How Children Build their Thinking, how and why Children Think the Way they Think

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 Jean Piaget, a swiss psychologist, created the theories of cognitive development that consist of an extensive theory about nature and the development of human intelligence. It attracts with nature of knowledge itself and how individuals get to acquire, construct, and use the knowledge obtained. He figured that children quite reason differently as well. He believed that children are actively constructing their understanding of the world as they grow older. Just as their body grows, their minds grow too.

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Piaget disregarded the idea that intelligence was a fixed trait and regarded cognitive development as a process that occurs due to biological maturation and interaction with the environment. Children build a perception of the world around them, then experience differences between what they have known and what they find out in their surroundings. He believed that the mind of children works in different stages. Piaget’s theory presents four age-related stages that are each unique in the way the learner operates cognitively. Therefore, each stage is characterized by ongoing cycles of assimilation, accommodating, organization, and eventually equilibration that result in advancing to the next stage.

Piaget emphasized that the way children reason at one stage is different from the way they reason at another stage. The stages of cognitive development first start at infant age and gradually work up to adulthood. Haroutunian (1978) stated that “each child goes through the stages in the same order, and no stage can be missed out – although some individuals may never attain the later stages”. According to Piaget, the major stages in the development of reasoning ability are the sensorimotor (ages 0 to 2 years); the pre-operational (2 years to 7 years); the concrete-operational (7 to 11 years); and the formal operational (12 years to adult) (Wadsworth, 1996).

The first stage is Sensorimotor, which occurs approximately at birth to two years old. This stage is divided into six substages from a newborn to a toddler. Infants and toddlers think with their sensory and motor systems and this will look at their development. Substage one (birth-one month old): is referred to as newborns or neonates. Newborns in this stage have reflexive movements. These movements include sucking, grasping, and orienting as well. Substage two (1-4 months old): original reflexes become sensorimotor schemes.

These schemes become more refined at this stage. Accommodation begins to occur, which in turn leads to a greater range of actions that the baby can perform. The schemes help the infant understand the world they live in. In the previous stage, actions were independent random but now the schemes have become coordinated. For example, a child could hear a noise and orients toward it or they see an object and then touch it. They also develop primary circular reactions. Some of these reactions include sucking thumb and habitual utterances. Infants are also exploratory and develop new schemes. Substage three (4-8 months old): develop secondary circular reactions.

These reactions include repetition and the development of “dropping and throwing” schemes. At this stage, babies are also learning that their actions have reactions. Their actions are not intentional, and infants are learning they are separate from the rest of the world. Substage four (8-12 months old): the babies behavior becomes intentional and goal-oriented. They are also coordinating their schemes at this stage. This means that an independent scheme has now been combined to achieve a goal. During this stage, they develop object permanence. It means that infants do not recognize that objects still exist even though they cannot see them.

The A not B Error is when infants look for an object in its original spot instead of looking for it in the most recent place that it was hidden. For example, if you give an infant a toy car and you take it away, they won’t look for that toy car because they do not understand that it still exists. Substage five (12-15 months old): babies develop tertiary circular reactions, which means they are repeating actions and behaviors but with more variation. At this stage, they are experimenting with the world and searching everywhere, which means that they solve the A, not B error and that they have a larger repertoire of actions. Tertiary circular reactions are more flexible, they have pleasing results which leads a child to want to repeat their actions so that they can receive a similar result. Substage six (18-24 months old): toddlers can hold mental representations in their mind, solve advanced object permanence problems such as invisible displacement, and join and make-believe play.

Make-believe play (symbolic play), is when a child uses one thing to stand for something else. An example is when babies use a teacup and pretend to be at a fancy tea party where they’re actually drinking tea. They also develop deferred imitation which is the imitation of a model observed sometime in the past. In conclusion of the sensorimotor stage, infants gather information about the world through their eyes, sight, taste, smell, touch, and hearing. That explains why babies are always touching and putting stuff in their mouth, they are curious about their surroundings and objects. As they discover to use their senses, they also discover how to move their bodies around.

