According to Piaget, assimilation and accommodation processes go on all through life. He, nevertheless, believed that cognitive development took place sequentially, one stage after another, in all children at about the same age. At the different phases of cognitive development, the outlook and interactions of children with their environment tend to vary. Piaget had four phases of cognitive development. These were: the sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational stages (Nevid, 2009).
Sensorimotor Stage: From Birth to 2 Years
With six sub-stages, this stage is characterized by considerable growth in the infant's cognitive development. A child at this stage develops more complex skill sets and ways of behavior. An infant at this stage makes use of its senses as well as developing motor skills to survey its environment. The infant's intelligence is shown in the way it takes action and consciously handles things (Nevid, 2009).
The behaviors of the child from birth till month 1 are constrained to inborn reflexes. These include grasping as well as sucking. The infant begins to gain voluntary control of its movements from month 1 till month 8. The infant begins to be able to do things like grasping objects close to its crib. From month 8 to month 12, the infant's actions tend to be goal oriented. The child begins to look for hidden objects by about 8 months. The searching of hidden objects is due to a concept called object permanence. Object permanence involves recognizing that objects remain in existence even if they are not in sight. Object permanence, Piaget believed, is not complete at this stage. It reaches maturity at the later stages of sensorimotor stage. At this point, the child starts to develop the aptitude to form mental representations of objects not visually present (Nevid, 2009).
Preoperational Stages: From 2 to 7 Years
From ages 2 to 7, children are able to think about objects that are absent physically. This is because they get to have mental accounts of pictures and symbols. They however are not capable of imagining how something would look like from another angle, solving problems by trying out varied ways, recalling their thoughts or having the ability to perform an operation in their head (Steinberg, 2010).
Young children at this stage are able to think symbolically about things and are more mature in the way they use language. They are able to fantasize and distinguish past from future because their memory and imagination develop. Their thinking, however, is not entirely logical at this stage and so they may be incapable of understanding a concept like cause and effect, contrasting or time (WebMD.com, 2012).
The word preoperational was used by Piaget to describe this stage because children at this stage are incapable of carrying out fundamental logical operations. Notable growth however does occur in the children's abilities to create mental accounts and symbolic accounts of the child's environment (Nevid, 2009).
This is especially done by the use of language. The child creates symbolic accounts of things and/or experiences by giving them names or using words to paint a picture of the objects and experiences. Language therefore ensures that the child thinks more efficiently than a child would in the sensorimotor stage (Nevid, 2009).
Symbolic thought which is a very important component also develops during this stage. Symbolic thought refers to the ability to represent things using symbols. Language development is a resultant benefit of symbolic thought. Picture a child at the start of the preoperational stage. A child at this stage has limited language abilities and is not able to read anything or even write though they might be capable of speaking (Boyd, n.d).
This is because reading and writing abilities directly depend on symbolic thought. Language in written form is symbolic and a child would have to comprehend that letters represent sounds, words represent things, and also that sentences represent ideas. This means that children who do not posses symbolic thought are not capable of deciphering what written language stands for as such language is symbolic (Boyd, n.d).
Another example of symbolic thinking can be found in pretend play. In such kind of play, children create mental representations which allow the enacting of scenes having characters that aren't present physically. The complexity of pretend play grows with the advancement of this stage. At age 5 or 6, you will find children creating scenes with characters born of fantasy or reenacting some scenes they have watched in movies or on television (Nevid, 2009).
The thinking process of the child remains limited at this stage even though the child's cognitive abilities do expand significantly during this stage of development, noted Piaget. The child, for example, demonstrates egocentrism which is the tendency to have a view of the world that is only from one's own standpoint (Nevid, 2009).
Such egocentric thinking does not imply that the child is inconsiderate of others but do point to the fact that the child's does not have the cognitive ability to factor in another individual's perspective. The child views him or herself as the centre attraction. For example, a five-year-old girl would want her mum to play with her but won't understand that her mum is exhausted and wants to rest (Nevid, 2009).
An example of such egocentric thinking is given by Professor Jeff Stowell. The professor from Eastern Illinois University says that his son asked him, while on the phone, if his breath smelled like M. And M's. The professor replied that he couldn't smell it from where he was to which the son, Spencer, replied that he should try again. (Nevid, 2009).
Typical of children in the preoperational stage is another kind of thinking called animal thinking. The child has the belief that inanimate things like the sun, the clouds and the moon posses living qualities like wishes, feelings and thoughts like he or she does. A child of this age may, for example, think that that the moon is a friend and so follows them as he and his parents walk home at night. Professor Stowell also gives an example of his son, while aged 3 crying when the mum did laundry. She asked her to turn off the washing machine because 'The Clothes will drown' (Nevid, 2009).
The preoperational child is also limited in his thinking in two other ways. One is irreversibility where one is incapable of reversing the direction of sequential events to their starting points. The other is centration which is the inclination to focus on a single facet of a situation at any time while excluding all other aspects. Piaget illustrated the two principles using his conservation tasks (Nevid, 2009).
The child is shown two glasses of water that are identical. The water in one glass is poured into another glass that is shorter but wider. The child now insists that the water in the shorter glass is less than that in the taller glass. Due to concentration, the child focuses only on the column height of the water. Due to irreversibility, the child does not realize that the process is reversible - that the water can be restored to the initial state by pouring it into the narrower glass (Nevid, 2009).
Furthermore, a child at this stage uses less sophisticated language. Children tend to confuse objects with words used to refer to them. If Benjamin refers to a toy block as a "car" and the same toy block is used to construct a "house," he may not be happy. Children view the name of the object to be part of the object. This explains why children are preoccupied with name-calling. To a child in this stage, insulting words often hurt (Coon, Mitterer, Talbot & Vanchella, 2010).
Concrete Operational Stage: From 7 to 11 Years
This stage is characterized by the development of what is called conservation. Piaget defines conservation as the ability to identify that the quantity or perhaps the amount of a material does not alter if its external form is altered, provided that nothing has been subtracted from it or added as well. A child at this stage is capable of mentally reversing a process like in the conservation task involving glasses of water and realizes that the quantity of water does not change when transferred to a glass of a dissimilar shape. The child also becomes capable of considering more than one facet of any situation or event at any particular time (Nevid, 2009).
Egocentric thinking also reduces. The child appreciates that the thoughts, opinions and feelings of other people may not be similar to the feelings and thoughts he or she has. The child is also capable of performing easy logical operations in instances where such operations are supported by clear examples.
Timmy, at seven, is capable to comprehend that if Sally has more Baseball cards than Sam and he has more baseball cards than Sally, then he too has more cards than…