Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development: Stages of Development in Children

Cognitive Stage Task A Child Can Perform
The Sensory Motor Stage
This stage includes newborn babies to two year olds. Piaget believed that a child’s first ideas about the way things operate are concerned with movement. Babies’ behavior is usually reflexive as it is triggered by a stimulus. They cope with their surrounding by reacting. A newborn first learns the use of its muscles for movement. The baby can sense the environmental stimuli. During this stage, children are incapable of thinking about anyone but themselves. (Piaget & Inhelder, 1972)
The child can look for an object that has been concealed or hidden. This is because they now understand the concept of object permanence. They know that when objects are hidden, they do not cease to exist.
Pre-Operational Stage
This stage occurs between ages 2 and 7. At this age, a child’s thinking capacity is developing but to them, there is only one perspective and everybody must share it. The child also believes that everything that exists is a living thing and can experience the same feelings as them. Symbolism is also a characteristic, where things can represent others. Children of this age insist on obedience to rules and conformance to the norm. They also learn mostly by copying. At a later phase in this stage, the child becomes quite curious and questions the status quo. (Piaget & Inhelder, 1972)
The child could be asked to choose the heavier solid of two. The test solids should be of the same weight but different shapes. Alternatively, the same amount of liquid could be poured in containers of different shapes. This is Piaget’ famous beaker test. The child will conclude that the liquids are of different volumes. This is because at this stage, children are unaware of the concept of preservation.
Concrete Operational stage
Children in this stage are capable of rational and logical thought. They can think logically about an object they can see and draw conclusions from the available information. However, they are unable to comprehend hypothetical situations. Children can also consider other peoples’ views. Their ego-centrism decreases greatly in this stage. The concept of conservation which was not understood previously is now understood. After that the child learns about the concept of reversibility where objects are turned into their authentic condition. Simple mathematical problems can be solved. For example, a child can tell that if two plus four equals six, then six minus four equals two. (Piaget & Inhelder, 1972)
A child can be presented with a pile of blocks which is then scattered. The child will be able to know that the number of blocks is still the same. Mathematical problems of addition can be used to show reversibility.
Formal Operations Stage
This stage occurs mostly in adolescence. The child can now deal with hypothetical problems. Logical thinking is now fully developed and when faced with a problem, the child thinks about all possibilities before coming to a conclusion. Hypothesis formation is used in problem solving. Unlike the concrete operations stage, the object does not have to be present for the problem to be solved. The verbal problem solving ability of the child is also developed and they can defend their opinions. (Piaget & Inhelder, 1972)
Anticipatory tests can be issued. The child could be asked to state several eventualities given a certain situation. At this stage, the child should be able to logically think through the problem and solve it.


Piaget, J. & Inhelder, B. (1972). The Psychology Of The Child. Chicago: Basic Books.

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