A Teacher's Guide to Piaget's 4 Stages of Cognitive Development (2023)

A Teacher's Guide to Piaget's 4 Stages of Cognitive Development (1)

In the 20th century, children were believed to think just like adults. Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget developed an alternate theory that claimed that children's minds are fundamentally different from adult minds and that everyone moves through four stages of cognitive development from birth to adolescence.

Early childhood educators can use Piaget's theory to gain insight into how children learn at different stages of their development. These insights can help you develop a curriculum informed by how children understand their environment during each developmental stage.

What is Piaget's theory?

Piaget’s theory centers on how children learn and gradually develop logical thinking. His theory states that children's understanding of their environment gradually increases over time, and their cognitive development occurs in four stages from birth to adolescence:

  • Stage 1: The sensorimotor stage (from birth to two years old)
  • Stage 2: The preoperational stage (from two to seven years old)
  • Stage 3: The concrete operational stage (from seven to eleven years old)
  • Stage 4: The formal operational stage (twelve years old and up)

Piaget’s cognitive development theory provides early childhood educators with a roadmap that they can use to track children’s cognitive development. Piaget’s theory includes milestones that children should be able to accomplish at each stage of their development.

(Video) Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

By tracking children’s progress in each stage, early childhood educators can assess their children’s cognitive development and adjust their curriculum to provide extra support to children struggling to reach certain cognitive development milestones.

If you are an infant educator, recording infants’ daily milestones is crucial to strengthening the family-teacher partnership, building trust, and supporting families in the care of their infants at home. Download a free copy of our infant daily report template to keep families up-to-date on their infant's progress.

The four stages of Piaget's cognitive development theory

Piaget's cognitive development stages roughly correlate with childhood age periods. Piaget believed that the developmental stages always happen in the same order, and no stage is ever skipped. Each stage builds upon the stages that come before it.

Sensorimotor stage (birth to two years)

The first stage of Piaget's cognitive development theory is the sensorimotor stage. This stage lasts from birth until a child is about two years old. In this stage, children depend on their senses to learn about the world. The main goal of the sensorimotor stage is for children to developobject permanence.

A Teacher's Guide to Piaget's 4 Stages of Cognitive Development (2)Source

Major characteristics and developmental changes of the sensorimotor stage:

  • Children learn things about themselves and their environment by seeing, touching, sucking, and feeling
  • Children learn the concept of cause and effect
  • Children realize that they’re separate from the people and objects around them
  • Children learn object permanence (that things continue to exist even when they cannot be seen)

The sensorimotor stage hassix sub-stages:

(Video) Piaget's Stages of Development

  • Reflex acts:Within the first month of an infant's life, they develop reflex actions, such as sucking and grasping. These instinctive actions help infants survive, and they should gradually disappear with time as the child matures and gains more control over their muscles.
  • Primary circular reactions:Within the first four months of an infant's life, they begin to intentionally wiggle their fingers, kick their legs, and suck their thumbs.
  • Secondary circular reactions:From four to eight months old, an infant will begin to interact with the external world and perform actions with objects that give them pleasure, such as continuously shaking a rattle to hear the sound it makes.
  • Coordinating secondary schemes:From eight months to a year old, infants begin to show interest in objects and use acquired knowledge to reach their goals. For example, they may move an object that is in the way of an object they want.
  • Tertiary circular reactions:From 12 to 18 months old, young toddlers begin to explore the world using trial and error and experimentation. For example, they may make messes by taking things apart and putting them back together repeatedly in a quest to know what happens every time.
  • Symbolic thought: In the last sub-stage, from 18 months to two years old, imaginative play typically begins, and young toddlers' vocabulary develops significantly. They might ask short questions and make requests with one or two words. In this stage, they also begin to understand that symbols can represent objects and realize that objects continue to exist even when they can't be seen.

Preoperational stage (two to seven years)

The second stage of Piaget's cognitive development theory is the preoperational stage. This stage lasts from age two to seven. During the preoperational stage, children develop language and abstract thought. However, theyhaven't begun to use logic to manipulate information at this stage. By the end of the preoperational stage, children can use their imagination and play make-believe.

A Teacher's Guide to Piaget's 4 Stages of Cognitive Development (3)Source

Major characteristics and developmental changes of the preoperational stage:

  • Children can't see a situation from another person's point of view.
  • Children have difficulty thinking about multiple aspects of a situation simultaneously.
  • At five years old, children begin to understand conservation, the concept that a quantity stays the same even if you change the size, shape, or container it's in.
  • At the beginning of this stage, children engage inparallel play. They play alongside other children but don’t interact with them.
  • Once children move on from the parallel play stage, they begin including other children in games and engaging in pretend play. Pretend play helps children solidify concepts.
  • Children believe that people manufacture certain aspects of the environment, such as clouds and rain.
  • Children can't reverse the direction of a sequence of events to their starting point.

