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Jean Piaget was the first psychologist that studies the cognitive theory and his theory has a strong influence today. What is Piagets theory. Gonzalez-Mena (2011) explains, "According to Piaget's theory, children construct knowledge and develop their reasoning abilities through interaction with people and environment as they seek to understand the world" (p23). The children need the first hand learning and experience than listen to a teacher. Imagination and pretending playing are the most important aspects in child development.
According to Bergin (2011), Piaget believed if we want to understand children's cognitive development, we cannot only observe what they do but we must investigate why children do and think like that. Then, Piaget believed that assimilation process also including in learning. Assimilation means the process when children get experience into existing schemes such as perception, thought or image. For example, when a teacher asks her students what 'isolated' means and students will answer it based on their knowledge of the word ice. After that, the process of accommodation happens to adapt new experience and the teacher will help the children to accommodate their scheme of isolated.
Santrock (2011) pointed out, the cognitive development has four stages such as sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage and formal operational stage. The first stage is Sensorimotor stage when the infants at age around two begin to observe the world through grasping, sucking and touching. The infants will learn the symbolic thought for examples they should know the words like mama and apple are represent the things. They also can imitate actions that they observed in past such as putting their toys in basket or giving the dolls food. Then the preoperational stage about ages 2 to 7 is when the children start to use more words and images that increase their symbolic thinking. In this stage they cannot think logically yet. The third stage is the concrete operational stage about ages 7 t0 11. In this stage, the children can think logically, collecting and classifying things into different sets like stamps or marbles. The last stage is the formal operational stage at age 12 and older. In this stage, the children can think more abstract and logical ways. They will think about the ideal friends are like and start to compare things. They also can solve their problems with more systematic and think why something is happening.
Then, we will discuss how this theory applies in child development. Piaget did the study how children in different ages developed their thinking about the world and how they apply their abilities in child development. According to W.Santrock (2011) the sensorimotor stage at age about 2 has into six sub stages such as simple reflexes, first habits and primary circular reactions, secondary circular, coordination of secondary circular, tertiary circular reaction, novelty and curiosity and internalization of schemes. The simple reflex is at age birth to 1 month. The children will apply the theory in their development. For example, the children can start sucking a mother's nipple or bottle and they only will suck if we place the bottles directly in the baby's mouth. After a few days, they can initiate the action and they might suck a bottle that close to them. The next stage is first habits and primary circular reactions at age 1 to 4 months. At this stage the infants start to suck everything such as their fingers. The secondary reaction is at 4 to 8 months. The infant can imitate simple actions when they are already able to produce such as baby talk or physical gestures. Then, the coordination of secondary circular reactions at age 8 to 12 months. The infants can combine the previous learned schemes, learn new experiences such as they will look at an object and pick it and they also can play with the object. They also can look forward the object that hidden from their eyes. The tertiary circular reaction when infants at age 12 to 18 months can made a block or objects fall, hit the another object or learn more new things around them. Lastly, the final stage is internalization of schemes at ages 18 to 24 months when the baby can use a symbol to change and manipulate the events in easy ways. For example, in experiment, Piaget's daughter will open and close her mouth when she saw a matchbox opened and closed.
According to Bergin (2011) the children will apply the theory in their development at preoperational stage. The preoperational means the children in this stage cannot thinking logically yet and there are four cognitive deficits in this stage which are animism, hierarchical classification, egocentrism and conservation. Animism means the objects are lifelike qualities such as the children will think the cars are clever because the star or sun is following them. Hierarchical classification happens when children classify the things into categories. For example, a kitty is a cat and not all cats are kitty. The children in this stage have trouble to classify objects in a hierarchy, for example, they think all kitties are cats and her mother is not a woman but her mommy. Next, the egocentrism is the children try to give their point of view and think other people also think like that. For example the three mountain task when a child is given a three-dimensional model of three mountains that have different objects on it. Then the child will give different pictures and pick the pictures that the doll sees but the children will choose the picture that he sees not the doll sees. The children in this stage will show perspective skills on tasks but not others. Conservation is the objects have fixed mass, number and volume. For example, when an apple is cut into two, the children will say the apple is big and more.
Next is the concrete operational stage. In this stage, the children apply this theory more than other stages. W. Santrock (2011) explains the children become well in logical reasoning like the child understands the volume object is always fix and understand the relationships between families according to family tree. They also can understand the world more objectively, for example if they are collecting the stamps, they will divide the stamps into certain categories and themes. Besides, they learn how to use the full address and sent letter to everyone they want. In this stage, they can complete the bottle and mountain tasks. For example in bottle task, a picture of a bottle and liquid at the bottom and three others bottles are presented to the child. The result is, the child can draw the water would be in the next three bottles. In mountain tasks, the child is able to draw people, house and mountain. Then, for formal operational stage, the child will think more logic and abstract ways. They will think about their future and solve their own problems systematic. The formal operation thought is important because the children will understand science and mathematics subjects for example in controlled experiment, they should know how to think logic and in algebra, the variable x is used for many numbers.
Piaget's theory widely applied in children education and there are several school based on this theory. How the theory applies children in preschool and primary levels? Constructivist teaching is a third legacy from Piaget's theory that widely applied in children education. Bergin (2011) explains constructivist teaching means an approach to instruction when teachers give experiences and ask questions. According to W. Santrock (2011), the best way to learn is when the children are active and find the solutions themselves. For example in preschool, students will discover, discuss and reflect in all subjects by themselves rather than listen to their teacher. Children at preoperational stage have many ideas and their ideas are different from adults. The teacher should talking less, listening more and asking question than giving the answers. So, the children will think and discover the answers. When teacher asks questions, they will revise their schemas and previous knowledge. Besides, the teacher should encourage students to answer the questions although their answers can be wrong or right. Teachers should ask more questions or give experience, so they can correct and search their own mistakes. Then, the children will discuss with each other and have their own conclusion. As a result, they will know each other well and build a good relationship.
Children in preschool and primary level are the active learners. Children in preschool at preoperational stage interested in experiments, playing and open learning activities such as drawing about their interests. Gonzalez-Mena (2011) explains, play is important medium for learning. When preschool students play, they will interact with environment and people. They will enjoy the games and learn how to expose themselves to the world.
For primary schools students at concrete stage, they learn how to make costumes, write the scripts and involve in parts. They will gain physical, emotional and social skills. Students at this stage are able to see things from others point of view and realize that things are not always as they look. Then,using play as learning activity in primary levels can build knowledge and help the students manage themselves. The teacher should support learning through play by observing what they do, interact with them and ask them to add their own idea.
"Concept development grows out of rich play as the children use their own creative and opportunities to examine important issues. What they learn and how they learn depends on the age of the child. In play, children of all ages can increase knowledge and skills by using manipulative materials and by exploring creative activities. Such activities and materials can help school-age children learn the concepts that are part of curriculum framework."
(Gonzalez- Mena 2011, p92-94)
Students in this stage also will practice how to classifying objects and ideas on complex level. W.Santrock explains, the workbooks and assignments are not use in school that practice the Piaget's theory. In Mathematic class, the students will play interesting games like counting the day's lunch money or chocolates. They will learn how to divide or multiple the numbers.
According to Piaget, children should learn naturally and not stress them too much in their development. Learn and play naturally is important in children development and important way to learn about world around them. The children will progress through 4 stages which are sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete stage and formal operational stage. Children also learn through assimilation and accommodation. Many educators use Piaget's theory in their teaching and curriculums in order to create learn through experience and hands on learning. There are many practical applications that we can use and made from Piaget's theory. This theory not only focuses on how children acquire knowledge but how we understand the nature of intelligence.