperational stage (from 2-7 yrs).At this age, the child is or about to talk, the child uses symbols to represent objects since he has mental representations. Drawings, written words or spoken words are used in this stage to represent physical objects. The use of language and manipulation of symbols enables the child to be able to think in absence of the physical objects.

At this age, children view things that are happening around them in their own point of view and probably cannot reason with others. An example, if a child does not want to see someone what they would mostly cover their eyes with their hands thinking that the other person will not see them as well. convincing this child otherwise would make it even more confusing because the child sees the world very differently from adults.

Piaget made it clear that children inability to grasp the concept of conservation is because of their capacity to focus on one phase of a problem at a time. In this case according to these children they cannot logically understand why a short wide glass and along thin glass can hold the same amount of water this is the current physical condition of the objects.

Concrete operational stage (7-12 yrs of age). This period, a child can now use and manipulate the symbols logically within the framework of actual circumstances. They are now capable of arranging and putting objects in order and understand the relation between different objects.

For example if you put small balls arranged on parallel sides then scatter them around and ask a child who is in Preoperational stage and Concrete operational stage what they think about the balls in terms of numbers, the child in Preoperational stage would likely state that the scattered balls are more compared to those aligned parallel because the child will focus on the scatter while the child in Concrete operational stage would know that the balls are still the same number even though they are scattered because of their ability to conserve number, weight, mass, area, length and liquid volume.

In addition, the child learns classification, being able to categorize things into sets, and serialization, being able to put things in order. Bradley (1991, 89) states that Children at the age 8-10 years need to repetitively do activities like learning and revising in order to maintain efficient balance to what is happening around them

Formal Operational Stage (12years-adulthood). At this stage, children have the capability to think logically, abstractly and also theoretically and they have no reason to use concrete objects to make any coherent judgment. This is regarded as the final stage of cognitive development. Children in this stage hold much broader understanding about the world and all that is around them.

sensorimotor stage/period. This period marks the beginning of a child’s development through congenital reflexes which all infants are born with.

According to Piaget this stage marks the time when a child starts to understand the world a period where a child lacks object permanence given that children at this age are only aware of the objects and people who are immediately around them at that particular moment. He further subdivides this stage it in to six sub stages.

From birth to six weeks: This is the time the child develops reflexes. The child may begin working on stimulus reactions usually a repetitive action. Infants have several varieties of reflexes, there are those that are permanent like blinking and gagging.

Piaget discusses about three responses that include putting objects in the mouth and sucking them, following moving or interesting objects using their eyes, and grasping items when they came into contact with the palm of their hands. A very good example is when a child blows a bubble it might look interesting and so the child keeps repeating the action or when sucking a thumb or an object it may feel good and the child continues to suck it (Egan 1997, 120).

From 2- to 4 months: Here a child learns to form habits through body actions. At this stage the child is learning how to make what they feel is interesting last longer. When infants are quite young, they function according to the principle of “out of sight out of mind” that’s why when an object is taken away from them they tend to think that the object has disappeared forever or tend to act as if it did not exist.

From 4-9 months: Babies of this age now learn how to coordinate the relationship between vision and being able to apprehend things. These children can now intentionally grab what they want always an amusing gesture to the family and friends and they can continue doing an action over and over because it is fascinating.

Example is when a child squeezes a toy duck that produces some kind of sound and then the child keeps squeezing the duck to produce that interesting sound. According to Cohen (2002 53) this stage is the most crucial in a child’s growth as it marks the beginning of reasoning.

From 9-12 months: A child can now be said to have acquired some kind of intelligence this is according to Piaget. This stage signifies the dawn of goal orientation. The desire to achieve a set goal (Crain 1992, 56)

From 12-18 months: At this stage a child has mastred the particular skill of knowing that once an object is hidden, it continues to exist. For example is when you hide a pretty ball from this child under the cushion, he knows what he has to do to get the ball back. This is the time when the child begins to think representatively as it has already learned that it exists in a separate from the world.

From 18-24months: This stage marks the entry to the preoperational stage. The children now use their minds to understand the world rather than through objects and actions. Example is a child can make sense of what people are saying and they can also talk.

Cognitive development, according to Piaget was much more than just having facts and ideas being put together and being stored in form of information. Meadows (2002, 102) argues that once an individual recognizes his/her own skills having to apply the skills consciously, deliberately and flexibly becomes a major step in cognitive development.

Piaget’s theory contradicted some beliefs from other different scholars some questioned his methodology especially the clinical method. According to Empiricists, they believe that mental mechanism in children and adults are the same and the only difference is that children are exposed to less associates. While the Nativists believe that when babies are born, they automatically have the ability to meaningfully interpret and understand what is going on in the world around them.

Piaget’s cognitive development is criticized based on two reasons one is that he underestimated the age at which children can achieve cognitive developmental milestone like that of object performance especially the young ones because according to other scholars, children might have understood more than what Piaget thought.