The preoperational stage hastwo sub-stages:

  • Symbolic function:Children's symbolic thinking improves from age two to four. They can mentally represent objects that aren’t present and depend on perception to solve problems.
  • Intuitive thought:From age four to seven, children begin to think intuitively rather than relying on perception. They also ask many questions as they try to understand the world around them.

Concrete operational stage (seven to eleven years)

The third stage of Piaget's cognitive development theory is the concrete operational stage. This stage lasts from age seven to age eleven. Children begin to think logically and rationally about physical objects during the concrete operational stage. By the end of the concrete operational stage, children can use inductive reasoning to solve problems related to their experiences buthave not developed the ability to solve hypothetical or abstract problems.

A Teacher's Guide to Piaget's 4 Stages of Cognitive Development (4)Source

Major characteristics and developmental changes of the concrete operational stage:

(Video) Piaget's stages of cognitive development | Processing the Environment | MCAT | Khan Academy

  • Children can identify the properties of categories, relate categories to one another, and use categorical information to solve problems. They also understand that categories can contain sub-categories.
  • Children realize that something can stay the same in quantity even though its appearance changes. For example, when water is transferred from a tall glass to a shallow dish, the amount of water has not changed.
  • Children can concentrate on many aspects of a situation at the same time.
  • Children understand that some things that have been changed can be returned to their original state. For example, water can be frozen to create ice, and ice can be melted to create water again.
  • Children can mentally arrange a group of items into a sequence, such as organizing items from tallest to shortest or thinnest to widest.
  • Children can understand that other people have their own thoughts and unique perspectives, but they might not be able to guess exactly how or what other people are experiencing.
  • Children can follow instructions with multiple steps.

Formal operational stage (12 years and up)

The final stage of Piaget's cognitive development theory is the formal operational stage. This stage starts at age twelve and lasts until adulthood. During the formal operational stage, children begin to think abstractly and use deductive reasoning to devise creative solutions to problems.

A Teacher's Guide to Piaget's 4 Stages of Cognitive Development (5)Source

Major characteristics and developmental changes of the formal operational stage:

  • Children can develop solutions to problems using logic and general principles.
  • Children can approach problems systematically.
  • Children can consider possible outcomes and develop efficient, logical approaches to solving problems.
  • Children can think about hypotheticals and formulate various solutions to solve them.

Application of Piaget's theory in early childhood education settings

Children who attend early childhood education programs are in the sensorimotor and preoperational stages of cognitive development. You can use information about Piaget's stages of cognitive development to create lessons and activities that help to guide your children through each developmental stage.

Infants and young toddlers (sensorimotor stage)

Children in the sensorimotor stage of development rely on their senses to learn about the world. You can guide children through this stage by developing a curriculum of lessons and activities that engage their senses and help them develop object permanence.

Activities for children in the sensorimotor stage of cognitive development:

  • Peek-a-boo: This activity helps children develop object permanence.
  • Container play: Have the children put objects into containers and dump them out. This activity helps children develop object permanence and encourages cause-and-effect thinking.
  • Stacking blocks: This activity provides visual and tactile stimulation, helps children develop motor skills, and encourages persistence, problem-solving, and interactive play.

Toddlers and preschoolers (preoperational stage)

Children in the preoperational stage of development start to use abstract thinking. You can guide children through this stage by developing a curriculum of lessons and activities that encourage parallel play and engage their imaginations.

(Video) Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

Activities for children in the preoperational stage of cognitive development:

  • Dress-up and role play: Role play can help children overcome egocentrism by allowing them to see the world from other people's perspectives. Keep a box of costume items handy, so your children can dress up and pretend to be someone else and learn to put themselves in other people's shoes.
  • Sorting: Have your children sort objects such as buttons, game pieces, or blocks. This activity helps children begin to develop logical thought. Have your children separate a group of similar objects based on their differences, such as by color or size. This will teach them to group items based on shared characteristics rather than putting everything together because they’re all the same type of object.
  • Drawing family portraits: Ask your children to bring a photo of their families and use it as a reference to help them draw family portraits. Look at a family picture together and discuss the characteristics of each person in the photo to encourage the children’s observational skills.

To learn more about activities that promote growth across developmental domains, check out our free list for inspiration!

