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Jean Piaget (1896–1980) was a 20th-century educationist, Scientist, Psychologist and Biologist who created highly influential theories on the stages of mental development among children, becoming a leading figure in the fields of cognitive theory and developmental psychology.

“The goal of education is not to increase the amount of knowledge but to create the possibilities for a child to invent and discover, to create men who are capable of doing new things.”     —Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget was born on August 9, 1896 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.  He dedicated larger part of his career in child psychology. His breakthrough discovery in the field of education was the identification of four stages of mental development that covered young people’s journeys from basic object identification to highly abstract thought. The recipient of many honors, Piaget died on September 16, 1980 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Works and Journey of Piaget

In 1920, working in collaboration with famous Psychologist like Théodore Simon at the Alfred Binet Laboratory in Paris, Piaget evaluated the results of standardized reasoning tests that Simon had designed. The tests were meant to measure child intelligence and draw connections between a child’s age and the nature of his errors. For Piaget it raised new questions about the way that children learn.

Children’s power of reasoning     

Piaget ultimately decided that the test was too rigid. In a revised version, he allowed children to explain the logic of their “incorrect” answers. In reading the children’s explanations, he realized that children’s power of reasoning was not flawed after all. In areas where children lacked life experience as a point of reference, they logically used their imagination to compensate. He additionally concluded that factual knowledge should not be equated with intelligence or understanding.

Stages of Mental Development   

Being a Cognitive psychologist Piaget was generally concerned with studying “good thinking”, both content and process. Over the course of his six-decade career in child psychology, Piaget identified four stages of mental development. They were groundbreaking not just in the field of education but were of immense help for every person dealing with child of any age. We, as teachers, were able to understand and cope up with the different developmental stages of students. Not only this, we were able to even counsel and guide the parents in a better way.


Theory of Cognitive Development by Jean Piaget: Practical Perspective

Jean Piaget in 1970 came up with the theory of cognitive development based on four important stages of development.  According to me, it is important not just for teacher but also for any parent as well as the one’s dealing with students to have a detailed knowledge of this theory. I would therefore try to cover the major aspects of this theory in as lucid manner as possible.

As we all must be already aware that the four stages of cognitive development during childhood are very crucial. Here we will understand certain important traits of every stage and also their implications on teaching learning process.


The major stages of cognitive development during childhood are as under:


The first stage is Infancy stage called the “sensorimotor stage,” which involves learning through sensory and motor actions. It takes place when children are 0–2 years old. From Birth till the end of first month they depend mainly on reflexes for interaction with environment. Example: – If you touch their lips they start sucking. Later from 1 to 4 months they combine two schema to develop the third. Example: – Touching + Reaching Schema= Grasping Schema.

As they reach 4 to 8 months of age they start believing in the permanence of an object only when it is within their view. Example: – Infant crawls to reach a toy, which is within reach, but stops when it gets hidden. The Infant also starts kicking the objects like toys, if they are not comfortable with them. By the time they reach 8 to 12 months of age they start imitating and grasping symbolic meaning of the events. Example- Mother put on her dress, infant thinks that she will go out.

At 12 to 18 months age they start comprehending an action which brings about an effect .Example- If mother away, child may not get food. As the child reaches age of 18 to 24 months the child is able to manipulate objects in the environment, perform goal oriented activities and begins to develop a relationship among objects and his own body.

Toys are necessary for developing the emerging sensory modalities of babies. Cognitively, at the sensorimotor stage (0-2 years) a baby manipulates a variety of materials in the environment and acquires a working knowledge. Adequate impetus is essential for this cognitive growth.

Jean Piaget


During the “preoperational stage,” children aged 2–7 develop intelligence through the use of symbolic language, fantasy play and natural intuition.

(1)   Pre – conceptual (2-4 years)

At this stage the child develops the ability to form and use symbols-words, gestures, signs, images, etc. through symbolic thinking. Development of language takes place. The child is able to react to events which the child has watched the previous day. The child also develops transductive reasoning believing that two things are alike in one way; they are alike in all ways. Example: – Daddy is getting hot water, so he is going to shave.

(2)   Intuitive thought (4-7 years)

At this stage the decisions are based on intuition and reasoning is not logical. They see the world from their own view point. Example: – They may ask their mother, “Why is milk white?” Most of the time child talks enthusiastically, without any real interaction or conversation with others. They learn to talk to themselves before they talk to others. Gradually from one-word stage, two-word stage they move to speaking sentences. They believe in non-living things to be living organisms. Example: – They may believe Sun to be alive. They start to organize information into meaningful generalization and they can group objects into classes by attributes. Example:  CAT Attributes: – 4 legs, a tail, 2 ears, fur and live with human beings. However, they have difficulties seeing another person’s point of view.

At this stage, maximum opportunities have to be provided for concrete experiences, manipulation of objects, experimentation and interaction. Use of concrete material/visual aids, use shapes on a board to demonstrate and discuss concept such as ‘part’ ‘whole’ or ‘one-half’.

(i)                 Let children add and subtract with sticks, rocks, or coloured chips.

(ii)               Instructions should be made relatively short using actions as well as words.

