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Jean Piaget, a Swiss cognitive theorist who believed that children’s learning depends on reinforcements, such as rewards from adults. According to his cognitive- developmental theory, children actively construct knowledge as they explore their world (Berk, 2008). Piaget separated cognitive development into 4 main stages which he called Sensorimotor, Pre-Operational, Concrete Operational and Formal Operational. According to Piaget this sequence is invariant; all children will progress through the stages in the same order.
During the sensorimotor stage, from birth to around 18-24 months, infants are not yet able to use symbols or images to represent objects in the external world (Essa, 2009). To think about an object they must act on it with their senses and motor abilities. The major advance of this stage is object permanence, the understanding that objects continue to exist outside of sensory awareness. If an infant reaches for a toy and you cover it with a cloth, he or she will stop reaching and look at something else. If you secretly remove the toy and then lift the cloth, the baby will look at the empty spot without surprise or disappointment. According to Piaget, the baby does not yet have object permanence; out of sight is out of mind. By a year of age, children develop object permanence and can use mental representation and think about objects that are not physically present.
From 2 to about 7, the child is in the preoperational stage of development. Now they can use mental representation to think. They begin to use pretend play. Children are now capable of symbolic representation – using a symbol to represent an object (Berk, 2008). Because of this, children learn language, a system of symbols. Piaget emphasized that during this period, children’s abilities are limited. One pervasive limitation of children’s reasoning during the preoperational period is egocentrism, the inability to take the perspective of another person. A child may assume that everyone has the same knowledge, experiences, and perspective that he or she has. Egocentric thinking predominates.
The concrete operational stage lasts from about age 7 to 11. Now children can engage in mental representation and think logically about the world around them (Essa, 2009). Specifically, children are able to manipulate their mental representations to think and solve problems. Thought becomes logical, overcoming the limitations of the preoperational stage of reasoning. Now children are capable of understanding conservation, that a change in the size of shape of a substance (like clay) does not change its mass. Operational thinking develops (mental actions that are reversible). Egocentric thought diminishes.
During early adolescence, individuals enter Piaget’s period of formal operations. Now cognitive development reaches its peak. Teenagers become capable of using and manipulating their symbolic representations in abstract thought. They can create and logically think through hypothetical situations. Scientific and deductive reasoning become possible. The individual is cognitively mature. Early in the period there is a return to egocentric thought. Only 35% of high school graduates in industrialized countries obtain formal operations; many people do not think formally during adulthood (Educational Psychology Interactive).
Jean Piaget was one of the first developmental psychologists to examine how children think and reason. He asked whether children perceive and make sense of the world the way adults do and created a theory that explores how children’s thought processes change with development. Piaget argued that children’s thought processes progress through several distinct, predictable stages. At each stage, the way in which we look at the world changes. We progress through each in order, with no skipping or regression under normal circumstances.
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