Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is one of the most influential theories on early childhood development. This theory suggests that children progress through four distinct stages as they mature: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational (Fischer & Bidell 1998). It proposes that each stage contains its own set of mental structures and operations, which are used to process information.
At the first stage, the sensorimotor stage (0-2 years), children learn about their environment through sensory experiences such as touch, smell and taste. During this period they develop object permanence, which is an understanding that objects still exist even when they cannot be seen or heard (Piaget 1952). At this stage Piaget suggested that infants learn by means of assimilation and accommodation; assimilating new knowledge into existing schemas or accommodating those schemas in order to better understand their environment.
The second stage proposed by Piaget was the preoperational stage (2-7 years). At this point children have developed a rudimentary language system with which to communicate but lack logical reasoning skills; thus making it difficult for them to think abstractly or consider alternative perspectives. Instead they utilize egocentric thinking in order to interpret their world (Piaget 1962). Children at this level also begin to display symbolic play behavior where objects are substituted for something else; a doll being used as a baby for instance.
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