There have been many theorist studying and presenting theories about the development of human learning. Theorists like Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson, and Jean Piaget – to name a few, have all made significant contribution to the understanding of child growth and development into adulthood. No one theory has all the answers, but an understanding of the complexity of children learning is present in them all in some manner.
One theorist whose works I think presents an accurate view of the development of young children is Jean Piaget. Jean Piaget, a Swiss genetic epistemologist (as he referred to himself), was born on August 9th 1896.
From an early age he was researching, studying and presenting papers in the natural sciences, and had achieved a Ph. D. in Zoology by the age of 22. He had three children and placed great importance on education. He studied the development of his children from birth and the use of intelligent test on his own and other children caused him to conclude that children thought differently than adults did, and it was this observation from his research that sparked his interest to understand the nature of thought, how it develops, its genetic impact, and an understanding of how knowledge is acquired and grows through childhood and into adulthood.
His research made him conclude that children grouped information they acquired into categories and that these categories can either be expanded when new information is received, or the newly acquired knowledge can be placed into entirely new groupings. He believed that children actively constructed knowledge through hands-on experiences and that the role of adults was to provide the materials that would enable the child to build these experiences.
As he studied the cognitive development of children he developed a theory that described their intellectual development and the stages they pass through in the growth of their intelligence and logical thought process. The Four (4) stages of his theory are: (1) The Sensorimotor Stage: The first stage goes from birth to about age two. Children at this stage try to make sense of everything that is around them and their reactions are limited to simple movements and responses using abilities they were born with.
They look, cry, smile, laugh, suck, grasp, and listen to learn more about the environment around them. Piaget lists the development of “Object Permanence” as one of the most important accomplishments at the sensorimotor stage. “Object Permanence” is the child’s awareness that things still exist even when they cannot see or hear them anymore. A baby will be surprised when you suddenly appear before and then disappear as you play “Peek-a-boo”, but an older child who has developed a sense of “Object Permanence” will understand that you still exist and will look around to try to see where you are.
The Sensorimotor Stage is further subdivided into six (6) sub-stages that reflect the development of new skills as the child moves from birth to two years old: Reflexes (0 – 1 month): Looking and sucking Primary Circular Reactions (1-4 months): Adding new knowledge or sensation Secondary Circular Reactions (4-8 months): Becoming more aware of the environment and responding to it Coordination of Reactions (8-12 months): Recognizing objects and their qualities Tertiary Circular Reactions (12-18 months): Object Experiencing and Experimenting Early Representational Thought (18-24 months): Understanding and developing thought 2)
The Preoperational Stage: This stage spans ages 2 through 7. It is the stage of language development, play and pretending, symbol manipulation, and the understanding of real world objects. However, he conducted many experiments on egocentrism and conservation to show that at this stage the child do not yet have the mental ability to process concrete logic or manipulate intelligent information. He demonstrated that children were unable to take on another person’s perspective with his famous “Three Mountain Task. Children were shown a 3 dimensional mountain scene then asked to pick a picture of their view, which they clearly could and did. But when asked to pick a picture if another person were looking at it from a different viewpoint they almost always chose their own view of the scene. Although not everyone agreed with his assessment, this stage focuses and is centered on abilities that children clearly have not as yet developed. (3) The Concrete Operational Stage:
This stage starts at around age 7 and continues through to around age 11. During this stage children are fairly good at inductive logic with a better understanding of mental operations, yet abstract and hypothetical reasoning confounds them. Using inductive logic they are capable of going from specific deductions to a general deduction, but he determined that they experienced difficulties in using deductive logic to use a general principle to determine a specific one.
At this stage the understanding of reversibility (being able to reverse the order of relationship between mental categories) is the most important development. The understanding that the family pet is a dog, that the dog is a German Shepard, and that the dog is an animal; is a most significant skill set at this stage. (4) The Formal Operation Stage: From age 12 and continuing through adulthood, skills such as systematic planning, deductive reasoning, logical thinking, and abstract thoughts are developed.
Consequences of actions and possible outcomes are now more relied upon than trial and error and even previous experiences as in the earlier stages of development. Jean Piaget work has made a huge impact in the fields of psychology and children education. He realized that children were not less intelligent than adults but just process the limited information they possessed differently. As they continue towards adulthood changes in their cognitive development leads to changes in cognitive process and abilities.
He believed that children cognitive development centers on actions and as they progressed through stages of development, further understanding and advances alter their cognitive reasoning and changes into mental operations. Jean Piaget died September 16th 1980. In his book “Genetic Epistemology”, he explained: “What the genetic epistemology proposes is discovering the roots of the different varieties of knowledge, since its elementary forms, following to the next levels, including also the scientific knowledge”.