A Teacher's Guide to Piaget's 4 Stages of Cognitive Development (6)

A Teacher's Guide to Piaget's 4 Stages of Cognitive Development (7)

Criticisms of Piaget's theory

Piaget's theory of cognitive development has faced criticisms:

  • Contemporary psychologists claim that children meet developmental milestones sooner than Piaget laid out in his cognitive development stages.
  • Piaget assumed children unable to perform various cognitive tasks lacked the underlying cognitive structure needed to complete the tasks. In addition, his studies neglected to consider the effects that social and cultural factors have on children's cognitive development.
  • Piaget studied his own children, and when studying other children, he used small sample sizes. Both of these circumstances do not meet rigorous scientific study protocols.

Final thoughts

Despite its flaws, Piaget's cognitive development theory provides insight into how children learn and adapt their knowledge. A general understanding of Piaget’s stages can help inform your program’s curriculum and support children’s cognitive development at various stages.


What are the 4 stages of Piaget's cognitive development explained? ›

Sensorimotor stage (0–2 years old) Preoperational stage (2–7 years old) Concrete operational stage (7–11 years old) Formal operational stage (11 years old through adulthood)

How do you memorize Piaget's stages of cognitive development? ›

The mnemonic to remember these four stages is: Some People Can fly. So you can see sensorimotor, pre operational, concrete operational, and formal operational and some people can fly.

Why is it important for teachers to learn about Piaget's theory of cognitive development? ›

By using Piaget's theory in the classroom, teachers and students benefit in several ways. Teachers develop a better understanding of their students' thinking. They can also align their teaching strategies with their students' cognitive level (e.g. motivational set, modeling, and assignments).

What are the four 4 main teaching implications of Piaget's theory to education? ›

His theory has influenced concepts of individual and student-centred learning, formative assessment, active learning, discovery learning, and peer interaction.

How do you explain Piaget's theory? ›

Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development suggests that intelligence changes as children grow. A child's cognitive development is not just about acquiring knowledge, the child has to develop or construct a mental model of the world.

How do teachers use Piaget's theory in the classroom? ›

In particular, his theory focuses on the mechanisms that help us adapt and learn new concepts or skills. In the classroom, teachers can apply Piaget's notions of assimilation and accommodation when introducing new material. They can help students approach a new idea through the lens of what they have already learned.

How can I remember the process of learning? ›

Simple memory tips and tricks
  1. Try to understand the information first. Information that is organized and makes sense to you is easier to memorize. ...
  2. Link it. ...
  3. Sleep on it. ...
  4. Self-test. ...
  5. Use distributed practice. ...
  6. Write it out. ...
  7. Create meaningful groups. ...
  8. Use mnemonics.

What is the main idea of cognitive theory? ›

The main assumption of cognitive theory is that thoughts are the primary determinants of emotions and behavior. The cognitive approach to learning believes that internal mental processes can be scientifically studied.

How can teachers help with cognitive development? ›

Supporting Cognitive Development

Encouraging problem-solving in the classroom. Making planful choices when arranging the classroom environment. The value and importance of play. Using active music and play experiences to support infant and toddler thinking.

What is the role of a teacher in cognitive development? ›

Teachers provide adequate time, rich materials and resources, and rigorous and appropriate expectations to support children's learning. Under teachers' guidance, young children learn to recognize patterns, understand relationships, construct complex ideas, and establish connections among disciplines.

What is the importance of Piaget's theory in teaching/learning of elementary mathematics? ›

Piaget (1968) pointed out that every normal student is capable of good mathematical reasoning if attention (and care) is directed to activities of his interest, and if by this method the emotional inhibitions that too often give him a feeling of inferiority in lessons in mathematics are removed.

What is the main goal of education according to Piaget? ›

For Piaget, "the principal goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done-men who are creative, inventive, and dlscoverers.!" This is not surprising given Piaget's views of the nature of human intelligence; nor does he claim that such a view ...

What is the implication of Piaget's theory in the field of education? ›

The educational implication of Piaget's theory is the adaptation of instruction to the learner's development level. It is important that the content of instruction needs to be consistent with the developmental level of the learner.

What is the main idea of Piaget's cognitive development? ›

The Theory of Cognitive Development by Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist, suggests that children's intelligence undergoes changes as they grow. Cognitive development in children is not only related to acquiring knowledge, children need to build or develop a mental model of their surrounding world (Miller, 2011).

Why is cognitive development important? ›

Why is Cognitive Development important? Cognitive development provides children with the means of paying attention to thinking about the world around them. Everyday experiences can impact a child's cognitive development.