This helps them explore the world and discover relationships between their bodies and the environment. According to Jessica McCallister, at this stage, they also develop both physically cognitively. As I mentioned earlier, the physical skills include crawling, grasping, and pulling, as well as general physical growth. As the infants develop cognitive skills, they start thinking about their behaviors and reacting to different stimuli such as noises, movement, and emotions. The main achievement that develops during this stage is object permanence. It means that infants do not recognize that objects still exist even though they cannot see them. For example, if you give an infant a toy car and you take it away, they won’t look for that toy car because they do not understand that it still exists. They begin with random movements which develop into coordinated schemes. They use a variety of strategies to solve the problem of maneuvering a chair into a small space, pretend to be a mother or father in house play, use words and simple language to convey needs and ideas.

The second stage is preoperational, which occurs approximately around age two to seven years old. Children in this stage begin to understand more complex issues but are still dependent on their senses and can only focus on one dimension at a time (Crain, 2005, p.40). At this stage, children start to develop and engage in pretend play. Children pretend to be someone they are not. Examples are superheroes, policemen, nurses, and so on. They will begin to use symbols to represent things through speech and art. This is also the stage when children learn how to talk. As they learn that words symbolize objects that start to help them into the preoperational stage and understand the idea of symbols. Sensory experiences are less crucial to knowledge acquisition. Because children at this age do not understand that other people have a different point of view, they tend to be self-centered. Egocentric thinking is that the child believes that everyone sees the world in the same way as he or she does. Because of egocentric thinking, preoperational children hide by covering their eyes are only parts of their bodies believing that if they cannot see the seekers, then they themselves cannot be seen. The pre-operational stage is divided into two sub-stages. The first sub-stage is labeled egocentric (2-4 years) and the second sub-stage is called intuitive (5-7 years) (Wadsworth, 1977, p.68). Smith (1981) states that, an important characteristic of pre-operational thought is egocentrism.

An experiment was tested by Piaget and Inhelder (1956), they wanted to find out at what age children become no longer egocentric. The experiment started by the child sitting at a table and presenting to the three mountains. All three mountains were different, with snow on top of one, a hut on the other, and a red cross on the top of the other. The child was then able to walk around the model to look at it, then sit down at one side. A doll would then be placed at different positions of the tables. Furthermore, the child is shown ten photographs of the mountains taken from different positions and are asked to point out which showed the doll’s view. Piaget gave the assumption that if the child correctly picked out the card showing the doll’s view, he or she is not egocentric. Those children who pick out the card showing the view he or she saw was considered egocentric.

The results are that children at age four years old always seem to choose a picture that represented what they could see and not the doll’s view. On the other hand, only seven and eight-year-olds are choosing the correct picture. Having to say that at age seven, that is when children are no longer egocentric. At around age five, most children become very curious and ask many questions because they are eager to know everything. Piaget classifies it as “the intuitive age” because while toddlers realize that they have a vast amount of knowledge, they have no idea how they acquired it. According to Piaget, at age 7 thinking is no longer egocentric, as the child can see more than their own point of view. Children from 4-6 years old lack the concept of conservation, which is the principle that quantity remains the same, despite changes in shape or arrangement.

For example, when a child is shown a beaker filled with water that is equal volumes of each, that child would be able to determine that both beakers is the same. However, when the same amount of water was poured into a taller glass, it suddenly seemed more than when it was in the short beaker. According to Morgan, children in the late preoperational period often succeed at some of these tasks but fail to provide enough justifications for their judgments. However, once children hit the concrete operational phase, that is when they can supply logical justifications, such as reversibility, for conservation.

The third stage of Piaget’s cognitive development is concrete operational, which occurs approximately at age 7-11 years old. This is where children learn the idea of conservation. They discover the logic and develop concrete cognitive operations such as sorting objects in a certain order. An example is inductive reasoning. Backtrack to the previous stage where children did not tell the difference between the tall and short beaker. In concrete operational, the child is able to understand that both beaker glass has the same amount of water even though the glasses are different sizes. Children at this stage can reason logically about concrete objects and events. Children to be able to learn fundamental skills in reading, writing, and calculating arithmetic problems. Unfortunately thinking and reasoning about hypothetical situations is still difficult to master.

Children are able to do seriation, which means that they can sort objects or situations according to any characteristics such as size, color, shape, or types. In this stage, Egocentrism seems to no longer show. For instance, two dolls are in the situation. One called Sally and the other called Anne are presented to the child. The child is then told that sally has a basket and Anne has a box. Next, the child is told that sally puts a marble inside her basket. She then leaves and goes outside where she can no longer see her basket.

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How children build their thinking, how and why children think the way they think. (2021, Nov 25). Retrieved February 5, 2023 , from

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