Children are the most fascinating and exciting human beings. They are always sincere, they always say what they mean and it is simply always relaxing and calming to be around them. When sitting on the bench in a city park looking at children play one may see that all children like all grown-ups behave differently. Even at the age of three or four some children are already leaders, while others have somebody’s will imposed on them. Such state of things depends partly on the personality of a child, though mainly on the stage of development he/she is in. Thus, in order to understand children and their behavior it is necessary to hold theoretical knowledge on this matter. The following paper is going to talk about the levels and stages of child’s development based on the theories of the Swiss scientist and philosopher Jean Piaget. At the end of the paper the reader will be presented with brief information on the significance of Jean Piaget’s work as well as criticism.
Jean Piaget has devoted his whole life to studying children. He emphasized the importance of good education, he was known for saying that only good profound education could save the world from the collapse (Beilin, 1992, p. 191). His theories of cognitive development and his epistemological views today are called “genetic epistemology” (Guthrie, 2003, 1895-95). When it came to the levels of child’s development Jean Piaget has distinguished four of them, they are as follows: infancy, preschool, childhood, and adolescence. The stages are also referred to as sensory motor stage, pre-operational stage, concrete operational stage, and formal operations stage (Atherton). Lower I will describe every stage in detail, though now I would like to provide general information about these stages/levels.
According to Jean Piaget each stage of development of a child is characterized by a general cognitive structure that affects child’s thinking and behavior. Additionally, each stage represents the understanding and perception of reality by a child at that particular time. Thus, in every stage except for the last one, that is the adolescence, a child has a false perception of reality simply because he/she is unable to see it clearly due to the age and lack of experience. As a consequence, Piaget believed that the transaction from one stage to another is fostered by the accumulation of errors in the child’s understanding of the world (Satterly, 1987, pp. 35-36).
The first stage defined by Piaget is the sensory motor stage. This stage is the stage of child’s development from the time he/she is born to the age of two years. At this level children usually experience and explore the world through movement and the five senses. It is remarkable that during this stage of development children are very egocentric. This is because they are unable to “see” and relate to other people in the world and consider their views and needs. This stage of development can be divided into six sub-stages: simple reflexes, first habits and primary circular reactions, secondary circular reactions, coordination of secondary circular reactions, tertiary circular reactions, novelty, and curiosity, and internalization of schemes (Santrock, 1998, p. 50). The simple reflexes sub-stage is from birth of a child to one month old, at this stage the infants use their natural reflexes such as rooting and sucking. Other skills and habits appear in infants when they are between one and four months old and this is the second sub-stage. During the third sub-stage, the secondary circular reactions, an infant becomes aware of the things beyond his/her body and is more objects oriented. The infants come to be in this stage when they are between four and eight months old. The fourth stage is a first stage an infant starts to do things intentionally and not simply enjoy the results of something he/she did by accident (Child Development Institute). The fifth stage occurs from twelve months old to eighteen months old and is the stage when infants carefully explore the environment. Finally, the sixth stage, when the infants, being eighteen to twenty-four months old, start to think more in terms of symbols (Santrock, 1998, pp.51-53).
The second stage of development according to Jean Piaget is the pre-operations stage and involves children that are between the ages of two and seven years. At this stage children start to develop thinking patterns, however their thinking is usually still very far from being logical. The vocabulary of children at this stage develops, additionally, they broaden their world by acquiring writing and reading skills. Like in the sensory motor stage, children at this stage are rather egoistic, they consider their own point of view and expect everyone else to share it. However, gradually during this stage, children lose some of their egocentrism when faced with that they are not always the centre of the world. Children at this stage often consider all the objects around them to be conscious – a process called animism.
