Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is described as a constructivist approach. In his observation of his own children and others, he discovered a very simple but profound idea. Piaget’s observation concluded that cognitive development occurs in stages starting at birth. He found that children at very young ages are already thinking but their thinking is different from that of adults. He concluded that cognitive reasoning builds upon experiences and therefore; children think and reason differently because they have not had the experiences adults have. As children develop and experience more of the world around them, their thinking and reasoning changes. Piaget’s constructivist approach is centered around the process of building schema or categories of knowledge that help individuals understand the world. As new information is presented the information is categorized into existing schemas, a process Piaget called assimilation. An individual might take the new information and adapt or change his/her schema which he coined accommodation. As new information is presented, the child assimilates or accommodates the information into his/her schema seeing equilibration. Equilibration can be thought of as the process of balancing the intake of information between new information applied to previous knowledge and changing previous knowledge as new information is presented.
To remember Piaget’s constructive approach to cognitive development, one might think of cognition as the construction of thought processes. As a building starts with a foundation, the first stage of Piaget’s cognitive development, the sensorimotor stage, is the base for cognition. At stage one, children from birth through age two, acquire knowledge about the world around them through sensory experiences and manipulating objects. The second stage of Piaget’s cognitive development is the Concrete Operational Stage. At this stage, children begin to build on the concrete thinking and begin to using logic, although they continue to struggle with abstract and hypothetical ideas. If we continue to consider this theory as one of a building project, state two might be the early construction of walls and indoor framing. The ideas are still very concrete but children can begin to see and understand things that might not be complete, like the location of a kitchen even though the cabinet and sink are not in place. The third stage of Piaget’s theory is the Formal Operational Stage, starting at age 12. At this stage, young people can think abstractly and reason in hypotheticals. They think more about moral, philosophical, ethical, social, and political issues. The fourth and final stage of Piaget’s theory involves an increase in logic, the ability to use deductive reasoning, and an understanding of abstract ideas. At this point, people become capable of seeing multiple potential solutions to problems and think more scientifically about the world around them.