How does Piaget's theory impact child development? ›

According to Piaget, the educator's function is to assist children in their learning. Instead of pushing information, the emphasis is on sharing the learning experience. Encouraging children to be active, engaged and creating situations where children can naturally develop their mental abilities.

How can teachers apply cognitive psychology to classrooms? ›

Teachers can use these four strategies (retrieval practice, feedback-driven metacognition, spaced practice, and interleaving) with confidence because they are strongly backed by research both in laboratories and classrooms.

Which would be Piaget's advice to teachers? ›

Piaget's advice to teachers, in essence, was to provide conditions under which the child can be guided to learn for themselves: Not just to master existing knowledge, but to become excited about the possibility of creating new knowledge.

How can I improve my concentration and memory while studying? ›

So, to help you make the most out of your study time, here are six tips to improve concentration:
  1. Identify the best environment to help you concentrate. ...
  2. Minimize distractions. ...
  3. Write a to-do list. ...
  4. Schedule study time. ...
  5. Make healthy snack choices. ...
  6. Take breaks.

How can I study without forgetting? ›

Now let's look at some of the ways research shows you can remember more and forget less:
  1. Drink coffee to improve memory consolidation. ...
  2. Meditate to improve working memory.
  3. Eat berries for better long-term memory.
  4. Exercise to improve memory recall.
  5. Chew gum to make stronger memories.
  6. Sleep more to consolidate memories.

How can I learn big answers in 5 minutes? ›

  1. Read the whole answer only to understand .
  2. Don't think of memorising in one go.
  3. Break the question in parts( as many u wish.. ...
  4. Now go through one part and learn it loudly.
  5. Now check whether u have learnt by hiding the answer.
  6. If yes: repeat process 4 and 5 till u complete the answer.
  7. If not: try to learn again and again.

What is the role of cognition in learning? ›

The word cognitive is derived from “cognition”, which describes your ability to think, perceive, remember and solve problems. Cognitive learning is a learning process that results from the effective use and application of the brain. It focuses on helping you learn ways to maximise your brain's potential.

How do you use the cognitive learning theory? ›

Here are some ideas for using Cognitive Learning Theory in your classroom:
  1. Journaling. You can ask students to quick-write responses to questions that encourage them to think through their ideas. ...
  2. Class and group discussion. ...
  3. Show them how to make connections. ...
  4. Asking students to make their thinking visible. ...
  5. Simulations.

How does cognitive theory contribute on child language development? ›

The Cognitive Theory

The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget placed acquisition of language within the context of a child's mental or cognitive development. He argued that a child has to understand a concept before s/he can acquire the particular language form which expresses that concept.

How can I improve my cognition skills? ›

Small changes may really add up: Making these part of your routine could help you function better.
  1. Take Care of Your Physical Health.
  2. Manage High Blood Pressure.
  3. Eat Healthy Foods.
  4. Be Physically Active.
  5. Keep Your Mind Active.
  6. Stay Connected with Social Activities.
  7. Manage Stress.
  8. Reduce Risks to Cognitive Health.
4 days ago

How can I improve my memory and thinking skills? ›

Maintain an active and healthy lifestyle
  1. Get physically active. ...
  2. Engage in mentally stimulating activities you enjoy.
  3. Read a new book, do crosswords or Sudokus.
  4. Challenge yourself by learning something new. ...
  5. Be socially active. ...
  6. Play an instrument or listen to music.
  7. Get enough sleep. (

Why is it important for a teacher to be aware of the various development processes the children undergo in terms of brain development? ›

It is important for teachers and parents to understand that maturation of the brain influences learning readiness. For teachers, this is especially important when designing lessons and selecting which strategies to use.

What is a real life example of Piaget's theory? ›

For example, a child may use a banana as a pretend telephone, demonstrating an awareness that the banana is both a banana and a telephone. Piaget argued that children in the concrete operational stage are making more intentional and calculated choices, illustrating that they are conscious of their decentering.

What can you as a beginning teacher do to develop children's cognitive development in terms of constructing and understanding the things around them? ›

Here are 10 easy ways you can help your child's cognitive development:
  • Sing-a-longs. Sing songs with your child and encourage him to sing along with you. ...
  • Identify Noises. ...
  • Practice the Alphabet. ...
  • Practice Counting. ...
  • Practice Shapes and Colors. ...
  • Offer Choices. ...
  • Ask Questions. ...
  • Visit Interesting Places.
9 Jun 2014

What is the role of the teacher in the teaching learning process of the child? ›

Broadly speaking, the function of teachers is to help students learn by imparting knowledge to them and by setting up a situation in which students can and will learn effectively. But teachers fill a complex set of roles, which vary from one society to another and from one educational level to another.