This stage can also be divided in two sub-stages: the preoperational phase, and the intuitive phase. Preoperational sub-stage includes children who are between two and four years old, they experience the increase of verbal representation, and they start to be involves into the symbolic, rather than motor play. When the children are between the ages of four to seven, at the intuitive stage, their speech becomes more social and less egocentric, and they are able to intuitively grasp the concepts in some areas. However, their understanding of reality is till not solid, that is why children of this age often believe in magic creatures that possess the powers of magical increasing, decreasing or disappearing (Child Development Institute).
The next stage of development is the concrete operational stage. This stage includes children that are between seven and eleven years old. During this stage children start to think more clearly, realistically and “adult-like”. Children of this age usually have the ability to develop logical thought about an object, if they are able to manipulate it. At this stage children become less egoistic, as well as their belief in animism starts to decline. It is very common for children at this age to try to seem older. For this purpose they often try on their parents’ clothes, or attempt to use grown-up expressions heard at home to impress their teachers and friends at school. At this stage children also learn to understand that objects are not always the way they seem to be, they start to comprehend how it is to conserve. Once they learn what it means to conserve they start to realize the meaning of “reversibility”. Finally, at this stage children learn to classify objects according to several features and can order them along a single dimension (Atherton, 2005).
The forth final stage of child’s development is formal operational stage. This is a stage children enter at the age of twelve and stay there from that time onwards. This is the stage when the structures of development become the abstract, logically organized system of adult intelligence. It is also a stage where a child learns how to analyze and try to foresee the circumstances of actions. At this stage a child already knows societal norms and rules, he/she knows what is appropriate to do and what is not, furthermore at this point when making a decision a child analyses the possible solutions and chooses the most appropriate one (Child Development Institute). The stage is considered to be fully achieved by the age of fifteen, however some children tend to develop slower and for them this stage may last up to the time they are eighteen (Atherton, 2005).
The formal operational stage has two main characteristics. First one is the hypothetic deductive reasoning. This means that when children of this age face with a problem they tend to come up with the theory of all the possible factors and deduce from it hypotheses that may occur. The second characteristic is that this stage is very propositional in nature. By this I mean that at this stage children become able to focus on verbal declarations and evaluate their logical validity without making reference to the real-world circumstances (Atherton, 2005).
One cannot deny the great contribution Jean Piaget has made to science, however his theories are also subject to criticism. Much of the criticism is in regards to his research methods. For his primary research was conducted observing his three kids and other three kids from wealthy families. Thus, many think his findings cannot be generalized because of the small and unrepresentative sample. Additionally, while Piaget believes that all children will move from one stage to another, some may consider this incorrect and suppose that there are factors that may influence/prevent the transaction.
Now, having discussed the stages of child development in detail it is clear why children behave differently at different ages. Obviously, the stages of intellectual development proposed by Jean Piaget are related to major developments in the brain growth. Thus, several conclusions have to be made here. First of all, we should remember that it is very wrong to expect children to think like adults or to put themselves in the shoes of adults. This is wrong for the mere reason that children are not adults and cannot be them, they are simply incapable of it. What is even more important is that parents should be aware of the stages of child’s development and should not have unrealistic expectations. Grown-ups should remember that for everything there is its time and is very important not to rush it, especially when it comes to children.
- Atherton J. (2005) “Learning and Teaching: Piaget’s developmental theory” [On-line] UK: Available: http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/piaget.htm Accessed: 9 April 2009
- Beilin, H. (1992). “Piaget’s enduring contribution to developmental psychology”. Developmental Psychology, 28, 191-192.
- Guthrie, J. W. (2003). “Piaget, Jean (1896-1980).” Encyclopedia of Education. 2nd ed. Vol. 5. New York, NY: Macmillan Reference USA. 1894-895.
- Santrock, J. W. (1998). Children. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, pp. 50-53.
- Satterly D. (1987). Piaget and Education. The Oxford Companion to the Mind Oxford, Oxford University Press. pp. 35-36, 50-53.
- Stages of Intellectual Development in Children and Teenagers. Child Development Institute [On-line] Available: http://www.childdevelopmentinfo.com/development/piaget.shtml Accessed: 9 April 2009