Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development
Jean Piaget was born on August9, 1896, in the French speaking part of Switzerland. At
an early age he developed an interest in biology, and by the time he had graduated from high
school he had already published a number of papers. After marrying in 1923, he had three
children, whom he studied from infancy. Piaget is best known for organizing cognitive
development into a series of stages- the levels of development corresponding too infancy,
childhood, and adolescence. These four stages are labeled the Sensorimotor stage, which occurs
from birth to age two, (children experience through their senses), the Preoporational stage, which
occurs from ages two to six, (motor skills are acquired), the Concrete Operational stage, which
occurs from ages six to eleven, (children think logically about concrete events), and the Formal
Operational stage, which occurs after age eleven, (abstract reasoning is developed here).
( (Bee and Boyd 149). The focus of this paper will be on the
Preoporational stage and how the child’s cognitive abilities develop according to Piaget.

The Preoperational stage is Piaget’s term for the second major stage of cognitive
development. It is in this stage that Piaget states that children acuire symbolic schemes, such as
language and fantasy, that they use in thinking and communicating. Piaget saw evidence of
symbol use in many aspects of children aged two to six. As a Pre-School teacher myself, I have
witnessed many of the same behaviors that Piaget himself observed while developing his theory
of cognitive development. Children this age begin to pretend in their play. The dramatic play
area in my classroom is always one of the most busy areas of the room. The children love to
role-play and create imaginary games. According to Piaget, such symbol use is also evident in
the emergence of language and in the preschoolers primitive ability to understand scale models
or simple maps. Dramatic play gives the children the chance to role-play. If they work through
situations in their classroom, they’ll be better prepared for real-life scenarios. Through
role-playing, children not only express emotions, but also exercise creativity and develop skills
like cooperation and problem solving.
During the Preoperational stage, do begin to think symbolically and use language, but the
child’s thinking is still very intuitive, and makes little use of reasoning and logic. I remember as
a child thinking that the sun and moon followed me as I took a walk. In addition, the child’s use
of language is not as sophisticated as it might seem. Children have a tendency to confuse words
with the objects they represent. If a child calls a toy block a “car” and I use it to make a
“house”, the child may become upset. To children, the name of an object is as much a part of
the object as it’s size, shape, and color. To the Preoperational child, insulting words may really
hurt. (Coon 107). Consider my preschooler calling each other “baby”. To the adult it is an
innocent word, but to the preschooler it is the worst thing they can think of.

Piaget’s description of the Preoperational stage also focused on all the other things the
preschool-aged child still cannot do. According to Piaget, egocentrism is a cognitive state in
which the child sees the world only from his own perspective, without awareness that there are
other perspectives. (Bee and Boyd 155). The child is not being selfish; rather, she simply
assumes that everyone sees the world as she does. I see many examples of ego egocentrism on a
daily basis in the preschool environment and at home. For example, my daughter, Meryl, who is
almost five years old, gets a phone call from her aunt. She begins asking Meryl questions.
Instead of saying “yes” or “no”, Meryl simply nods her head. What Meryl fails to appreciate is
that her aunt is unable to see her nodding. Meryl can only take her own perspective- “I am
nodding my head yes, why do you keep asking me this question?”
As a young child it is difficult to understand that some one on the opposite end of the
telephone cannot see you. Young children seem to abide by the old saying, “Out of sight, out of
mind”. In Piaget’s view, for a child to be able to shift from using herself as the only frame of
reference to seeing things from another perspective, the child must decenter, which may not
occur until the child is about six