(iii)             Explain a game by acting out of the parts.

(iv)             Ask Children to explain the meaning of their invented words.

(v)               Field trips, to zoo, gardens, theaters and concerts helps.

(vi)             Their suggestions, choices or ideas should be incorporated.

(vii)           It should be assured that each child has a chance to experience success.

(viii)         New games and skills to be introduced in small steps.

(ix)              Competitive games are to be avoided because children differ in their abilities.

(x)                Encourage the children to act out stories.

(xi)              Be tolerant of accidents and mistakes.

At childhood, play and child-activity are the natural tendencies. Play-way, activity based, child – centered approaches are most suitable.


During the “concrete operational stage,” children develop cognitively through the use of logic that is based on concrete evidence. They are able to classify, order, group, perform calculation, count, measure, differentiate etc. They can recognize quantity, volume, mass, area, weight and length. They develop ability to reverse. Example: – If A>B, than B<A. They are skilled to arrange similar objects in a series according to some defined property. Example: – Pencils of short, medium and long size. Transitive thinking or inference develops at this stage. Example: – Myra taller than Muskan but shorter than Sahaij. Who is the shortest?

At this stage, the children are able to solve concrete (hand-on) problems in a logical fashion. Ball, 1992 “Student don’t automatically form links between concrete materials and the abstract numerals.” Therefore in order to stimulate their learning our focus areas must be:

(1)   Use concrete props and visual aids like 3 dimensional models.

(2)   Develop children mathematical skills of classification, seriating, and reversibility along with conservation through concrete experience.

(3)   Opportunities to manipulate and test objects and experiment.

(4)   Presentations and readings brief and well organized familiar example to explain complex ideas.

(5)   More realistic concept of daily life may be given for better intellectual development.

(6)   Practical training regarding length, weight and volume etc. is demonstrated.

(7)   Opportunities to children to express themselves through singing. Creative activities and play is important.

(8)   As child grows, equipments to practice skills and to acquire new skills are to be provided.

(9)   Trained for good habits and development of virtues.

(10)           For language development, the environmental stimuli and examples given.

(11)           Story telling is very significant for development of imagination in children.

(12)           Sufficient opportunities are to be provided for gardening, creative work, and to interact with nature.

(13)           Social Development through group games and group activities and co-operative, learning.

(14)           Character, Moral and emotional development through loving, affectionate, caring and religious stories and percepts as well as modeling and role-play.

(15)            Students are to be provided safe environment for physical as well as social exploration.

(16)           Encourage to recognize and express their feelings by writing.

(17)           Non-aggressive model for dealing with aggression and encouraging cooperation       among students.

(18)           Students are to be taught directly about positive social behaviors, the effect of antisocial actions such as stealing, bullying and spreading rumors are to be discussed.

(19)           Learning tolerance and cooperation.

Jean Piaget

Picture Courtesy – Anjula Singh Bhadauria


“Formal operations,” the fourth and final stage, involves 11 to 15 year olds forming the ability to think abstractly with more complex understandings of logic and cause and effect. They can think logically about abstract symbols. Example: – Bending forward when the bus stops. They form basis of scientific thinking by collective evidences. Example: – Mango falling on ground (gravity). They start deriving logical truth of set of related propositions. For Example: – 1:    All cars are motor vehicles.   2: All motor vehicles run on water. 3: All cars run on water Based on 1 and 2, 3 is true.

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The children at this stage are able to solve abstract problems in logical fashions. Adolescence or period of formal operations is marked by hypothetic-deductive, logic-mathematical and abstract thinking. They are more scientific in thinking and develop concerns about social issues. However, it is the storm, stress and strain period therefore guidance and counseling services should be provided at schools by teachers and counselors. The focus areas at this stage must be:

(1)  Continued use of concrete operational teaching strategies and materials by using visual aids.

(2) Students should be given opportunity to debate on social issues, have group discussions, solve problems and reason scientifically as well as reflect and think independently.

(3) Given assistance in zone of proximal development (Difference between an individual’s current level of development and his or her potential level of development).

(4) Provide scaffolding or support for learning and problem solving.

(5) When students misbehave or perform poorly, it is to be assured that they understand the consequences of their behavior as well as the effects on themselves and others.

(6) Reward and punishment, praise and reproof, approval and disapproval act as reinforces and must be wisely used to help in discriminating between good and bad behaviors, between right things and wrong things.

(7) Elders in the family and teachers should present themselves as impressive models. Models from literature and history may be pointed out for wholesome development.

(8) Inspirational talks by experienced people can be quite productive at stages beyond childhood.

Piaget is responsible for developing entirely new fields of scientific study, having a major impact on the areas of cognitive theory and developmental psychology. He believed that to teach well we have to understand what the children are thinking and motivation is critical to effective learning. Piaget was the recipient of an array of honorary degrees and accolades, including the prestigious Erasmus (1972) and Balzan (1978) prizes.

The author of more than 50 books and hundreds of papers, Piaget summed up his passion for the ongoing pursuit of scientific knowledge with these words: “The current state of knowledge is a moment in history, changing just as rapidly as the state of knowledge in the past has ever changed and, in many instances, more rapidly.”


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