Piaget tried to explain that the conceptual changes in children can be compared to the changing theories in science emergencies as a result of people action towards the world, their experiences including a number of processes that we as human beings are not able to understand. In matters to do with learning, education is trifled.

We are urged to understand what teachers do is merely instilling new information to children. Teaching is an indirect way of learning. If we note that children do not only take in what is said, that these are small beings who are able to interpret what they hear, see using their own knowledge and experience then its easier to understand development theory.

Knowledge is experience which we acquire through interacting with the environment surrounding us this includes people and things.

Many Critics’ believe that by generalizing children’s capability it does not mean that every child will fit in the assumption because there those who overcome the limitations put across by Piaget cognitive development theory that children are egocentric they lack perpetual concentration and even are irreversible making the child lack the logic thinking capacity (Piaget 1992, 241).

According to a work done by Sugarman (2001, 31), he points out that a 9 year old child can emerge an expert while playing chess noting that the game needs an individual to abstractly think about the moves in order to win the game while in the same game being played by a 20 year old may result to an individual seeking good strategies to plan and remember the moves in order to win the game.

The first stage of cognitive development according to Piaget has over the time been criticized. According to Bruce (1987, 56), information obtained from sensory perception cannot provide objective information about the reality and also, a child cannot tell the difference between the sensory event and sensory feedback of his activity independently.

In this article, the writer simply is trying to show that a child has no ability to note any positional change of an object neither the place change of an object. Butterworth argues that Piaget theory does not explain the reason there is inadequate data and doubts about his discovery.

He instead chooses to side with nativist view that suggests that once a baby is born, there exists some kind of harmony between the baby and the environment the child is in. “the child is neither confused by his sensory effects nor by his own activities” (Piaget 1967, 154).

Another issue that many critics use to criticize Piaget findings, is he over looked at the possible effects of a child’s social and cultural group. a research conducted by Angela (2007) concluded that peer interactions among children in groups is effective in terms of child development.

Psychologists today are aware that culture does affect the cognitive development of children because it determines how the child learns about the world (Bruner 1983, 63). Among those criticizing Piaget’s works was Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, who studied human development in order to improve his own teaching.

He believed that human development could only be understood from a cultural point of view and not through Piaget’s ideas. He argued with the fact that our mental structures could be traced back to the way we socially interacted with others (Vygotsky 1978, 96).

In his writings, Lev Vygotsky assumed that cultural development of a child appeared twice; one at the social level and the other at an individual level. Vygotsky believed that cultural tools like maps rulers, symbolic items and other symbolic tools were very significant items which played important roles on cognitive development of a child emphasizing that they supported their thinking capacity.

The cognitive tools are also recognized as being useful in enriching our understanding about reality by Martin (2000, 96). He used the example introducing quantity using roman numerals it would be very difficult to change and teach calculus or doing long division using only these numerals that’s why when a number system with a zero is introduced it becomes easy to perform the mathematical queries.

According to him a child can use these tools to develop themselves. “Thus, children’s knowledge, ideas, attitudes, and values develop through appropriating or “taking for themselves” the ways of acting and thinking provided by their culture and by the more capable members of their group” (Piaget 1989, 143).

Piaget works have significantly helped us to understand how human beings develop cognitively. With his theory, we understand that a child has to undergo different stages to understand the world. His theory tries to explain the intellectual abilities an individual goes through during ones development.

Piaget did not have the opportunity to attend formal child psychology classes but his desire to know about how we develop and his discovery of the cognitive theory made it possible for other activists to learn more about how children learned and how they thought. His theory explains that an individual has to change to fit in the environment one is living in. To him adaptation is important for individual development.


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Bradley, B. S., 1991. Vision of infancy; critical introduction of child psychology. Cambridge England: Polity Press.

Bruce,T., 1987. Early childhood education. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Bruner, J., 1983. Childs talk: learning to use language. Oxford: oxford university press.

Cohen, D., 2002. How the Child’s mind Develops. London: Routledge

Crain, W., 1992. Theories of development – concept and applications. New York: Prentice Hall.

Egan, K., 1997. The educated mind: how cognitive tools shape our understanding. Chicago: university of Chicago press.

Martin, D., 2000. The Blackwell encyclopedia of social work Edition 2,. Wiley-Blackwell.

Meadows, S., 2002. The Child as Thinker: The Development and Acquisition of Cognition in Childhood. London : Routledge.

Piaget, J., 1989. The language and thought of the child. London: Routedge

Piaget, J., 1992. Cognitive development today: Piaget and his critics. London: Sage.

Piaget, J., 1967. Growing Critical: alternatives to Developmental psychology. London: Rout ledge.

Sugarman, L. 2001. Life-span development: frameworks, accounts, and strategies New Essential Psychology Series, Edition2. NY: Psychology Press.

Vygotsky, L. S., 1978. Mind in Society. Cambridge: Harvard University press.

Woodhead, M., 1998. Cultural worlds of early childhood. London: Routledge.

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