Piaget's unique contributions to child development changed how we view children -- for the better.

How Did Piaget Impact the Field of Child Development?

by Patti Richards

If you wonder why your toddler puts everything in her mouth or why your preschooler talks non-stop from morning until night, child development expert Jean Piaget might have some answers for you. Piaget was a Swiss psychologist, biologist and philosopher best known for his work in developmental psychology. Piaget changed the field of child development and education by focusing on the way children’s minds process knowledge as they progress through his four developmental stages.

1. Sensorimotor

Piaget’s developmental stages begins with infancy. So, when your toddler or preschooler was an infant, she liked to stick her feet in her mouth. That is perfectly normal. During this sensorimotor stage, children interact with people and the environment through physical response. Sucking, pushing, reaching and grabbing enable little ones to experience their world, and to learn how things work. Your baby wasn’t naughty when she pulled your hair or tried to suck on your chin. According to Simply Psychology, Piaget’s discoveries about this stage provided a foundation for understanding how infants learn and what types of stimuli can help them develop during the first years of life.

2. Preoperational

Between the ages of 2 and 7, children are in the preoperational stage of development. They make up stories, indulge in imaginative play and learn new words on a daily basis. This is all a part of your toddler and preschooler’s life. But don’t be surprised when your child doesn’t like to share or wants things her own way most of the time. During this stage, children are at the center of their own world and know only one point of view -- theirs. According to PBS Science Odyssey, Piaget’s theories opened the door for teachers to introduce more creative approaches to early education rather than teachers merely spoon feeding facts to the children and expecting them to regurgitate them.

3. Concrete Operations

According to WebMD, the concrete operations stage of cognitive development begins at around age 7 and continues until a child reaches 11 or 12. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that your child or early adolescent begins to see that life doesn’t always revolve around her. But look out -- the ability to reason also happens during these years -- and you might find yourself arguing more and winning less -- than when your children were preschoolers. Before Piaget’s theories became popular, society regarded children as less competent than adults, but his work demonstrated that are not less competent than adults -- children simply think in different ways from adults.

4. Formal Operations

Once your child hits the formal operations stage at around age 12, her ability to think in abstract ways develops rapidly. Even though you may not be able to get her to clean her room, finish her homework, or stop texting her friends, she is developing the ability to think in more abstract, less concrete terms. This is the age when preteens and young teens begin to show greater skill in art, dance and musical performance, as well as in mathematical, verbal and logical reasoning. During this stage, teens’ cognitive abilities become more like those of adults.

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