Piaget’s Learning Stages for Your Child
Early childhood development models have been heavily influenced by Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist. His four-stage developmental model follows the child’s growth and development, highlighting key moments that every child will experience as they grow.
Sensory Motor Stage (Birth to 2 years)
This is the first stage that the child experiences. From birth, the child learns about the world through their senses. They begin to learn that they are distinct from their surroundings, both from objects and people.
Learning occurs through assimilation, which Piaget defined to be the accepting of new information into an existing view, and accommodation, which involves changing their view of things to include new information.
A key moment that will occur is the learning of object permanence. When you play with a toddler and you hide their toy under a blanket, they will be bewildered. Once they understand object permanence – the idea that even when unseen, the object exists – their reactions will change.
Pre-Operational Stage (2 – 7 years)
There are several key characteristics within the pre-operational stage.
The child believes that all things, even inanimate objects, have feelings and consciousness – known as animism. They may apologise to a toy for throwing it or try to punish a table if they hit their toe on it. This stems from another characteristic of the pre-operational stage: egocentric.
Children at this stage assume that everyone shares their point-of-view on everything. For their mother’s birthday, they may give her a toy car because they themselves would like a toy car for their birthday. They may block the TV and assume that because they can see clearly, everyone else in the family can too. This feeds into the animism. The child can feel hurt and unhappy so it makes sense to them that everything else can, too.
Their language and thought processes also change. If you pour water from a thin glass into a wider glass, they will say there is less water in the wider glass, a clear sign of concrete thinking. Near the end of the stage, they will be able to think more symbolically.
Concrete Operational Stage (7-11 years)
During this stage, the glass experiment will no longer work. Children will understand that the amount of liquid is equal in both glasses. Piaget explained that this means their thinking processes have become more organised and logical. Logic is pivotal in this stage. Although they may still think in very concrete and literal ways, they will become more adept at thinking through the situation and using reason for specific situations. However, children in this stage tend to struggle with hypothetical and abstract ideas.
Another key characteristic is the lessening of the prior egocentrism. They will begin to view things from other people’s perspectives and will learn that their thoughts and feelings are unique to them. Often, this is when children begin to lie because they realise that other people do not necessarily have insight into their minds.
Formal Operational Stage (12 – 16 years)
The formal operational stage is the last stage that Piaget proposed. At this stage, the adolescent’s thinking changes significantly. They no longer view the world in a concrete way, and they gain the ability to think abstractly. A key characteristic is their ability to discuss hypothetical situations and issues in great depth – this is especially present in teenagers who begin to think about problems that require abstract reasoning, specifically moral, ethical and political issues.
Another important characteristic is the adolescent’s ability to evaluate problems without necessarily making reference to current and existing circumstances whereas previously, had they been in a concrete operational stage, they would have only considered solid evidence.
Piaget’s theories are important in understanding the development of children and can help families engage and acknowledge the changes their child is going through.