November 9, 2023

4 Stages of Cognitive Development - Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

4 Stages of Cognitive Development - Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

"The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done."- Jean Piaget

Children behave differently from adults. But why? Why are their thought processes and understanding of things different? This is where child development theories come in, explaining the various aspects of child behaviour, their thinking ability and growth. One of the most revolutionary theories related to cognitive development in children was presented by Jean Piaget in 1936. Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development sought to explain how thought processes, thinking and reasoning abilities develop in children through various stages from infancy to adolescence. 

Piaget’s theory shattered the traditional thinking that children were mini adults whose empty minds had to be filled with knowledge. The revolutionary theory described kids as “little scientists” who played an active role in the learning process and understanding the world through exploring, experimenting, reacting and interacting with their environment. Even though a lot has changed in the field of cognitive development psychology, Piaget’s theory still remains highly influential in understanding how children seek knowledge, and how educators, parents and caregivers can boost their thinking abilities.

Let’s understand more about the path-breaking Piaget theory of cognitive development.

Who was Jean Piaget?

Jean William Fritz Piaget (1896-1980) was a Swiss development psychologist. By the age of 15, he was a well-known publisher of articles on molluscs. He studied zoology and psychology along with the philosophy of logic, science, and abnormal psychology. 

Later, he got interested in how children respond to stimuli around them. While evaluating standard IQ tests for children, he was intrigued by how several children of the same age gave the same types of wrong answers, something that was obvious to an adult. Thus, began his life-long research into children’s development.

According to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, a child’s intelligence and cognitive development spans over 4 stages, starting right from their birth to adolescence - also known as Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development theory. Children, according to Piaget, learnt by building and re-building their own versions of reality, and gained intellectual growth by assimilating these simple concepts into more complex concepts in every stage.

The Jean Piaget theory says that the potential of children in life is dependent on their experiences in the early stages of life. The theory also says that every teaching practice must be aligned with each life stage of the child. Teaching them some abstract concepts will only result in rote learning. It will not help them with their mental capabilities and reasoning.

What are The 4 Stages of Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development?

According to Jean Piaget theory, children’s cognition develops from one stage to the next. And while this happens as a reflection of these developments, their level of intelligence, reasoning, and behaviour also changes.

The 4 stages of cognitive development occur in a particular order and include:

Stage 1: The Sensorimotor Stage (0 to 2 years)

This is the earliest of the 4 stages of cognitive development that begins from the moment a child is born. This stage is defined by the following characteristics -

  • Babies start understanding their environment by interacting with their surroundings through sensations and movements. 
  • They majorly rely on listening to sounds, grasping objects, and gazing at things. 
  • Egocentrism is a major aspect of this stage. It means that the child cannot understand things from the perspective of others around them.  
  • They also realize and learn that every action has a reaction.
  • By around 8 months, they begin to understand the concept of object permanence, which means that things will exist even if they can’t see them.

Children undergo a significant amount of cognitive development in this stage in a pretty short span of time. 

Stage 2: The Preoperational Stage (2-7 years)

The end of the sensorimotor stage gives way to the second stage of Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development. During this stage, the thoughts of children are majorly influenced by what they see instead of any reasoning. This is what primarily happens during this stage -

  • Children begin to associate objects with words and pictures. 
  • They begin to develop basic language comprehension and mental imagery of objects around them.
  • They start to imitate the people around them and may start drawing to express themselves. 
  • Children may also start to associate their living qualities with non-living things. 
  • Conversely, some children may exhibit symbolic play. For instance, they may identify a four-legged dog as a chair or a table.

Stage 3: Concrete Operational Stage (7-11 years)

In this stage, children begin to exhibit major personality traits and changes in their cognitive abilities. According to Piaget theory of cognitive development, children start working things out in their own minds at this stage and the ability of logical thinking starts developing. Here are the characteristics of this stage.

  • Children start to think logically and more methodically in their minds. 
  • They can categorize things better. This leads to a better understanding of concepts like dimension, distance, time, and categories. 
  • Since they have more concrete perspectives, they begin to understand problems and solutions. 
  • The foundation of language laid in the earlier stages also begins to develop.
  • Their egocentrism begins to fade. Due to this, they can now begin to think from other people’s perspectives. 

Stage 4: The Formal Operational Stage (12 Years and Up)

The final stage in Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, the most important development of this stage is abstract thinking. Other major characteristics and developments of this stage are -

  • The child uses his/her logical reasoning ability to think and deal with abstract thoughts. They start thinking about issues related to morality, ethics, politics, society, all of which require abstract thinking. 
  • They also begin to learn hypotheses and may indulge in dreamy and unreal thoughts.
  • Their logical and deductive reasoning capabilities get sharper and multiple solutions to a problem become possible.

Also Read: Top Cognitive Development Milestones in Early Childhood

How can You Use Piaget’s Theory for Your Child’s Cognitive Development?

Gaining a better understanding of Piaget’s four stages of cognitive development can help not just parents but also teachers and caregivers. For example -

  • It can help parents have a better understanding of your child’s cognitive faculties and also set more practical expectations from your child at different stages of their life.
  • Understanding the 4 stages of cognitive development can develop a better child-parent relationship.
  • This theory helps in taking away the guesswork and teachers can develop better-suited content and methodologies for children.


Piaget’s stages of cognitive development theory offer a concrete way for adults to know how children learn. While in some cases these stages may not occur at the same age, the universal nature of this theory has been proved.

Also Read: 15 DIY Kid Friendly Activities for Toddlers

His theory also emphasises that the parent or teacher’s role should be to assist the child to learn and not force knowledge onto them. Shared learning experiences and activities can help boost a child’s mental abilities.

At Raising Superstars, we understand that cognitive abilities developed in childhood are fundamental to a person's growth and development later in life. Our Prodigy Framework encompasses proven theories such as the one from Jean Piaget and creates result-oriented activities for children. Get in touch with us today to know more about how to develop an all-rounder superstar.

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