How are Piaget's features applied to teaching and learning? ›

Piaget's theory assumes that all children go through the same developmental sequence but that they do so at different rates. Therefore, teachers must make a special effort to arrange classroom activities for individuals and small groups of children rather than for the total class group.

What is the contribution of Piaget to learning and teaching? ›

1 Instead, Piaget suggested that the way children think is fundamentally different from the way that adults think. Piaget's theory had a tremendous influence on the emergence of developmental psychology as a distinctive subfield within psychology and contributed greatly to the field of education.

How cognitive development theories are applied to students in the class? ›

Cognitive development theory can affect teaching in the classroom as it encourages teachers to use concrete props and visual aids whenever possible (appealing the tangible and visual learning development of students). It helps them to make instructions relatively short, using actions as well as words.

What is the conclusion of Piaget's theory? ›

After many years of observation, Piaget concluded that intellectual development is the result of the interaction of hereditary and environmental factors. As the child develops and constantly interacts with the world around him, knowledge is invented and reinvented.

What are the 4 stages of Piaget's cognitive development Slideshare? ›

The four stages are: 1. Sensorimotor Stage (birth to 24 months) 2. Preoperational Stage (2-7 years old) 3. Concrete Operational Stage (7-11 years old) 4.

What are the 4 main features of the cognitive approach? ›

Key features of the cognitive approach are: A belief that psychology should be a pure science, and research methods should be scientific in nature. The primary interest is in thinking and related mental processes such as memory, forgetting, perception, attention and language.

What are the 4 aspects of cognitive development? ›

There are four stages to cognitive information development. They are, reasoning, intelligence, language, and memory. These stages start when the baby is about 18 months old, they play with toys, listen to their parents speak, they watch tv, anything that catches their attention helps build their cognitive development.

What are the 4 cognitive levels? ›

There are six levels of cognitive learning according to the revised version of Bloom's Taxonomy. Each level is conceptually different. The six levels are remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

Why is Piaget's 4 stages of cognitive development important? ›

Piaget's theory of cognitive development helped add to our understanding of children's intellectual growth. It also stressed that children were not merely passive recipients of knowledge. Instead, kids are constantly investigating and experimenting as they build their understanding of how the world works.

What are the educational implications of Piaget's theory of cognitive development? ›

Piaget's theory assumes that all children go through the same developmental sequence but that they do so at different rates. Therefore, teachers must make a special effort to arrange classroom activities for individuals and small groups of children rather than for the total class group.

Why is cognitive theory important? ›

This theory helps us understand how people are influenced and their influence on the environment. One of the major components of social cognitive theory is observational learning. It is the process of learning others' desirable and undesirable behaviors through observation.

Why is cognitive approach important? ›

The cognitive learning approach teaches students the skills they need to learn effectively. This helps students build transferable problem-solving and study skills that they can apply in any subject. Developing cognitive skills allows students to build upon previous knowledge and ideas.

What are four main cognitive approaches to learning? ›

Examples of cognitive learning strategies include:

Encouraging discussions about what is being taught. Helping students explore and understand how ideas are connected. Asking students to justify and explain their thinking. Using visualizations to improve students' understanding and recall.

What do you understand by the term cognitive development? ›

What is cognitive development? Cognitive development means the growth of a child's ability to think and reason. This growth happens differently from ages 6 to 12, and from ages 12 to 18. Children ages 6 to 12 years old develop the ability to think in concrete ways. These are called concrete operations.

What are the most important cognitive processes? ›

The most important cognitive functions are attention, orientation, memory, gnosis, executive functions, praxis, language, social cognition and visuospatial skills.

What is cognitive level example? ›

Bloom's taxonomy describes six cognitive categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation.

How can teachers enhance the life and career skills in every learner? ›

To build these skills, students will need exposure to open discussions and experiences that can help them feel comfortable communicating with others. School trips, debating sessions, visits to a workplace or Q&As with a local employer are all good ways of showing students open mindsets in action.

What is cognitive objective example? ›


Since being able to identify different kinds of clouds requires the student to understand or comprehend the categories indicated, this is a cognitive objective. are concerned with how a student controls or moves his body.


1. Piaget - 5: Classroom Applications
(Dr. Andy Johnson)
2. Jean Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development Explained!
(Learn My Test)
3. Piaget's Sensorimotor Stage: Infant & Toddler Cognitive Development
(Professor LaMarr)
4. 8 Stages of Development by Erik Erikson
5. Piaget Cognitive Development Theory
6. Introduction to Developmental Psychology: Piaget’s Stages
(Professor Dave Explains)
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