The 4 Cognitive Stages of Child Development

January 16, 2014 by DrDonna

According to the child psychologist, Jean Piaget, there are four vital cognitive stages of child development that every child experiences:

  1. Sensorimotor – birth through 18-24 months
  2. Preoperational – from 18-24 months up til age 7
  3. Concrete Operational – from age 7 to 12
  4. Formal Operational – from age 12 on through adulthood

Although these stages have specific age ranges, a child may be ahead of his age or lagging behind. However, no stage is ever skipped or eliminated.

Knowing the stages of child development and where your child sits right now  is vital to helping him grow. Pinpoint your child’s place in the process with the following information:

The Sensorimotor Stage

Infants live in the present. They can’t predict what will happen. What they see is reality. It’s a time of experimentation. What can be thrown? What happens if the dog is hugged too tight or his tail is pulled? What does Mommy do if I throw food at her? Thought starts to formulate about behaviors causing something else to happen.

During this stage, the infant’s memory begins to form. One clear sign of this is a baby laughing or crying when you play a game. This happens around ages 7 to 9 months. Technically, this part of development is called object permanence.

When the baby begins crawling and walking, the motor cortex in the brain is developing. This paves the way for future intellectual development.

During this period of time, some language processing ability forms allowing the baby to understand some words.

The Preoperational Stage

Symbolic thinking begins at 18-24 months. Language develops more and more, as well as memory and imagination. Because of the ability to remember, a child in this stage can understand that things happened in the past, and that playing make-believe isn’t real.

During this stage, a child operates primarily by intuition and can’t yet compare two options or see cause and effect. He only sees things from his own point of view at this time, making it difficult to think about things from someone else’s perspective.

The Concrete Operational Stage

Children begin to form their own thoughts and feelings from ages 7 to 12. They recognize that not everyone feels or thinks the same way, making this an exciting time to interact with children. However, a child during this stage can’t solve a lot of complicated problems in a specific way or system yet.

The Formal Operational Stage

Age 12 through adulthood is the stage of algebra, science and entertaining abstract thinking. It’s also the age when a child can begin to consider why something happened and what can be done to test variables acting on the situation.

Children start realizing the impact of being interrelated to everyone and everything else. They begin thinking about what is just, moral, ethical, and political. Great intellectual growth occurs during this stage as the child accumulates knowledge.

Regardless of your child’s growth pace, once you discover your child’s stage, you can help him develop the reading and thinking skills necessary to develop into the next stage.

  • Trista Wilson

    Fantastic article! This is filled with so much information, I really liked how it broke down each stage of learning or thinking. This helps to know what and when I should teach my children certain things based on when they will be more open to learning.